An American Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar / Contraband

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Nuclear Waste Encapsulation and Storage Facility, Cherenkov Radiation Hanford Site, U.S. Department of Energy Southeastern Washington State, 2005/2007 Chromogenic Color Print 94.6 X 113cm © Courtesy of the artist & The Pavilion Downtown Dubai
An American Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar / Contraband

Emaar Boulevard
United Arab Emirates
February 6th, 2013 - May 6th, 2013
Opening: February 6th, 2013 10:00 AM - 12:00 AM

United Arab Emirates
Everyday, 10am – 12am


The Pavilion Downtown Dubai is proud to present a solo exhibition by American artist Taryn Simon featuring a selection of her two bodies of work, An American Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar (2007) and Contraband (2010). Examining the hidden elements that contribute to modern American culture, Simon investigates and questions sites, spaces and perceived hazardous commodities that have contributed to shaping national identity, fear and the economy in the United States.

An American Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar was first exhibited in 2007 at the Whitney Museum of Art in New York. This body of work delves deep into modern American culture through a photographic investigation, which exposes hidden truths about present-day America. Over a period of four years, Simon scouted remote and restricted objects, sites and spaces across the USA that are integral to America’s foundation, mythology, or day to day functioning but remain inaccessible or unknown to the public. The artist compiled an inventory of these unseen subjects that looks beyond the surface of American culture and confronts the divide between those with and without the privilege of access. The images range from radioactive capsules at a nuclear waste storage facility, a black bear in hibernation to the art collection of the CIA, all of which are presented alongside text, which highlights the artist’s dual role as voyeur and informant.

Simon’s curiosity about the layers that create a national identity is extended to the more recent photographic series, Contraband, first exhibited in 2010. Simon dedicated five days in November 2009 to fully immerse herself into the unique space of John F. Kennedy International Airport in order to heavily document the border between America and the rest of the world. The outcome was a vast collection of 1075 images of over 1000 items detained or seized from passengers and mail entering the United States. Simon used a labor-intensive, forensic photographic procedure to document a broad array of forbidden items, which include among others the active ingredient found in Botox, counterfeit clothes and designer accessories, pharmaceuticals, jewelry, Cuban cigars, animal parts, pirated DVDs and gold dust. Each item was photographed against a neutral grey background, producing an objective scientific record, devoid of context and transformed into an artifact of the larger global network. Simon witnessed patterns of international commerce, exposing both the demands that drive the international economy as well as the local economies that produce them.


Taryn Simon was born in New York in 1975. Simon’s artistic medium consists of three equal elements: photography, text, and graphic design. Her works investigate the impossibility of absolute understanding and opens up the space between text and image, where disorientation occurs and ambiguity reigns. She is a graduate of Brown University and a Guggenheim Fellow. Simon’s photographs and writings have been the subject of monographic exhibitions at institutions including Museum of Modern Art, New York (2012), Tate Modern, London (2011); Neue Nationalgalerie, Berlin (2011); Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (2007); Museum für Moderne Kunst, Frankfurt (2008); Kunst-Werke Institute for Contemporary Art, Berlin (2004); and P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center, New York (2003). Permanent collections include the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Tate Modern, Whitney Museum, Centre Pompidou, and the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art. In 2011 her work was included in the 54th Venice Biennale.