Before newly knighted architect Sir David Adjaye became a globally renowned designer of civic and cultural buildings—most recently the National Museum of African American History and Culture that sits like an inverted ziggurat on the National Mall—he made his name designing residences and work spaces for artists. One of those projects, a studio for Lorna Simpson and James Casebere in Brooklyn, was the London architect’s first completed building in America.
“When we were introduced to David, his practice was already shifting toward larger public commissions, and we weren’t sure he would be interested in doing a small residential-type building,” recounts Simpson (who is no longer married to Casebere). “Later we met him in the Giardini, at the Venice Biennale, and he kind of said, ‘Okay, here’s what it’s going to look like,’ and he drew it on a napkin. It evolved from there, and we had a budget but we gave him full rein.”
The four-story studio, a crisp gray-concrete structure featuring a strikingly patterned dark-polymer front façade, was completed in 2006. A decade on, the building is now used exclusively by Simpson, and its purpose has evolved. “A lot of my work up until the last three years was created in this building,” explains Simpson, seated in the studio’s dining area across from a self-portrait by the legendary Cameroonian photographer Samuel Fosso. These days Simpson uses another location nearby as her primary artmaking space, freeing up the Adjaye building for offices and meeting areas, presentation galleries, and a place to reflect upon works in progress.
Simpson works in a variety of mediums, but she is best known for her photography-based conceptual pieces that use images of African-American women to deconstruct issues around race, gender, and identity—often with an undeniable lyricism. An influential figure in the art world for more than a quarter-century, she was the first African-American woman to show at the Venice Biennale, in 1990, and she was given an acclaimed solo exhibition at New York’s Museum of Modern Art the same year. Shows around the world followed, the latest of which is “Lorna Simpson: Hypothetical?,” on view through August 7 at the Fisher Landau Center for Art in Queens.