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.
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.
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?
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.
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.”
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.
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?”
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?
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.