LaGuardia Community College Professor Invited by the American Academy of Arts and Letters to Exhibit Work

March 13, 2013 | LaGuardia Community College

Long Island City, NY—LaGuardia Community College associate professor and mixed-media sculptor, Arthur Simms, was among 34 contemporary artists chosen to exhibit their work at the prestigious American Academy of Arts and Letters 2013 Invitational Exhibition. His three sculptures are among over 120 paintings, sculptures and works on paper on exhibition at the galleries of the American Academy of Arts and Letter on Audubon Terrace. 

“It is a great honor to have been invited by this venerable institution to participate in its exhibition,” said Mr. Simms. “The invitation holds special importance because of the arduous selection process.” 

To receive an invitation, the artists had to first receive a nomination by an Academy member.  A committee of Academy members that made the final selection after reviewing resumes and portfolios judged the 174 nominees. Along with the privilege of exhibiting their work, the artists are eligible to receive one of eight Academy awards that will be announced this month. 

“LaGuardia is extremely proud that Arthur is among an esteemed group of contemporary artists that has been chosen to show their work at this noted exhibition,” said Dr. Gail O. Mellow, president of LaGuardia Community College.  “Arthur is not only an internationally recognized artist, he is a wonderful professor and mentor to his students.” 

Mr. Simms’s three exhibition pieces—“Boy,” “Chariot” and “Tricycle,”–are found-object sculptures created from such ordinary objects as bicycle wheels, chairs, bottles, children’s old toys, wire and rope.   

For the artist, who immigrated to the U.S. from Jamaica when he was seven-years old, these discarded items hold deep meaning.  “Oftentimes my pieces, although funky and made of a lot of found objects, have references to cultural icons, Jamaican and black fables and folk culture,” he said.  “They are about my growing up in Jamaica and leaving at seven to come to this hemisphere.  They represent movement of, not only me, but also the African Diaspora.” 

Children’s toys are ubiquitous elements in his work. “They are a reference to my childhood,” said Mr. Simms who explained that as a child in Jamaica he made his own toys.  “I am creating as I did as a kid, but on a more sophisticated level.  These objects help me to relive a memory.”

In “Tricycle,” a child’s old tricycle that Mr. Simms came across while traveling in Montreal, is the dominant element in the piece, that shares space with a Tonka toy truck and a skateboard.  Atop pieces of wood in “Boy,” a piece based on the Greek sculpture “Kouros,” are two children’s ice skates, while the chariot in “Chariot” is an old roller skate. 

The glass and plastic bottles that sprout out of “Boy” and that are encased in wire and rope in “Tricycle” and “Chariot,” are tied to the fables of the people of the South and the Caribbean.  “They made bottle trees to ward off evil spirits,” he said.  “Bottles were used because where there is light, evil shall not pass.”  

The hemp rope, which he uses as a binding agent that ties many of the elements in his pieces together, also has a strong cultural reference to Jamaica.  “Hemp rope is synonymous with that country,” he said, adding when he wants to use a different binding element he turns to wire. 

“It can be argued that every work that an artist does is a self portrait,” said Mr. Simms.  “All three sculptures seem to be self portraits.” 

The American Academy of Arts and Letters Invitational Exhibition is Mr. Simms’s second honor from the organization; in 2006 he received the Academy Award in Art, an honor he is hoping to win this year.   

The Academy award is among the numerous and prestigious awards Mr. Simms has garnered, including the Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship; Rome Prize Fellowship of the American Academy in Rome; the Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Residency; the Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation Award; the Joan Mitchell Foundation grant and the Irish Museum of Modern Art Residency in Dublin.

The artist’s work has gained national as well as international attention.  He has been presented at solo and group exhibitions at the Jamaica Pavilion at the Venice Biennale in Italy, the Brooklyn Museum of Art, PS 1 MOMA, the Queens Museum of Art, Socrates Sculpture Garden in Long Island City, the Irish Museum of Modern Art in Dublin and the American Academy in Rome.   

Mr. Simms earned his M.F.A and B.A. at Brooklyn College, where he also taught before coming to LaGuardia in 2007. 

The American Academy of Arts and Letters was established in 1898 to “foster, assist, and sustain an interest in literature, music, and the fine arts,” and is chartered by Congress. 

The exhibition is being held at the galleries of the American Academy of Arts and Letters on Audubon Terrace (Broadway between 155th and 156 Streets) through April 14. 

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LaGuardia Community College located in Long Island City, Queens, was founded in 1971 as a bold experiment in opening the doors of higher education to all, and we proudly carry forward that legacy today. LaGuardia educates students through over 50 degree, certificate and continuing education programs, providing an inspiring place for students to achieve their dreams. Upon graduation, LaGuardia students’ lives are transformed as family income increases 17%, and students transfer to four-year colleges at three times the national average. Part of the City University of New York (CUNY), LaGuardia is a nationally recognized leader among community colleges for boundary-breaking success educating underserved students. At LaGuardia we imagine new ideas, create new curriculum and pioneer programs to make our community and our country stronger. Visit www.laguardia.edu to learn more. 

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