Museum  February 22, 2018  Megan D Robinson

Howardena Pindell's Abstractions on view at MCA Chicago

Photo courtesy of the artist and Garth Greenan Gallery, New York

Howardena PindellNight Flight, 2015–16. Mixed media on canvas; 75 × 63 in. Garth Greenan Gallery. 

This month, the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago presents What Remains to Be Seen, the first major traveling museum survey of Howardena Pindell. Covering five decades of Pindell’s paintings, collages, writings, drawings, and videos, the exhibition also documents her activist projects and includes work from the last two years. Her groundbreaking, multidisciplinary art explores texture, color, and structure. Pindell uses bright colors and unconventional materials such as string, glitter, colored paper and sequins in her work. Layering dots of pigment and patterns of circles made with a hole punch to create tactile, sculptural works of subtle power, her art is influenced by her extensive world travels, and often comments on politics, human rights, racism, feminism, and exploitation.

Courtesy of the artist and Garth Greenan Gallery, New York

Howardena PindellUntitled #4D, 2009. Mixed media on paper collage; 7 × 10 in.

Born in 1943, Pindell received her B.A. in 1965 from Boston University, where faculty encouraged figurative work. She received her M.F.A. at Yale in 1967, and was introduced to Abstract Expressionism. After graduating, she applied for fifty different teaching jobs, and was rejected for all of them. Moving to New York in her job search, Pindell entered a vibrant art scene which supported and encouraged her growth as an abstract artist. Pindell was one of the first African-American curators at the Museum of Modern Art, where she worked for twelve years. Also a co-founder of pioneering feminist gallery A.I.R., she has spent decades actively challenging the art world to be more inclusive. Pindell left MOMA in 1979, and began teaching at Stony Brook University, where she still teaches.  

Courtesy of the artist and Garth Greenan Gallery, New York.

Howardena PindellUntitled #20 (Dutch Wives Circled and Squared) (detail), 1978. Mixed media on canvas; 86 × 110 in. (218.4 × 279.4 cm). Collection Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, gift of Albert A. Robin by exchange, 2014.15.

Courtesy of the artist and Garth Greenan Gallery, New York.


Howardena PindellFree, White and 21, 1980. Videotape (color, sound). Collection Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, gift of Garth Greenan and Bryan Davidson Blue, 2014.22.

After a life-threatening car accident in 1979, Pindell's art took an autobiographical turn. She began integrating postcards from her travels into collages to help reconstruct her memory, exploring both personal and cultural history in her work. In 1980, eight months after her accident, Pindell made a 12-minute video called Free, White and 21, which juxtaposed her shared experiences of racism with the invalidating responses of a privileged white woman, played by Pindell in whiteface. She also created video drawings: stills of TV sports images with arrows and numbers drawn over them, giving a sense of motion and mystery. Some of her work explores our history of slavery and institutional racism. Pindell is also fascinated with the natural world and the cosmos, referencing the Krakatoa volcano and astronomical phenomenon such as the Hale Bopp comet in her work.

Courtesy of the artist and Garth Greenan Gallery, New York.

Howardena PindellVideo Drawings: Swimming, 1975. Chromogenic development print; framed: 13 15/16 × 16 1/16 in. (35.4 × 40.8 cm). Collection Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, Anixter Art Acquisition Fund, 2016.6.

Howardena Pindell: What Remains To Be Seen is co-curated by MCA Curator Naomi Beckwith and Valerie Cassel Oliver, Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, and is on view from February 24 to May 20, 2018. The exhibition moves to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in August. For more information, visit

About the Author

Megan D Robinson

Megan D Robinson writes for Art & Object and the Iowa Source.

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