National Museum of Women in the Arts in D.C. to Host “Magnetic Fields” Exhibition on October 13; 1st in U.S. of Abstract Art by Intergenerational Black Women Artists

Mildred Thompson, Magnetic Fields, 1991; Oil on canvas, triptych, 70 1/2 x 150 in.; Courtesy of the Mildred Thompson Estate, Atlanta, Georgia

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.

Chakaia Booker, El Gato, 2001; Rubber tire and wood, 48 x 42 x 42 in.; Collection of the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, Bebe and Crosby Kemper Collection,; (Photo by E. G. Schempf)

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:

  • Alma Woodsey Thomas, Orion, 1973; Acrylic on canvas, 59 3/4 x 54 in.; Courtesy of the National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Wallace and Wilhelmina Holladay (Photo by Lee Stalsworth)

    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.” Continue reading

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