Artist Spotlight: Howardena Pindell

Magnetic Fields: Expanding American Abstraction, 1960s to Today places abstract works by multiple generations of black women artists in context with one another—and within the larger history of abstract art—for the first time, revealing the artists’ role as under-recognized leaders in abstraction.

Autobiography: Japan (Shisen-dō, Kyoto) (1982)

By: Howardena Pindell (b. 1943, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)

As a young girl, Howardena Pindell visited a root beer stand in Northern Kentucky with her father. On the bottom of their soda mugs, Pindell found thick red dots indicating the glasses were meant only to be used by people of color. “I see the reason I have been obsessed with the circle, using it in a way that would be positive instead of negative,” states the artist. 

Howardena Pindell, Autobiography: Japan (Shisen-dō, Kyoto) (detail), 1982; Mixed media on canvas, 70 1/2 x 70 1/2 in.; Courtesy the artist and Garth Greenan Gallery, New York; © Howardena Pindell; Photo courtesy Garth Greenan Gallery, New York

The dot—a concentration of light and color—became foundational for Pindell’s work. In her early years, Pindell employed a method reminiscent of Pointillism, creating non-figurative works (like her untitled work found in Magnetic Fields) with small, round points of paint that cover her canvases. Later, Pindell switched materials to something much more utilitarian: the hole punch. This allowed her to continue her examination of the circle, but without the restrictions of conventional methods and materials. Producing thousands of round, confetti-like dots from painted paper, Pindell carefully distributes her labor onto the wet paint of her canvases. The effect is an atmosphere of sheer energy.

Autobiography: Japan (Shisen-dō, Kyoto) is a kaleidoscopic explosion. Mint green paint encrusts multi-colored, hole-punched dots, forming a large, rounded composition. Pindell, a Yale MFA graduate and former associate curator of Prints and Illustrated Books at MoMA, cut unstretched canvas into irregular strips, and then sewed them back together with thick carpet thread to create a rough circle. In doing so, she intentionally breaks the confines of the traditional rectangular painting.

Beyond materiality, the work explores the personal circuits of memory and mapping. Pindell created Autobiography: Japan (Shisen-dō, Kyoto) after a seven month sojourn in Japan, inspired by the vibrant gardens she could see from outside her apartment window in Kyoto. Punctuated by the collage elements of photos and postcards, the work doubles as Pindell’s attempt to preserve her memory, which was severely affected by a car accident three years prior.

Visit the museum and explore Magnetic Fields, on view through January 21, 2018. Learn more through the Magnetic Fields Mobile Guide.

—Meredith Hamme is the 2017 fall registrarial intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Art Fix Friday: October 30, 2015

Halloween Headlines 

Los Angeles–based artist and photographer Christine McConnell transformed her parents’ house into a spooky setting inspired by the 2006 animated feature Monster House.

NPR interviews author Stacey Schiff and reviews The Witches: Salem, 1692, as “engagingly thorough, thrillingly told, and bracingly authoritative.”

Next month, Louise Bourgeois’s Spider (1997) goes to auction with a low estimate of $25 million and a high estimate of $35 million. It might surpass the record holder, Georgia O’Keeffe’s Jimson Weed/White Flower No. 1, which sold last year for $44.4 million.

NPR asks writer Veronique Tadjo and Harvard professor Maria Tatar why old women are often evil in fairy tales and folklore.

Front-Page Femmes

Nigerian-born artist Njideka Akunyili Crosby wins the $50,000 Wein Prize from the Studio Museum in Harlem.

An 1843 sketch of Charlotte Brontë is revealed to be a self-portrait.

The Huffington Post explores how some prominent women artists, including Helen Frankenthaler, did not like to be labeled as such.

Pioneering Korean painter Chun Kyung-ja—best known for her vivid paintings of women and flowers—died at the age of 91.

Cleaners in an Italian museum threw away an avant-garde art installation by Sara Goldschmied and Eleonara Chiari—believing it was garbage.

The Guerrilla Girls launch a line of towels, hankies, and mugs for sale at MoMA.

Iranian-born journalist Khazar Fatemi’s short video series captures the stories of women in Afghanistan, Turkey, Syria, and Iraq.

Musician and actor Carrie Brownstein’s memoir, Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girldiscusses her upbringing, the break-up of her band, and her personal “battle waged on the body.”

Pulitzer prize-winning author Alice Walker refused a request to publish an Israeli edition The Color Purple because she believes the country “is guilty of apartheid and persecution of the Palestinian people.”

Vogue releases a clip of the new documentary focused on Dr. Maya Angelou.

One of only two female directors currently at Disney Television Animation, Aliki Theofilopoulos talks about perseverance in the animation industry.

Shows We Want to See

The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden showcases chapters one through three of Shana Lutker’s Le “NEW” Monocle. Influenced by surrealists’ fistfights, Lutker’s work is divided into eight parts, each featuring a piece of writing, a group of sculptures, and a performance.

The World Chess Hall hosts Ladies’ Knight: The Female Perspective on Chess, featuring 12 women’s works, which range from a standard chess-board to large video installations.

After a near-fatal car accident, multimedia artist Howardena Pindell focused on recapturing her past—as seen in her abstracted “Autobiography” series on view at Spelman College Museum of Fine Art.

—Emily Haight is the digital editorial assistant at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.