December 13, 2017
It’s amazing what a complete game-change results when the stretcher bars for painting go missing. Reflecting on her early optical abstract paintings, Howardena Pindell once remarked that she gave up the rectangle in favor of unstretched canvases with idiosyncratic, non-symmetrical shapes that conjured, as she once put it, “some internal intuition of nature.” In effect, she literally “othered” her paintings, which in their new form epitomized difference. That move alone probably diminished her status forever as an abstract painter of note. Add to that the social contents that overtook her field paintings of the ’70s, contaminating what could have passed for reference-free minimalist-styled grids and monochromatic fields, with collage and text references to cultural politics. That’s all before we get to the part that she is African-American, and female, and quite outspoken on issues of discrimination and social injustice. She became a de facto member of a very small group of African American artists who broke the color barrier, and the gender barrier, and who laid claim to abstraction on their own terms long before the current trend in African American abstraction (For instance, see Amber Jamilla Musser’s essay in the October 2017 Brooklyn Rail). Can we name another black woman abstract painter from mid-century who has enjoyed any semblance of recognition? Besides Alma Thomas? Not likely.
In 1979 Howardena Pindell had yet to turn 37, but she was already accomplished. She was a cofounder of pioneering feminist gallery A.I.R., and was one of the first black curators at the Museum of Modern Art. And all of this while cultivating her signature painting style—abstract canvases with colorful paper circles affixed to neutral backgrounds, or occasionally covering 3-D structures, like confetti sprinkled over a city sidewalk.
November 20, 2017
One way to combine postmodern deconstruction of the painted surface with a feminist reclamation of craft is to sew together scraps of canvas, as Pindell does here for her knockout first show of new paintings since 2001. Using a sailmaker’s needle, she assembles her elements into irregular shapes and paints them in bright solid colors before adding her trademark hole-punched paper disks; the unstretched paintings are then further embellished with ovals and circles cut out of foam. Nautilus #1, a yellow spiral whose drifts of multicolored dots evoke ocean currents, may be the sunniest, but all the pieces radiate joy, even as their visible sutures evoke dislocation and trauma. Songlines: Labyrinth (Versailles), which is loosely rectangular and pale turquoise, is waiting patiently for a museum wall.
October 23, 2017
Following a decade-long hiatus from the commercial gallery world, Howardena Pindell will debut a new body of abstract paintings and collages made in the past three years. Utilizing a variety of materials, including sequins, glitter, vinyl text, powder, and the occasional bit of hair, Pindell has created seven large-scale works as well as a number of smaller, more intricate collages for the exhibition. It opens several months ahead of a retrospective at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, so it could be a preview for those unfamiliar with Pindell’s work.