The Rose Art Museum at Brandeis University presents the first major retrospective of eminent American artist, curator, and teacher Howardena Pindell, who for nearly five decades has explored the intersection of art and activism. Co-curated Naomi Beckwith and Valerie Cassel Oliver and organized by the MCA Chicago, What Remains To Be Seen spans the New York–based artist’s career, featuring early figurative paintings, pure abstraction and conceptual works, as well as personal and political art that emerged in the aftermath of a life-threatening car accident in 1979. On view February 1 through May 19, 2019, the exhibition traces themes and visual experiments that run throughout Pindell’s work up to the present. Howardena Pindell will be in conversation with Beckwith, Cassel Oliver, and the Rose Art Museum's Assistant Curator Caitlin Julia Rubin on February 2.
“We are thrilled to welcome Howardena Pindell back to the Rose 25 years after we first hosted a retrospective of her work,” said Luis A. Croquer, Henry and Lois Foster Director and Chief Curator at the Rose. “Her exceptional and pioneering career–partnered with a boundless material inventiveness as well as insistent and valiant focus on equity and diverse representation within the art world–invites us to confront the pressing issues of our times.”
Trained as a painter, Pindell (American, b. 1943) 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 unconventional materials such as glitter, talcum powder, sewing thread, and perfume to expand the boundaries of the rigid tradition of paintings on rectangular, stretched canvas. Her work is infused with traces of her labor, creating rich, layered surfaces by obsessively affixing dots of pigment and paper circles made with an ordinary hole punch onto the surfaces of her paintings. Despite the effort exerted in the creation of these works, Pindell’s use of rich colors and unconventional materials gives the finished paintings a sumptuous and ethereal quality.
Pindell often employs lengthy, metaphorical processes of destruction/reconstruction. She cuts canvases in strips and sews them back together, building up surfaces in elaborate stages. She paints or draws on sheets of paper, punches out dots from the paper using a paper hole punch, drops the dots onto her canvas, and finally squeegees paint through the “stencil” left in the paper from which she had punched the dots. Almost invariably, her paintings are installed unstretched, held to the wall merely by the strength of a few finishing nails. The artist’s fascination with gridded, serialized imagery, along with surface texture appears throughout her oeuvre. Even in her later, more politically charged work, Pindell reverts to these thematic focuses in order to address social issues of homelessness, AIDs, war, genocide, sexism, xenophobia, and apartheid.
The work she has created since 1979, when a 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 Rambo series, respond to broader cultural concerns and critique sexism, racism, and discrimination at large.
The exhibition also highlights Pindell’s work with photography, film, and performance, media she has used to explore her place in the world as an African American, a feminist and an activist. Her chance-based experiments include photographing her drawings juxtaposed over a television screen, as well as Free, White, and 21 (1980), a video performance based on her personal experiences of racism. What Remains To Be Seen also includes recent work by Pindell, which continues to draw on the beauty and innovation of her approach to abstraction while building upon contemporary conversations around equity and diversity.
The Rose Art Museum’s presentation is a major return of the artist to the museum: in 1993, the Rose hosted Howardena Pindell: A Retrospective, 1972-1992. Decades later, What Remains To Be Seen—the most comprehensive exhibition of her work to date—explores the continued arc of Pindell’s career, celebrating her singular vision and its enduring imprint on contemporary art.