Hugo Boss Goes Art House at the Guggenheim

Hugo Boss Goes Art House at the Guggenheim

HUGO BOSS handed its career-changing artist prize to Simone Leigh last night.

HUGO BOSS handed its career-changing artist prize to Simone Leigh last night.

Last night at the Guggenheim museum in Manhattan, Brooklyn-based artist Simone Leigh took home the Hugo Boss Prize, one of the most significant in contemporary art and arguably the only to come with major fashion bona fides in addition to $100,000. Leigh is the 12th recipient of the biennial prize, which was established in 1996 to honor the “most innovative and influential” artists of all disciplines, from Matthew Barney (1996) to Pierre Huyghe (2002).

This year’s shortlist, which included Bouchra Khalili, Teresa Margolles, Emeka Ogboh, Frances Stark and Wu Tsang, seemed to reflect the cultural sea change that has occurred since 2016, the last time that HUGO BOSS handed down the prize. Five out of six nominees were women, and virtually every one addresses political or social issues in their work, from Nigerian sound artist Emeka Ogboh, whose speaker systems pipe in the sounds of the developing world, to Wu Tsang, who reenacts the hidden histories of queer people of color in her performances.

Trained as a ceramicist, Leigh’s wide-ranging work is deeply rooted in African American and women’s history, while also de-constructing glib notions of identity sometimes found in the art world. Of 2014’s Free People’s Medical Clinic, in which she offered people real social services ranging from yoga to HIV counseling, Leigh said she was reenacting the “post-colonial fantasy of a mock NGO pretending to rescue Black people from some abject situation.” In addition to her so-called “social sculpture,” Leigh also creates heavily material work, like her Afro-centric, headdress-crowned busts that merge haute and traditional techniques.

While the featured artists’ work may often exist outside the traditional museum format, last night’s event reflected a mix of experimentalism and high establishment glamour. In the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed rotunda, the likes of Naomi Watts and Alexander Skarsgard rubbed shoulders with artists and socialites like Chloe Wise and Johannes Huebl. Next spring, the Guggenheim will be the site of a solo exhibit of Simone Leigh’s work.

Naomi Watts in HUGO BOSS

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