Howardena Pindell at Large

By Peggy Roalf   Thursday April 5, 2018

The first time I encountered work by Howardena Pindell was her installation featured in the 2006-07 exhibition High Times, Hard Times: New York Painting 1967-1975, at the National Academy of Design, New York. Her radical feminism has squarely located her painting and photo-based work in the realm of protest and although she has exhibited widely and regularly since the 1970s, Pindell has had to wait her turn to be recognized for her extraordinary output.  

The first major survey of her multidisciplinary practice, Howardena Pindell: What Remains To Be Seen, is currently on view at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago. Info Her radicalizing video Free, White and 21 (1980) is included in the Whitney’s ongoing show, An Incomplete History of Protest: Selections from the Whitney's Collection, 1940–2017 Info. Last year two of her early confetti-like paintings were included in Delirious: Art at the Limits of Reason, 1950-1980, at The Met Brueuer. Her work figures in Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power, which opened at Tate Modern Info, and now can be seen at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. Info Major paintings by Pindell are included in the Brooklyn Museum’s We Wanted a Revolution: Black Radical Women 1965-1985,now on view at the Albright Knox Gallery Info Her work is also featured in Outliers and American Vanguard Art, currently on view at The National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C. through May 13. info And next month Garth Greenan Gallery will show her work at Frieze/New York Info

Untitled #58, 1974; courtesy James Keith Brown and Eric Diefenbach

Howardena Pindell: What Remains to be Seen spans Pindell’s five-decades-long career, featuring early figurative paintings, pure abstraction/conceptual works, and personal and political art. Trained as a painter, Pindell has challenged art world traditions and asserted her place in its history as a woman and one of African descent. The exhibition also highlights Pindell’s work with photography, film, and performance. Note: images here are included in the exhibition Info

Pindell has challenged the staid traditions of the art world and asserted her place in its history as a woman and one of African descent. Since the 1960s, she has used materials such as glitter, talcum powder, and perfume to stretch the boundaries of the rigid tradition of rectangular, canvas painting. She has also infused her work with traces of her labor, such as obsessively affixing dots of pigment and circles made with an ordinary hole-punch. Despite the effort exerted in the creation of these paintings, Pindell’s use of rich colors and unconventional materials gives the finished works a sumptuous and ethereal quality. 

The work she has created since 1979, when a serious car accident left her with short-term amnesia, engages the world beyond the painting studio. Expanding on the experimental formal language she previously developed, Pindell has explored a wide range of subject matter, from the personal and diaristic to the social and political. Her Autobiography series transforms postcards from her global travels, which she used to reconstruct her memories, into photo-based collages. Other bodies of work, such as her Ramboseries, respond to broader cultural concerns and critique sexism, racism, and discrimination at large. Her seminal video Free, White and 21 (1980), a searing critique of institutionalized racism and the white feminism of the women’s movement that often tokenizes women of color.Info

Video Drawings: Tokyo TV, 1974-75; courtesy the artist and Garth Greenan Gallery

The exhibition also highlights Pindell’s work with photography, film, and performance, media she has used to explore her place in the world, including her chance-based experiments in which she photographs her drawings juxtaposed over a television screen (above). The exhibition also includes Pindell’s most recent works from the last two years, which draw on the beauty and innovation of her approach to abstraction to build upon contemporary conversations around equity and diversity.

Read a series of review of Pindell’s work, from her first New York show in 1973 to the present here View a complete list of exhibitions here

Howardena Pindell: What Remains To Be Seen, continues at the the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago through May 2oth. Info

It then opens at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts August 25th. Info

Memory: Future, 1980-81; courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Howardena Pindell was born in Philadelphia in 1943 and studied painting at Boston University and Yale University. After graduating, she accepted a job in the Department of Prints and Illustrated Books at the Museum of Modern Art, where she worked for 12 years (1967–1979). In 1979, she began teaching at the State University of New York, Stony Brook, where she is now a full professor. Her work has also been featured in many landmark museum exhibitions, such as Contemporary Black Artists in America (1971, Whitney Museum of American Art), Rooms (1976, P.S. 1 Contemporary Art Center), Another Generation (1979, The Studio Museum in Harlem), Afro-American Abstraction (1980, P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center), The Decade Show: Frameworks of Identity in the 1980s (1990, New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York)

Howardena Pindell was one of the founders of the A.I.R. Gallery, one of the first women’s cooperatives in New York City. She has traveled extensively, spending time in Africa, Asia, South America, and Europe, and enjoys studying the myths and languages of many cultures. Since 1986, Pindell’s work has been autobiographical, drawing on her experiences as an African American woman, artist, teacher, and world traveler.