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Major work by LA-based artist Martine Syms to be gifted to Leeds Art Gallery through VNXXCAS scheme

20 April 2017 By

A major new work by American artist Martine Syms, never-before seen in the UK, has been acquired for Leeds Art Gallery through the Valeria Napoleone XX Contemporary Art Society (VNXXCAS) initiative. The museum is the first to receive a work through this scheme after making a strong case for addressing the representation of female artists within their existing collections.

A Pilot For A Show About Nowhere, 2015 is a two-channel video that will be showcased at Camden Arts Centre from 20 April – 14 May 2017, before forming a centrepiece of a major collection redisplay at Leeds Art Gallery when it re-opens on Friday 13 October 2017.

Syms’ film was originally commissioned by the New Museum in New York and examines the politics of television viewership, incorporating footage from a number of sources to create a multi-viewpoint narrative. Black sitcoms in America hold potential to undermine television conventions and spark unpredictable and radical impulses, but often also erase the struggles and realities of the people they represent. The work is a pilot for a sitcom called “She Mad”, but does not resemble a conventional episode and filmed re-enactments of the artist’s life ground the film in her own experience.

Valeria Napoleone XX Contemporary Art Society is a joint initiative of philanthropist Valeria Napoleone and the Contemporary Art Society to purchase and donate a significant work by a living female artist to a UK museum each year.

Open to all Contemporary Art Society Museum Members, the scheme aims to provoke an examination of collecting practice that has a wider impact beyond the acquisition of the awarded work and act as a focal point for debate on gender imbalance in museum collections.

Caroline Douglas, Director, Contemporary Art Society, said:

Valeria Napoleone’s extensive knowledge of the US art scene enabled us to identify Martine Syms as one of the most exciting artists emerging at this moment.  Syms speaks trenchantly for her generation as the first of the millennials.  Her appropriation of footage from 1980s American sitcoms, combined with a sophisticated take on 21st century social media communication give her a very distinct voice, full of humour and energy.  The sources Syms uses in her work are universally recognisable, but her work is in a register not commonly seen in museums.  We very much hope that this new addition to Leeds Art Gallery’s collection will encourage new audiences to visit and explore the new displays in spectacularly renovated spaces. 

Valeria Napoleone said:

I am particularly proud of this first VNXXCAS and hope that it will provide an entry point to contemporary art for an audience not familiar with it. We wanted this first donation to address the issues of today and relate to the demographics of the community that Leeds Art Gallery serves. As with all the XX initiatives the decision focused on maximising its impact and Leeds Art Gallery will particularly benefit due to its strong connection to a number of academic institutions in the region and its sound interest in working towards gender balance in both the collection and program.  

Sarah Brown, Principal Keeper, Leeds Art Gallery, said:

It is fantastic to be able to re-open Leeds Art Gallery with a major new acquisition by a young international female artist, supported by the generosity of both VNXX and the Contemporary Art Society, who have been instrumental in the development of our nationally renowned collection for over 100 years.

Jenni Lomax, Director, Camden Arts Centre, said:

Camden Arts Centre has a long track record of exhibiting work by female artists and we were keen to support the Contemporary Arts Society in their aim to achieve a greater representation of women in museums across the country. The gift of Martine Syms’ video work to the soon to be reopened Leeds Art Gallery will be a wonderful addition to this important regional collection and is indicative of the quality of new acquisitions that will be enabled by the VNXXCAS initiative in the years to come.

Martine Syms is a 28 year-old artist based in Los Angeles who works with publishing, performance, video, essay and photography. The artist juxtaposes her own voice or appearance with found footage from the internet, film and TV – particularly sitcoms – to probe linguistic and visual representations of gender and African Americans in the mass media. Syms has solo show opening at MoMA, New York, in May 2017 and recent exhibitions include the New Museum in New York (2015), the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles (2016), and a solo show at the ICA, London (2016).