Sylvia Salazar Simpson

The installation artist, book artist, and photographer Sylvia Salazar Simpson was born in Santa Fe, New Mexico, in 1939 but was raised in Mexico City. She studied nursing at the Instituto Nacional de Cardiología in Mexico City, but due to her undocumented status she did not receive a medical degree. When she settled in Los Angeles in the mid-1960s, she studied at the Otis Art Institute (1966–68) and California Institute of the Arts (1970–71) with Allan Kaprow (1927–2006) and John Baldessari (b. 1931).

Salazar Simpson's experimental and ephemeral oeuvre can be described as a combination of happening, environmental, conceptual, and performance art. Organic, perishable matter is a recurrent leitmotif in her work from the 1970s and 1980s. For the opening of LA Women Narrations (1978), Salazar Simpson staged a performance in which a man and a woman—covered in peanut butter, fig slices, pomegranate seeds, dead fish, and other food-based materials—pose as the Cerveteri sarcophagus while two actors dressed as morgue attendants wheel the couple into the gallery. The scene was an allegory of marriage and conjugal symbiosis that was meant to be sensuous and repulsive as well as humorous. She continued to employ elements that were difficult to preserve and that imposed on viewers' senses as they decomposed. For instance, in Tortilla Curtain (1991), she used flowers, fruit, chicken feet, and eggs, whose attractive and colorful presentation quickly turned revolting. Simpson never shied away from modeling herself with organic elements incorporated into her hair and onto her face and feet; many photographs she took of herself were presented in artist's books, including Sylvia Salazar Simpson (ca. 1970s), Eggs Verbal A to Z (1973), and Imitations (1977).

In 1991 a jury including Christopher Knight, Howard Fox, Jan Turner, and Peter Sellars selected Salazar Simpson's artwork as the winning design for the official Venice Art Walk T-shirt. Her works are in library and archive collections, including the Franklin Furnace Archive in New York; Arts Library, University of California, Los Angeles; and Special Collections, Otis Art Institute, Los Angeles. Her work is held in private collections in New York and California. Salazar Simpson halted her career as a professional artist in the early 1990s but makes art occasionally in her home in Los Angeles.

—Marcela Guerrero

Selected Exhibitions

1974 Southern California Small Images Show, Los Angeles State College

1978 LA Women/Narrations, Mandeville Art Gallery, University of California, San Diego

1983 LAMEXOD, Santa Barbara Contemporary Arts Forum, California

1986 Southern California Assemblage: Past and Present, Santa Barbara Contemporary Arts Forum and Art Museum of Santa Barbara, California

1990 Absolutamente Romántico II, California State University, Bakersfield

Selected Bibliography

Geer, Suvan. "Knowing and Naming: The Search for Tangible Meaning." Artweek 28 (June 1997): 18–19.

Groening, Matt. "Fetishism." Wet: The Magazine of Gourmet Bathing, no. 18 (May–June 1979): 17.

Martínez, Al. "Art Is Where You Throw It." Los Angeles Times, October 22, 1992.

Rigdy, Ida K. "Narrations of Human Condition." Artweek 9 (October 21, 1978): unpaged.

Stellweg, Carla. "De cómo el arte Chicano es tan indocumentado como los indocumentados." Artes Visuales (Mexico City), no. 29 (June 1981): 12–13, 23–28.