The Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago presents the first major survey of the work of groundbreaking, multidisciplinary artist Howardena Pindell. The exhibition spans the New York-based artist's five-decades-long career, featuring early figurative paintings, pure abstraction and conceptual works, and personal and political art that emerged in the aftermath of a life-threatening car accident in 1979. Tracing the themes and visual experiments that run throughout Pindell's work, the exhibition shows how she challenged the traditional art world and asserted her place in its history as an African-American woman artist. Pindell revolutionized painting from her early, radical explorations of color and shape to her later work that expanded to address human rights injustices such as war, famine, homelessness, racism, and the AIDs crisis. Howardena Pindell: What Remains To Be Seen is co-curated by MCA Curator Naomi Beckwith and Valerie Cassel Oliver, Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, and is on view from February 24 to May 20, 2018.
Since the 1970s, Pindell has used unconventional materials such as glitter, talcum powder, and perfume to stretch the boundaries of the rigid custom of the rectangular, canvas painting. She has also infused her work with traces of her labor, such as obsessively affixing dots of pigment and circles made with an ordinary hole punch. Despite the effort exerted in the creation of these paintings, Pindell's use of rich colors and unusual materials gives the finished works a sumptuous and ethereal quality.
The work Pindell created since 1979 engages the world beyond the painting studio. This shift was precipitated by a series of personal and political catastrophes that Pindell experienced that year, including a car accident that left her with short-term memory loss. Expanding on the experimental formal language she previously developed, Pindell explored a wide range of subjects, from the personal and diaristic, to the social and political. Her Autobiography series transformed postcards from her global travels into photo-based collages, which she used to reconstruct her memories.
Although the subject matter of Pindell's work is ever shifting, she continually returns to the unique process she developed in the 1970s. In this way, over the course of her career, Pindell has moved forward while continuing to look back, and her path can be charted as a spiral - with her work continually shaped by her experiences.
Bodies of work, such as her Rambo series, respond to broader cultural concerns and critique sexism, racism, and discrimination at large. The exhibition also highlights Pindell's work with photography, film, and performance, mediums she has used to explore her place in the world. Her chance-based experiments include photographing her drawings juxtaposed over a television screen, as well as creating Free, White, and 21 (1980), a performance for film based on her personal experiences of racism.
The natural world and the cosmos are key subjects for Pindell, connecting back to her interest in thebalance between order and chaos, structure and freedom, and the possibilities of play and wonder between these two extremes. Her fascination with the stars and planets extend the concerns with infinity and time, sometimes referencing specific astronomical phenomenon such as the Hale Bop comet in 1997. They also address other natural phenomenon such as the deadly Krakatoa volcano in Indonesia, represented in Pindell's work through oversized hole punches that spill out of over the bounds of the picture. In her work, M64 (1982), the curved canvas represents M64, known as "The Black Eye Galaxy," with a cluster of stars and swirling trails of cosmic dust dotted with twinkling stars.
The exhibition also includes Pindell's most recent works from the last two years, which draw on the beauty and innovation of her approach to abstraction to build upon contemporary conversations around equity and diversity.
-Editors of Art Daily