It is an honor to present a major exhibition of the work of Howardena Pindell, an artist, curator, activist, and teacher. The MCA has committed itself to creating, not just reflecting, art history and course-correcting the absence of a canonic discourse about deserving artists of color and women artists such as Howardena Pindell. Her tenacity both in and outside of the studio as well as her dedication to her craft have secured her enduring relevance today.
Pindell embarked on her career as an artist in the 1960s, a time when the world and the very criteria of what constituted an art object were changing, giving rise to many contemporary art museums, including the MCA. Pindell, too, adapted to these new notions of art, moving away from her academic training to explore minimal aesthetics in paintings and assemblages. She expanded her practice to tackle the nascent field’s social issues—which she was keenly aware of as the first African American woman to hold a curatorial post at the Museum of Modern Art. In fact, her radical honesty helped shed light on the inequities perpetuated by the art world in that era: her 1989 essay “Art (World) & Racism: A Documentation” exposed the discriminatory practices of cultural institutions that excluded minority artists from galleries, museums, and publications. As this book goes to press, the nation is focused on events exposing the disempowerment of women in the workplace. Pindell blazed a trail for today’s artists whose politics inflect their artwork, and her oeuvre serves as a clarion call and directive for how to engage in conversations around these still-urgent issues.
I salute Naomi Beckwith and Valerie Cassel Oliver for cocurating this project with perceptiveness and passion. In presenting five decades of Pindell’s work alongside the changing tides of art theory and historical rhetoric, they have placed her body of work in a rich context that bridges the transition from the modern to the postmodern. This exhibition of 144 works, including paintings, assemblages, works on paper, and video, as well as archival material, shows her artworks as both formal and narrative, personal and political, and deeply engaged in today’s world.
This remarkable presentation of Howardena Pindell’s work would not be possible without the lead support provided by the Harris Family Foundation in memory of Bette and Neison Harris: Caryn and King Harris, Katherine Harris, Toni and Ron Paul, Pam and Joe Szokol, Linda and Bill Friend, and Stephanie and John Harris. We also wish to thank Kenneth C. Griffin; The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts; and Marilyn and Larry Fields. Additional gratitude is due to the National Endowment for the Arts, the Terra Foundation for American Art, Charlotte Cramer Wagner and Herbert S. Wagner III of the Wagner Foundation, and Liz and Eric Lefkofsky. I am also grateful for the generous support of the Nathan Cummings Foundation, with the support and encouragement of Jane Saks; Mr. and Mrs. Lee Broughton; Garth Greenan Gallery; Agnes Gund; Heiji and Brian Black; Lester N. Coney and Mesirow Financial; Ashlee Jacob; Nickol and Darrel Hackett; Denise and Gary Gardner; Vicki and Bill Hood; Cheryl Mayberry McKissack and Eric McKissack; Jeanne and Kevin Poorman; Desirée and Victoria Rogers; Dr. John E. Ellis; Cathy Ross and Chris Liguori; and the Lloyd A. Fry Foundation.
I extend my gratitude to the lenders who have graciously parted with works for this historic exhibition. I also thank Bill Arning for his early support and Alex Nyerges and Luis A. Croquer, directors of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts and the Rose Art Museum respectively, where the exhibition will tour.
Finally, the MCA gives the utmost thanks to Howardena Pindell, for trusting us to exhibit her smart and beautiful work. It is a privilege and a welcome responsibility to share her story with our public.