Six Weeks Later: Still Full From Viewing Howardena Pindell: What Remains to Be Seen! Part TWO

Today I’m posting the second part of “Six Weeks Later: Still Full From Viewing Howardena Pindell: What Remains to Be Seen.” I hope you’ve returned because you enjoyed Part One.  If you don’t know what I’m talking about, please check out this post in which I share Howardena Pindell’s relationship to Naomi Beckwith and Valerie Cassel Oliver, as well as what the three of them talked about during their conversation at the MCA (Chicago) on February 24, 2018.

me looking at Howardena Pindell’s “Memory- Past, 1980-81”

There were a couple of moments during the MCA Talk when I felt pangs of emotion. One was sensing the esteem, the regard with which curators Naomi Beckwith and Valerie Cassel Oliver spoke to and of Pindell. It reminded me of the time in 2016 when I attended Margot Lee Shetterly (author of the book, Hidden Figures) being interviewed by Dr. Rabiah Mayas. On that occasion, Dr. Mayas talked about how good it felt and how honored she was to conduct the interview. She had spent most of her young black life as a science nerd, and didn’t really see a lot examples of people like herself (and her sister, who is also a scientist!) doing a range of dynamic things with her interests and aptitudes.

from Howardena Pindell’s “Untitled #2, 1973”

An aside. Even though I get impatient when people use the phrase “representation matters” without elaborating, this is an example of what that means. I have to wonder that without representation – without women, without people of color entering into fields like archival preservation, art curatorial, historical writing, publishing, etc. – would we ever learn about so many “hidden figures”?

Another moment of emotional recognition was hearing Howardena Pindell say – after being greeted with a standing ovation – “This is the best museum experience I’ve ever had;” and then again when she mentioned being left out of a lot of things because of racism. It made me think not only about Pindell, but other artists whose work is not received well; artists who may have to work in hostile environments, or in isolated, unsupported ways. I wondered: How is the work one makes when one is unsupported and marginalized different from the work one makes when they feel supported and validated?
I know I got a little cheesy in my previous post, promising to reveal some controversial comments that Howardena Pindell made during her MCA Talk. I used the word “debatable” but I could have used the word “paradoxical” to describe Howardena Pindell saying that she does not follow what’s going on in “the art world;” but, also, when she said that “art belongs to a privileged class.” Two questions came to mind:
(1) How would the trajectory of Pindell’s career have been different without the privileged class of art appreciators who are aware of her work and have the resources to purchase and exhibit it?
(2) How are more recent generations of artists sculpting space for themselves without the support of the art world’s privileged classes?

Howardena Pindell’s “Untitled, 1967”

Here are my journal notes from March 7, 2018
“I went to see the Howardena Pindell show, yesterday. It was overwhelming, a lot to take in. I really appreciated having the chance to look at 50 years of her processes, her quirks and passions and themes and fascinations over the years and seeing how those things evolved in her work over time.

I like this recognition that artists have questions, wounds, and favorite materials that they return to through their work – it isn’t just the burning questions of the day but the creative choices the artist makes to treat a topic, theme, etc.

I enjoyed the series of photographs that Howardena Pindell cut up and reassembled with her own drawings, making me think about memory and re-writing one’s life from pieces of evidence filled in with emotions and attitudes and the ways we choose to remember things and tell our stories to others….or, with regard to Howardena Pindell’s life-threatening accident (in 1979)….and other of her works that feature skeletal bones….so there is brokenness and healing; torn canvasses and re-stitchings; bones with their flesh and disconnection.

Howardena Pindell’s “Hunger: The Color of Bones, 2014”

So much of Pindell’s work is highly textured and has movement and waves reminiscent of a different way to notate music as well as visions of cosmos/galaxies/“outer space.” Also, her meticulous and laborious art making processes – finding play and enjoyment in making her own painterly surfaces….the autonomy of her artistic process – not being told by “the art world” what to produce and what is valuable.”

Autobiography- Art:East, 1986-89

I returned to the museum on March 14 for the Curator Tour with Naomi Beckwith. We were a pretty good-sized group waiting at the entrance to the exhibition; I think, more people than she had anticipated – judging from the look of surprise on her face when she rounded the corner to greet us.  She had a warm presence and moved through the galleries with the lithe quality of a dancer.

detail from Untitled #5B (Krakatoa), 2007

Here are some things we learned that you may consider when you see the exhibition for yourself:
*this exhibition is a survey and not a retrospective;
*works are from Howardena Pindell’s career from 1963-2016;
*during the 1960s there was an architectural influence on perspective in abstract works;
*Pindell used “fauvist” colors and employed grids, graph papers, numbers, order, organization, and handmade papers in works prior to 1979;
*Pindell’s scripting of numbers was a “painterly” activity;
*the exhibition organizes Pindell’s works after 1979 by the following themes: (1)memoirist/autobiography  (2) traveler (3) activist (4) scientist;
*after 1979 – the year of a gallery show with a controversial title in Manhattan, as well as the year Pindell suffered injuries and short-term amnesia in a bad auto collision – Pindell uses personal storytelling in her work, and that wasn’t something that was done in art prior to this period;
*prior to 1979 Pindell employs lots of hole-punches (or chads), circles, ovals, etc., as well as cutting and stitching canvasses; after 1979 strips and bandages and fragments were added;
*for Pindell’s “Autobiography” pieces she painted using “hatch marks,” which referenced/were a nod to Jasper Johns;
*in the “traveler” works there are references to things Pindell learned about texture, fiber, depth perception, etc., from her travels to Africa, India, and Japan;
*one thing Pindell explores in many of her works is “how does the body move through the world?”

“Separate But Equal Genocide- AIDS, 1991-92”

Toward the end of the tour, I had a chance to ask Ms. Beckwith what particular thing she and Valerie Cassell Oliver were able to bring to this survey of Pindell’s work, and she said RESPECT – in acknowledging her not only as an artist, but as the first black woman curator at the Museum of Modern Art in New York (MoMA).  She paved the way for women curators of color in major art museums over the past 50 years.

I think this adds another layer of meaning to this exhibition possibly being the best museum experience [Howardena Pindell] ever had. It’s about that circle of respect that happens when there is a collaboration between people of a lineage and continuum.

How might you feel if you had an opportunity to collaborate with and honor someone who paved the way for you?

“Nautilus #1, 2014-15”

When you look at some of the images of Howardena Pindell’s work that I’ve included in this post, do they conform to your ideas about visual art made by women and artists of color?

There is still time to see Howardena Pindell: What Remains to Be Seen. It will be at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago through May 20, 2018; going on to Virginia Museum of Fine Arts from August 25- November 25, 2018.

Check out “Hole-Punched by Howardena Pindell” by Ingrid Westlake.


  1. I’m loving all the rich textures. I think her art would resonate with a number of Jamaican artists, especially those who use mixed media. I’m happy that I’ve never seen anything like this before, and that it came from a woman of colour.

    And I adore your journaling style. It’s so creative and analytical.

    I’ll say it again, I love learning from you.

    1. Yes! Howardena Pindell’s development of rich textures is one of the things that excites me about her work. Before she even applies paint and other things to her canvases, she often cuts and stitches canvas to create the surface she wants to work on.

      Trust me, Nadine, my “journaling style” -as you call it- is not always “creative and analytical;” but often whiney and roundabout and mundane. Thank you, though, for engaging with my posts; it helps [me] keep my chin up on days when my efforts to develop content for this blog and persevere with other writing projects seem futile.

  2. Dear Leslie – Oh I am so glad to meet you at Senior Salon and a hearty welcome to you. Hope to see you each week. Feel free to share the news that you’re now also participating and sharing your posts with us. Please check out some other Silver members and remember you will get a ping tonight once I publish the roundup post. If you follow my blog, you will also receive the email each week once the doors open on a Monday.

  3. I really like this post series. You posed some great questions in this post that I tried to answer to myself but was unable to. The last one made me reflect on what I think about when I take in visual art. It made me realize that I don’t really think about the artist when I see a work other than to wonder what inspired the piece. I don’t think about the artist as an entity until I look closer at the plaque accompanying the piece and see the name of the artist and even then the artist doesn’t have much impact on what I think. My focus is always on the work itself and how it affects me and what does it make me think. Sometimes I consider the technique. If I really love the piece, then I’ll google the artist to learn more about their inspirations.
    I love the pieces you’ve shown here of Pindell’s work, especially “detail from Untitled #5B (Krakatoa), 2007” and “Nautilus #1, 2014-15” because of the vibrant colors used.

    1. Hi Zezee – Your comments have me trying to remember when it was that I first began paying attention to narrative identifiers prior to viewing art work. Maybe when I started working in museum visitor services and realized that I was attracted to learning about the creative processes and ideas of different artists.

      One of the reasons for the questions I posed is that it seems that we are always being asked to look at writers’ and visual artists’ work through the lens of race and gender and, you know, “intersectionality” and I think that can be limiting at a certain point. I was aware of Howardena Pindell as memoirist/activist, but I didn’t know about her interest in the cosmos and science and numbers and travel, for instance.

      I wouldn’t need to know who created “Nautilus #1, 2014-15” in order to gravitate toward it – like you said, about the vibrant color, and how energetic the piece feels! When artists make art about the fullness of our experience and imagination and contemplation, that’s what I like. Thank you for your thoughtful response, Zezee.

    1. Thank you for reading, Daniel. I get carried away sometimes, getting all geeky about things that excite me and thinking everybody must want to join in!

  4. I appreciated your thoughtful posts on an artist I hadn’t yet met. I taught English at the art college in Portland, Oregon from 1976-2001 and had the opportunity to see two outstanding exhibits by black women. Carrie Mae Weems and Lorna Simpson. Simpson’s work knocked me breathless with her understated portrayal of domination. Weems really alerted me to the importance of moments in every day life.

    1. Hi Elizabeth – I’m glad I could introduce you to Howardena Pindell, today. I am familiar with the fine work of both Carrie Mae Weems and Lorna Simpson – thank you for introducing their names to this forum. Lorna Simpson is actually one of a roundtable of artists discussing the impact of Howardena Pindell’s work in the monograph.

  5. Wonderful second part to your post on Howardena. As I read your post and looked at her artwork It made me wonder how much being unrecognized added to her art in the sense of freedom of expression or conversely if she had been part of the main stream, how would mainstream expectations influenced the trajectory of her artistic expression.

    1. Bernadette, I like your point about [Pindell] having a sense of freedom of expression; not creating art in response to “mainstream” ideals and expectations figuring into her process. Conversely, if she’d had support, might she have felt pressure to “stay in conversation” with that support?

  6. Dear Leslie, Thank you for part two! I always hate missing an installment of a continuing story. Howardena Pindell’s works are beautiful, and I enjoyed seeing them. However, trying to categorize them as “work by a woman” or “work by a person of color” reminded me strongly, unexpectedly, of a time in school when a teacher told me and some of my fellow left-handers “I just LOVE to watch left-handed people write.” The tone said she was amazed that we could do anything at all. I would much rather look at the work you present on its merits, not according to the group(s) the artist belongs to. I recognize that mentioning categories is important to some extent — I’ve faced up to part of that as a woman (as well as a left-hander). But I hope we can get past the categories and be welcoming as soon as possible. Thank you, my friend.

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