There was work to be done for the work, now that the work was done.
In London, Simon could not stop walking people through the show: art-school students, foreign curators, friends, patrons, collectors, critics, writers—her dedication was compulsive. Watching her scan the room for who among the Sunday visitors was looking at what, it was clear how great an artist’s hunger is for the response of outsiders, for proof that the work exists.
Honking and coughing, accepting the compliments of those who came up to ask, “Are you the artist?” Simon took me through the stories: the 158 descendants of Cabrera Antero, a Filipino man who was exhibited in a “human zoo” at the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904; the descendants of Hitler’s lawyer, Hans Frank, who appropriated Leonardo da Vinci’s Lady With an Ermine while he was governor-general of occupied Poland; and the family of Abdillah Omari, the treasurer of the Tanzania Albino Society, the accompanying text of which reads: albinos in Tanzania are under constant threat of attack from human poachers seeking their skin, hair, body parts, blood, and organs for traditional healers who maintain and promote the belief that albinos have magical powers.
“In all my past projects,” said Simon, “I created a catalog that had the appearance of being comprehensive but at the end of the day was something edited, curated by me. The reason I wanted to do bloodlines is that they’re catalogs that are directed scientifically. These aren’t family trees. I’m literally tracking people who have the same blood. I take a point person, their parents, and their children, but never the wife or the husband—just blood.”
As Richard Marshall, curator for the Lever House Art Collection, points out, artists like Sol LeWitt, Ed Ruscha, and John Baldessari have centered their work on following systems (LeWitt’s, for instance, was to draw a line from one corner to another). “When I saw Taryn’s ‘American Index’ at the Whitney and realized that part of her process is getting approvals, I thought, This artist is on to something,” says Marshall. “Although she uses photography as the medium to express her concepts, I consider her a conceptual artist. She’s operating in a unique area of sociopolitical exploration.”
In typically elusive Simon style, the point person is not identified by any distinguishing mark in the grid of portraits printed on five-by-seven-foot paper. “Chapter VII,” for instance, is about the Srebrenica massacre of Bosnian Muslims in 1995, but the text does not tell you the whole story. To find out who the women in the photographs are and how they are related to the bones and molars next to them in the grid, you have to read the names and dates under the text and deduce through the presentation—August 30, 1955–July 12, 1995—that Ibro Nuki´c was one of the victims, and that Zumra Mehi´c (December 9, 1950–) and Remza Muminovi´c (April 10, 1954–) are his surviving sisters. “She’s like an investigator,” says Larry Gagosian, who has been Simon’s gallerist since 2004. “Her pictures are not just photographs; they’re documents.”