Skip to main content
Louisiana One Work


An American Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar

29.10.2016 - 15.1.2017

American artist Taryn Simon (b. 1975) uncovers the hidden places of the USA almost like a spy, but at the same time she is driven by the collector’s fascination with the rare or the curious.

With her seminal work An American Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar Taryn Simon portrays American society through photographs of places that are normally inaccessible to the general public.

After September 11th, when the American media and government were seeking hidden and unknown sites beyond its borders, most notably weapons of mass destruction, Simon chose to look inward at her own country, to confront the boundaries of the citizen, both self-imposed and real, and the divide between privileged and public access to knowledge.

Behind every single picture in An American Index lie years of research, culminating in one single photograph with accompanying text. Together, the texts and images uncover the hidden structures that are concealed beneath the surface in the national culture of the USA, and which encompass the foundation, mythology and everyday functioning of the country.

The subjects have been taken from science, religion, medicine, entertainment, nature, national security and politics. They include radioactive waste sunk in water; an issue of Playboy Magazine in Braille; the cage in which a prisoner on Death Row can move around out of doors; a living HIV virus; and an inbred albino tiger. 

The exhibition was shown as a part of the series Louisiana One Work, which focuses on one striking work by a contemporary artist.

Inner boundaries hidden structures

Taryn Simon got the idea for An American Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar in the period after the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001, when the US authorities and media, in their hunt for weapons of mass destruction, were engaged in tracing and uncovering hidden information outside the borders of the USA. In the midst of this information crisis, Taryn Simon chose to turn her gaze inward. She wanted to look at the both real and self-imposed inner boundaries and the difference between the privileged and the general public in terms of their access to information.

With An American Index Taryn Simon has managed to uncover many of the hidden structures and mechanisms that are concealed beneath the surface in the national culture of the USA and which make up the foundation, mythology and everyday function of the country. Here are motifs that touch on science, religion, medicine, entertainment, nature, security and politics. Simon depicts subjects such as the art collection at CIA's headquarters and radioactive waste immersed in water — together with the cage in which a death-row prisoner can move around outdoors, the living HIV virus, an inbred albino tiger and a neo-Nazi youth office.


Taryn Simon (b. 1975) works in media such as photo, text, sculpture, and performance. A common feature of her different projects is the extensive research and a fundamental interest in categories and systems. She has exhibited in most parts of the world and her work is represented in many of the world's leading museums. Taryn Simon lives and works in New York.

On the motivation
behind An American Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar, Taryn states: "I wonder what the appearance of absolute transparency would be. I can't imagine what form that would take. And if it is even possible. This was an attempt to see the center with my own eyes. But what you come away with is just the confirmation that you cannot come to the center and who knows if there is a center. A photograph is always just another distance from which to see something, as one was far closer than most..."


Since childhood, Taryn Simon has been fascinated by the world as it has been documented and archived in photography and text. Louisiana Channel met the artist in her studio in New York and in this video interview Simon tells about what drives her as an artist and her research-based work method, where she gains access to and documents places that are normally inaccessible to American citizens.


With the exhibition series Louisiana One Work, Louisiana focuses on single striking works, usually by contemporary artists. Exhibitions earlier in the series are Richard Mosse's video installation The Enclave (2015) — an appalling testimony from the forgotten civil war in eastern DR Congo and most recently David Altmejd's gigantic wunderkammer The Flux and the Puddle (2015-2016).