Two Works by “Magnetic Fields” Artist Mildred Thompson Acquired by National Museum of Women in the Arts

by Lori Lakin Hutcherson (@lakinhutcherson)

Mildred Thompson, Magnetic Fields, 1990 (©The Mildred Thompson Estate; Courtesy Galerie Lelong & Co., New York)

The National Museum of Women in the Arts (NMWA) announces the acquisition of two works by Mildred Thompson (1939–2003) in celebration of the museum’s 30th-anniversary year. With a career spanning more than four decades, Thompson created paintings, drawings, prints and sculptures with a signature approach to abstraction.

Inspired by the Atlanta-based Thompson’s inclusion in the recent exhibition Magnetic Fields: Expanding American Abstraction, 1960s to Today, the Georgia Committee of NMWA purchased a painting from her “Magnetic Fields” series for the museum. Camille Ann Brewer gifted a second work by Thompson to the museum to honor the memory of the artist.

“We are thrilled that donor Camille Ann Brewer and the Georgia Committee—one of 20 outreach committees around the world that support NMWA—have both donated to the museum’s collection incredible works by Mildred Thompson from the earlier and later parts of her career,” said NMWA Director Susan Fisher Sterling. “It is an honor to announce this gift today, on her birthday, and during the museum’s third annual #5WomenArtists social media campaign, which aims to increase awareness of gender inequity in the art world.”

After living in Europe to escape the racism and sexism that she had experienced in the United States, Thompson moved back permanently and began her series of “Magnetic Fields” paintings in the early 1990s. The painting gifted to NMWA, as well as the series as a whole, reflects Thompson’s quest to create a personal visual language for depicting phenomena and effects not visible to the naked eye. She studied, and had a longstanding interest in, quantum physics, cosmology and theosophy. Through her art, she sought to connect scientific knowledge and metaphysical philosophy.

Thompson’s interest in scientific phenomena and theories ran counter to expectations of what ‘black art’ should be during her lifetime, causing her work to be chronically overlooked by critics, galleries and museums. Today, thanks to the dedicated efforts of her partner, Donna Jackson, and estate curator, Melissa Messina, her works are finally gaining the recognition that eluded them for so long.

Artist Mildred Thompson (photo via askart.com)

In “Magnetic Fields,” the composition exudes a frenetic, pulsating energy of vivid yellows, reds and blues thanks to Thompson’s command of color theory. Simultaneously, her color choices imbue the composition with an emotional exuberance that complements its scientific inspiration.

Even before the Magnetic Fields exhibition opened, Brewer was inspired to gift the second work by Thompson to NMWA. That work, an untitled “wood picture” from Thompson’s European period, along with the newly gifted painting, mark important additions to the museum’s collection. Thompson’s wood pictures, which she began making in the 1960s while living in Germany, mark the artist’s decision to focus solely on non-representational art-making. Thompson’s use of found wood segments assembled into deceptively simple compositions brought about her first mature series of non-representational sculptural works. Made with salvaged wood, these works combine the aesthetic of Minimalism and found-object assemblage techniques like those of Louise Nevelson. With the addition of these works to the collection, NMWA is able to expand the narrative surrounding abstract artists as well as artists of color.

NMWA is located at 1250 New York Avenue, NW, Washington, D.C. It is open Mon.–Sat., 10 a.m.–5 p.m. and Sun., noon–5 p.m. Admission is $10 for adults, $8 for visitors 65 and over and students, and free for NMWA members and youths 18 and under. Admission is free the first Sunday of each month. For information, call 202-783-5000, visit nmwa.org, Broad Strokes Blog, Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.