Collective Portrait

Public Art

Collective Portrait

Gary Simmons invited middle-school students to write down sentences that could serve as self-portraits, then asked them to partially erase and combine those phrases to create one long group statement, retooling individual assertions to create a collaborative affirmation; the final sentence was printed on a billboard and displayed in Chelsea.
Gary Simmons



Chelsea, New York, NY.

Gary Simmons, Collective Portrait, 2005
  • Project description
  • About the artist
Gary Simmons, Collective Portrait, billboard installation in Chelsea, 2005.

Collective Portrait was a collaborative project in which Gary Simmons had a group of kids think of phrases that serve as their self-portraits, then write them in chalk on individual blackboards. He then asked them to partially erase the sentences. This proved to be the most difficult, yet formative moment in the process. All the boards were arranged to form a long sentence that symbolically became a collective portrait of the entire group. This sentence was finally printed as a billboard and displayed in Chelsea.



This project was produced as part of Art Creates Communities: Project in Chelsea, one of More Art’s founding programs. Artists showing in the Chelsea galleries were connected via More Art to the local community, encouraging a dialogue, and seeking to create a strong link with the young people who live in the neighborhood and attend the local public schools. The goal of Art Creates Communities was for everybody to partake of the creative energy galvanizing the Chelsea neighborhood. The strategy was to show the younger generation how to tap its own budding creativity and convey the message that in life they should never be passive spectators but actively grasp challenges and changes.

Artists were invited to collaborate with teenagers from the Clinton Middle School for Writers and Artists (MS260), engaging them in the different media of modern artistic expression, including photography, video, painting, and performance art. The final projects were important works in their own right.



Gary Simmons

Gary Simmons was born in 1964 in New York City. Simmons earned a B.F.A. at the School of Visual Arts in New York and an M.F.A. at the California Institute of the Arts in Valencia. He lives and works in Los Angeles.

Simmons’ work has been featured in numerous exhibitions both nationally and internationally. He first gained notoriety in the 1993 Whitney Biennial as well as in Thelma Golden's landmark 1994 exhibition Black Male: Representations of Masculinity in Contemporary American Art. Current and recent solo exhibitions include Fade to Black, California African America Museum, Los Angeles (2017-18); Recapturing Memories of the Black Ark, Southern Exposure, San Francisco (2017); Ghost Reels, Drawing Center, New York (2016-18); Gary Simmons, presented by Culture Lab Detroit and Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit, Detroit (2016); Project Gallery: Gary Simmons, Pérez Art Museum, Miami (2014-15); and Focus: Gary Simmons, Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, Fort Worth (2013).

He has been the recipient of multiple awards, including the Studio Museum in Harlem Joyce Alexander Wein Prize (2013); George Gund Foundation USA Gund Fellowship (2007); and the National Endowment for the Arts Interarts Grant (1990).

Work by the artist is held in prominent museum collections, including the Museum of Modern Art, New York; Studio Museum in Harlem, New York; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia; Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C.; Pérez Art Museum, Miami; Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco; Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; and La Colección Jumex, Mexico City; among others.