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The path: “Grew up in Joliet. My art train­ing took place over an ex­tended pe­riod,” in­clud­ing two years ma­jor­ing in art at Univer­sity of Illi­nois in the mid-1950s, then trans­fer­ring to the School of the Art In­sti­tute of Chicago. She re­turned to SAIC to com­plete her de­gree in 1971 and then earned a master’s in fine art in 1978. Simp­son cur­rently lives in Wil­mette. We com­mu­ni­cated by e-mail, her pref­er­ence.

The Bi­en­nial: “It is the most ex­cit­ing thing by far that has hap­pened for me in my 40-year ca­reer as an artist. Hav­ing been cho­sen for this ex­hi­bi­tion, in a way, val­i­dates my work. It tells me I’m do­ing some­thing that is cur­rent and mean­ing­ful, even to a gen­er­a­tion much younger than my­self. It just tells me I’m do­ing some­thing ‘right’ and to keep work­ing.”

The work: “When I be­gin a new group of sculp­tures, I spend some time re­search­ing vis­ual sources that di­rectly feed into the works. The works in the Bi­en­nial re­fer to my long­time in­ter­est in cloth­ing forms and to a more re­cent in­ter­est in com­mer­cial and do­mes­tic win­dow treat­ments. The ti­tles Pe­plum, Robe, Valance, Lam­bre­quin, and Jabot re­fer to th­ese dual in­ter­ests.

I like to com­bine com­mer­cial ma­te­ri­als like wood and per­fo­rated alu­minum with more com­mon ev­ery­day ma­te­ri­als like can­vas, crayon, and col­ored pen­cil. The de­tails of the drawn lines and join­ery are im­por­tant as­pects of my work. Ide­ally they should be viewed in per­son up-close to ap­pre­ci­ate th­ese de­tails.”

Her age (84): “I think it’s not un­usual for the ma­jor­ity of artists se­lected for the Whit­ney Bi­en­nial to be on the younger side of 50. But I’ve also no­ticed that re­cently more at­ten­tion is be­ing paid to un­der­rec­og­nized older artists. So all I can say is ‘hoorah.’ If it’s odd be­ing cho­sen at my age, I’m happy to feel odd, and I hope that my in­clu­sion in the show will give en­cour­age­ment to all those artists over 50 who con­tinue to go into their stu­dios day af­ter day.”

Chicago vs. New York: “I used to think it was a hin­drance liv­ing here, that any se­ri­ous artist had to move to (New York). I don’t think that’s as much of an is­sue now. Ex­po­sure has been helped due to the in­ter­net and preva­lence of art fairs. Also, a bit of Iso­la­tion can be a good thing, al­low­ing an artist to de­velop some­thing more uniquely their own.”

The con­tro­versy: “I ex­pected this one and was hop­ing you wouldn’t ask. My first re­ac­tion when I learned about the con­tro­versy was, ‘But what does this have to do with me and my art … and I hope this doesn’t dom­i­nate the con­ver­sa­tion over the ex­hi­bi­tion.’ In a way, it has.

A good amount of ev­ery ar­ti­cle and re­view is about this is­sue. I have not taken an ac­tive role in the protest but sup­port those who have. If the protests help to oust this board mem­ber and in the fu­ture pro­mote eth­i­cal de­ci­sions on who should and should not be on in­sti­tu­tional boards, then I feel it’s worth all the fuss.”

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