by Lori Lakin Hutcherson (@lakinhutcherson)
A landmark exhibition of abstract paintings, sculptures and works on paper by 21 black women artists will be on view at the National Museum of Women in the Arts (NMWA) from Oct. 13, 2017–Jan. 21, 2018. Magnetic Fields: Expanding American Abstraction, 1960s to Today places the visual vocabularies of these artists in context with one another and within the larger history of abstraction. This exhibition celebrates those under-recognized artists who have been marginalized, and argues for their continuing contribution to the history and iconography of abstraction in the United States. Magnetic Fields is the first exhibition dedicated exclusively to the formal and historical dialogue of abstraction by black women artists.
From the brilliant colors and energetic brushwork of Alma Woodsey Thomas’s paintings to shredded tire sculptures by Chakaia Booker, works featured in this exhibition testify to the enduring ability of abstraction to convey both personal iconography and universal themes. The exhibition underscores the diversity of abstract art, which lies in its material construction and conceptual underpinnings, as well as in its practitioners.
Magnetic Fields features a range of works, including early and later career examples, several exhibited for the first time, and the long-awaited reappearance of iconic works such as Mavis Pusey’s large-scale painting Dejyqea (1970), featured in the Whitney Museum of American Art’s landmark 1971 exhibition Contemporary Black Artists in America.
“By highlighting each artist’s individual approach to materials, composition, color and content, Magnetic Fields creates a context for a lively and visual conversation among these artists,” said NMWA Director Susan Fisher Sterling. “The project also vigorously expands the art-historical narrative on post-war American abstract art. This exhibition shifts our attention to key practitioners who have not received their due, fostering a deeper appreciation of their accomplishments and asserting a new parity of value for their work.”
Magnetic Fields also pays tribute to the lived experience of each of the featured artists who have come individually to pursue abstraction, disrupting the presumption that only figurative works can convey personal experience. Collectively, work by the select group of prolific creators, born between 1891 and 1981, represents a range of approaches rooted in Abstract Expressionism, Color Field painting and Minimalism, with emphasis on process, materiality, innovation and experimentation. The artists in the exhibition are:
Candida Alvarez (b. 1955)
- Chakaia Booker (b. 1953)
- Betty Blayton (b. 1937, d. 2016)
- Lilian Thomas Burwell (b. 1927)
- Nanette Carter (b. 1954)
- Barbara Chase-Riboud (b. 1939)
- Deborah Dancy (b. 1949)
- Abigail DeVille (b. 1981)
- Maren Hassinger (b. 1947)
- Jennie C. Jones (b. 1968)
- Evangeline “EJ” Montgomery (b. 1930)
- Mary Lovelace O’Neal (b. 1942)
- Howardena Pindell (b. 1943)
- Mavis Pusey (b. 1928)
- Shinique Smith (b. 1971)
- Gilda Snowden (b. 1954, d. 2014)
- Sylvia Snowden (b. 1942)
- Kianja Strobert (b. 1980)
- Alma Woodsey Thomas (b. 1891, d. 1978)
- Mildred Thompson (b. 1936, d. 2003)
- Brenna Youngblood (b. 1979)
“As curators, we are honored to present this incredible, intergenerational group of artists,” stated co-curators Erin Dziedzic and Melissa Messina. “This exhibition is intended to be a platform to further their visibility, as well as to generate more inclusive conversations about the history of American abstraction that consider the accomplishments and contributions of women artists of color going forward.”
Through its expansive scope, Magnetic Fields magnifies and intensifies the viewer’s perspective of American abstraction, and provides an expanded history of non-pictorial image- and object-making. The exhibit is organized by the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, Kansas City, Missouri, and is supported in part by awards from the National Endowment for the Arts and from The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts.
Washington, D.C., Connections
NMWA is the only East Coast venue for this groundbreaking exhibition. Many featured artists have ties to the Washington area, especially the Department of Art at Howard University. Alumni of this department include Alma Woodsey Thomas, Mildred Thompson, Mary Lovelace O’Neal and Sylvia Snowden. Others with ties to the region include Lilian Thomas Burwell, who was born in Washington, D.C., obtained her MFA at Catholic University and lives and works in Highland Beach, Maryland; Shinique Smith, who was born in Baltimore and earned both her BFA and MFA at the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA); and Maren Hassinger, who is the director of the Rinehart School of Sculpture at MICA.
National Museum of Women in the Arts
The National Museum of Women in the Arts (NMWA) is the world’s only major museum solely dedicated to celebrating the creative contributions of women. The museum champions women through the arts by collecting, exhibiting, researching and creating programs that advocate for equity and shine a light on excellence. NMWA highlights remarkable women artists of the past while also promoting the best women artists working today. The museum’s collection includes over 5,000 works by more than 1,000 women artists from the 16th century to the present, including Mary Cassatt, Frida Kahlo, Alma Woodsey Thomas, Lee Krasner, Louise Bourgeois, Chakaia Booker and Nan Goldin.
NMWA is located at 1250 New York Avenue, NW, Washington, D.C., in a landmark building near the White House. It is open Monday–Saturday, 10 a.m.–5 p.m. and Sunday, noon–5 p.m. For information, call 202-783-5000 or visit nmwa.org. Admission is $10 for adults, $8 for visitors 65 and over and students, and free for NMWA members and youths 18 and under. Free Community Days take place on the first Sunday of each month. For more information about NMWA, visit nmwa.org, Broad Strokes Blog, Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.