Lorna Simpson’s Two "Eyes"

Last week I had a student remark that the two circles in Lorna Simpson’s Untitled (2 Necklines) (1989, shown left) look like a pair of eyes. I’ve been thinking a lot about this comment lately, particularly because I think it ties into Laura Mulvey’s theories regarding the male gaze and fragmentation. Basically, the two circles eyes make the viewer especially conscious that he (the gendered pronoun is intentional) is fragmenting, cropping, and fetishizing the woman with his gaze.

It’s interesting to note that these eyes detract attention from the fact that Simpson (and Simpson’s camera) have actually done the fragmentation of the image. And there are other interesting parallels which can be drawn between human eyes and cameras: eyes have a limited amount of scope within their visual field and crop things naturally, just as a camera has to crop images because of the limitations of the camera lens.

I like that Simpson includes the word “eye” in one of the text boxes between the circles. I realize that this group of words also can also be associated with discrimination, slavery, and lynching – not just the objectification of women. But it’s interesting to read the word “eye” and between two circular eyes.

And if you stare at this work of art too long (as I have been doing this morning), the column of words become the outline for a nose, the dark skin looks like pupils, and the white clothing looks like the whites of eyes. Could we say, then, that this piece is an actual visualization of the male viewer? Ha ha! Okay, probably not, but it is kind of interesting to see a little “face” emerge in Simpson’s work.

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This blog focuses on making Western art history accessible and interesting to all types of audiences: art historians, students, and anyone else who is curious about art. Alberti’s Window is maintained by Monica Bowen, an art historian and professor.