press release

Zoe Leonard, who was born in New York in 1961, has brought together an installation featuring groups of photographs taken between 1984 to 1997 for her exhibition in the Main Hall of the Vienna Secession. The exhibition is centred around a tree that Zoe Leonard formed of branches and leaves she collected in New York, Europe and Alaska.

Zoe Leonard is less a photographer than an artist who happens to work with the medium of photography. The artist combines the few photos she took in recent years to form installations of her work. These images, which are redolent of poetry, emotion and sentiment, show landscapes, urban scenes, details of the human anatomy and deal with themes such as death, beauty, femininity and sexuality.

The works that were last shown in Europe (i.e. in the 1992 documenta) reveal Zoe Leonard's interest in female sexuality. In the Neue Museum, a museum in Cassel, Leonard contrasted Rococo female portraits with black-and-white photographs of female genitalia. In this way, the artist succeeded in introducing feminist concerns into the museum context, by dealing not only with such themes as female beauty and desire, but also articulating the liberation of female sexuality and women's right to self-determination. She founded the group "Fierce Pussy" with two friends at the beginning of the 90's, which protested against the discrimination of homosexuals with the aide of posters and other activist measures in public spaces. At this time, Zoe Leonard was also involved in the ACT-UP Movement (The Aids Coalition to Unleash Power) which fought the intolerance and indifference of the American government and society in the face of the AIDS threat.

In their highly sensitive way, photographic works like the "Bearded Woman" and "The Fae Richards Photo Archive" reflect and document the artist's feminist view of discrimination against and the liberation of women from a white, male-dominated world. In the "Bearded Woman" Zoe Leonard visualises the fate of a women who lived around 1900 and whose head was exhibited as "abnormal" in a museum of Natural History. In "The Fae Richards Photo Archive", she sketches the fictitious biography of a black, lesbian actress who became a Hollywood star.

During Zoe Leonard's temporary retreat from the international art world over the last few years, she created small, fragile objects from the dehydrated peels of oranges, avocados, grapefruits and bananas that serve as metaphors, not only for loss and death, but also for beauty and sexuality and, for this reason, are intimately related her photographic work.

PUBLICATION The exhibition will be accompanied by a catalogue, in which Zoe Leonard speaks in detail about her work and her commitment to political activism for the first time to the American art historian, Anna Blume (catalogue in English and German).


only in german

Zoe Leonard