Meet Soho House artist Xaviera Simmons
The New York-based creative talks about exploring social, spiritual and political histories, as her work is displayed in our art collection
Thursday 12 January 2023 By Anastasiia Fedorova Portrait by John Edmunds
Soho House’s global art collection is one of the biggest privately owned assemblages in the world. The Soho House Artists series spotlights people behind the works – their practice, life and aspirations. In this instalment, we talk to New York-based artist Xaviera Simmons.
Xaviera Simmons’ exhibition Crisis Makes A Book Club is currently on view at the Queens Museum. It opens with ‘Align’, a grand sculpture covered in hand-painted text, which incorporates the artist’s thoughts about race as well as those of James Baldwin from his 1984 essay, ‘On Being White … And Other Lies’. The exhibition also includes photography, painting, video, installation and billboards – a broad reflection of Simmons’ practice, which examines and confronts the white American dominance, capitalism and the history of the United States’ empire.
Throughout her work, which spans several decades, Simmons emphasises the importance of individual responsibility, action and mutual aid. The exhibition’s title, Crisis Makes A Book Club, is in itself a tongue-in-cheek reference to reading groups offered as a stand-in for true action in the presence of state-sanctioned violence. In other words, Simmons makes us all consider a more active involvement in making the change.
Here, she gives Soho House an insight into the themes she explores in her work, the movable studio in her notebooks and how she cultivates a rich internal life.
Where did you grow up and where are you based?
‘I grew up in New York City with some pivotal moments in Portland, Maine.’
What does art mean to you?
‘Art is both a historical and contemporary project tied to social, spiritual, political, financial, sexual and personal histories among many other threads and themes. It has the capacity to shift every moment we live in, while being deeply tied to the ways in which we exchange energy, ideas and currency. It’s a complex system to say the least.’
Name three things you explore in your work?
‘Empire, form, colour and language ¬– that’s four and there are more.’
What is your studio like?
‘It’s bursting at the seams. It’s all around me and it’s everything that I do. I have many iterations of what we call a “studio”. There is the studio that I live with that has supplies like paint and clay, cameras, film, surfaces, canvases and textiles.
‘And then there’s the studio that lives in the suitcases that I travel the world with. There’s also the studio that literally just stores items, and the one that’s in my notebooks. Studio for me is always plural and abundant.’
What’s your favourite art-related memory?
‘Painting building-sized massive text works; choreographing, producing, directing and writing my long-form, performance-based works. Anything that I am working on right now or that is budding in my sketch book. I’m always organising with other artists for a better arts community here in the United States.’
What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever made?
‘I don’t know that I have made anything “crazy”; I’m harshly clear.’
What do you do when you’re not making art?
‘Spending time with family and friends at the beach, in the mountains, walking in the woods, driving across the country with my partner multiple times a year. I always travel. I read, cook and cultivate a rich internal life and creative life every day.’
Where can we see your works?
‘I curated an exhibition at David Castillo Gallery called The Floral Impulse that’s on until late January. I have a massive exhibition Crisis Makes A Book Club at the Queens Museum, which you can read about on Frieze and The New York Times – it has received a lot of love...
‘I have exhibitions always opening around the world, thankfully… My works are also in Ludlow House, Soho House Rome and The Ned Nomad in New York. ’