Senga Nengudi

Senga Nengudi. Photo: Ron Pollard

 

Senga Nengudi’s (*1943) media-spanning oeuvre situates itself at the threshold of sculpture and object-related performance, making a crucial contribution to postminimalism. Known for abstract-poetic work that uses such ordinary materials as nylon stockings, the Colorado Springs-based artist casts new light on the relationship between work and viewer while critically exploring socio-political realities.

 

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A distinguishing feature of Nengudi’s art is its radical opening to the everyday world. Some of her earliest works include pieces that viewers were meant to actively interact with in psychological, affective and discursive ways. One example is her Water Compositions series from the late 1960s and ‘70s, which consisted of heat-sealed vinyl casings filled with colored water. Smaller compositions of this type were displayed on a pedestal, and viewers were encouraged to activate them by picking them up, pressing or shaking them. Larger Water Compositions were attached to the exhibition walls with ropes, their appearance ultimately determined by gravity. Among other things, these sculptures engaged the viewer’s physical sensations, altering the unconscious relationship between the viewer’s body and the amorphous physicality of the objects.

This assemblage of material and body sits at the crux of Nengudi’s practice. It is also evident in her now-iconic R.S.V.P. series, which the artist has been working on since 1975. R.S.V.P. consists of women’s hosiery that has been stretched, knotted, filled with sand and tethered to various points in the exhibition space. The resulting kinetic sculptures become tactile, haptic sites for dance performances by Nengudi’s long-time collaborator Maren Hassinger.

The use of nylon stockings is coded in terms of both gender and ethnicity. Although explicitly made for women, many African American men have also used them to protect and care for their hair. The inherent physicality of the works—some of their elements recall flabby human body parts—is reinforced by the fact that the nylons have already been worn, i.e. shaped, stretched and abraded by various bodies. Nengudi herself once noted that she began working on the R.S.V.P. objects after gaining a new appreciation for the elasticity and resistance of her body and psyche after the birth of her first child. Consequently, these works can also be read as symbols of resilience and stamina. They point to social, gender and ethnic tensions and illustrate the ever-present attempt to alter the shape of female bodies in line with societal fantasies.

Nengudi’s nuanced practice continues to draw on a range of influences including Fluxus, the Gutai group and Happenings, the cultures of free jazz, spoken word, but also Yoruba mythology, Japanese Noh theater and African ritual practices. Her openness to dialogue with other cultures and art forms is a core feature of her work. This receptivity also comes through in such legendary performances as Ceremony for Freeway Fets (1978), a happening with artist friends under a highway bridge, or in more recent works including the video Side by Side (2006), in which she and Maren Hassinger perform collaboratively developed dance pieces. Nengudi’s works speak an artistic language that evokes the gravitas and seriousness of human experience—yet they also have a tangible spiritual presence conjured by the post-dramatic theatricality of cultural codes, as well as a distinct lightness of touch.

 

Senga Nengudi: Performance Piece
Activated by Julie Anne Stanzak of Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch at Lenbachhaus, Munich
Violin: Alexander Bălănescu
Courtesy Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus und Kunstbau, Munich

Works
Senga Nengudi
Senga Nengudi
R.S.V.P. Reverie "Scribe", 2014

Senga Nengudi
R.S.V.P. Reverie 'Scribe', 2014
Nylon mesh, sand and found metals
231 × 137 × 170 cm
91 × 54 × 67 inches

More views
Senga Nengudi
Senga Nengudi
Ceremony for Freeway Fets, 1978

Senga Nengudi
Ceremony for Freeway Fets, 1978
C-print
8 horizontal photographs, each: 30 × 45 cm
1 horizontal photograph: 34 × 44.5 cm
2 vertical photographs, each: 45 × 30 cm
8 horizontal photographs, each: 12 × 18 inches
1 horizontal photograph: 14 × 17 1/2 inches
2 vertical photographs, each: 18 × 12 inches

More views
Senga Nengudi
Senga Nengudi
Bulemia, 1990/2018

Senga Nengudi
Bulemia, 1990/2018
Newspaper and gold spray-paint
308 × 424 × 429 cm
121 1/4 × 167 × 169 inches

More views
Senga Nengudi
Senga Nengudi
Up Up Up Spreading Wide, 2019

Senga Nengudi
Up Up Up Spreading Wide, 2019
Mixed media installation
Dimensions variable
Installation dimensions at Art Basel Unlimited:
400 × 570 × 506 cm
157 1/2 × 224 3/4 × 199 1/8 inches

More views
Senga Nengudi
Senga Nengudi
Performance Piece, 1978

Senga Nengudi
Performance Piece, 1978
Silver gelatin prints, triptych
101.6 × 80 cm
80 × 101.6 cm
80 × 101.6 cm
Installation: 168.9 × 189.2 cm
40 × 31 1/2 inches
31 1/2 × 40 inches
31 1/2 × 40 inches
Installation: 66 1/2 × 74 1/2 inches

More views
Senga Nengudi
Senga Nengudi
Blossom, 2014

Senga Nengudi
Blossom, 2014
Nylon mesh and metal
184 × 26 × 19 cm
72 3/8 × 10 1/4 × 7 1/2 inches

More views
Senga Nengudi
Senga Nengudi
Flying, 1982/2014

Senga Nengudi
Flying, 1982/2014
8 Digital prints
6 horizontal prints, each: 51 × 61 cm
2 vertical prints, each: 61 × 51 cm
6 horizontal prints, each: 20 × 24 inches
2 vertical prints, each: 24 × 20 inches

More views
Senga Nengudi
Senga Nengudi
Studio performance with R.S.V.P., 1976

Senga Nengudi
Studio performance with R.S.V.P., 1976
Silver gelatin print
73.7 × 101.6 cm
29 × 40 inches

Senga Nengudi
Senga Nengudi
Rapunzel, 1981

Senga Nengudi
Rapunzel, 1981
Silver gelatin print
101.6 × 76.2 cm
40 × 30 inches

Senga Nengudi
Senga Nengudi
Water Composition III, 1969–70/2018

Senga Nengudi
Water Composition III, 1969–70/2018
Heat sealed vinyl, coloured water, rope
91 × 120 × 73 cm
35 7/8 × 47 1/4 × 28 3/4 inches

More views
Senga Nengudi
Senga Nengudi
Masked Taping, 1978/79

Senga Nengudi
Masked Taping, 1978/79
Contact sheet, silver gelatin prints
101.6 × 83.2 cm
101.6 × 76.2 cm
101.6 × 76.2 cm
40 × 33 inches
40 × 30 inches
40 × 30 inches

More views
Details
Senga Nengudi

Senga Nengudi
R.S.V.P. Reverie 'Scribe', 2014
Nylon mesh, sand and found metals
231 × 137 × 170 cm
91 × 54 × 67 inches

Senga Nengudi
Senga Nengudi

Senga Nengudi
R.S.V.P. Reverie 'Scribe' (detail)

Senga Nengudi
Senga Nengudi

Senga Nengudi
R.S.V.P. Reverie 'Scribe' (detail)

Senga Nengudi
Senga Nengudi

Senga Nengudi
R.S.V.P. Reverie 'Scribe' (detail)

Senga Nengudi

Senga Nengudi
Ceremony for Freeway Fets, 1978
C-print
8 horizontal photographs, each: 30 × 45 cm
1 horizontal photograph: 34 × 44.5 cm
2 vertical photographs, each: 45 × 30 cm
8 horizontal photographs, each: 12 × 18 inches
1 horizontal photograph: 14 × 17 1/2 inches
2 vertical photographs, each: 18 × 12 inches

Senga Nengudi
Senga Nengudi

Senga Nengudi
Ceremony for Freeway Fets, 1978 (detail)

Senga Nengudi
Senga Nengudi

Senga Nengudi
Ceremony for Freeway Fets (detail)

Senga Nengudi
Senga Nengudi

Senga Nengudi
Ceremony for Freeway Fets (detail)

Senga Nengudi
Senga Nengudi

Senga Nengudi
Ceremony for Freeway Fets (detail)

Senga Nengudi

Senga Nengudi
Bulemia, 1990/2018
Newspaper and gold spray-paint
308 × 424 × 429 cm
121 1/4 × 167 × 169 inches

Senga Nengudi
Senga Nengudi

Senga Nengudi
Bulemia, 1990/2018 (detail)

Senga Nengudi
Senga Nengudi

Senga Nengudi
Bulemia, 1990/2018 (detail)

Senga Nengudi
Senga Nengudi

Senga Nengudi
Bulemia, 1990/2018 (detail)

Senga Nengudi
Senga Nengudi

Senga Nengudi
Bulemia, 1990/2018 (detail)

Senga Nengudi
Senga Nengudi

Senga Nengudi
Bulemia, 1990/2018 (detail)

Senga Nengudi
Senga Nengudi

Senga Nengudi
Bulemia, 1990/2018 (detail)

Senga Nengudi
Senga Nengudi

Senga Nengudi
Bulemia, 1990/2018 (detail)

Senga Nengudi
Senga Nengudi

Senga Nengudi
Bulemia, 1990/2018 (detail)

Senga Nengudi
Senga Nengudi

Senga Nengudi
Bulemia, 1990/2018 (detail)

Senga Nengudi

Senga Nengudi
Up Up Up Spreading Wide, 2019
Mixed media installation
Dimensions variable
Installation dimensions at Art Basel Unlimited:
400 × 570 × 506 cm
157 1/2 × 224 3/4 × 199 1/8 inches

Senga Nengudi
Senga Nengudi

Senga Nengudi
Up Up Up Spreading Wide, 2019 (detail)

Senga Nengudi
Senga Nengudi

Senga Nengudi
Up Up Up Spreading Wide, 2019 (detail)

Senga Nengudi
Senga Nengudi

Senga Nengudi
Up Up Up Spreading Wide, 2019 (detail)

Senga Nengudi
Senga Nengudi

Senga Nengudi
Up Up Up Spreading Wide, 2019 (detail)

Senga Nengudi
Senga Nengudi

Senga Nengudi
Up Up Up Spreading Wide, 2019 (detail)

Senga Nengudi
Senga Nengudi

Senga Nengudi
Up Up Up Spreading Wide, 2019 (detail)

Senga Nengudi
Senga Nengudi

Senga Nengudi
Up Up Up Spreading Wide, 2019 (detail)

Senga Nengudi

Senga Nengudi
Performance Piece, 1978
Silver gelatin prints, triptych
101.6 × 80 cm
80 × 101.6 cm
80 × 101.6 cm
Installation: 168.9 × 189.2 cm
40 × 31 1/2 inches
31 1/2 × 40 inches
31 1/2 × 40 inches
Installation: 66 1/2 × 74 1/2 inches

Senga Nengudi
Senga Nengudi

Senga Nengudi
Performance Piece (detail)

Senga Nengudi
Senga Nengudi

Senga Nengudi
Performance Piece (detail)

Senga Nengudi
Senga Nengudi

Senga Nengudi
Performance Piece (detail)

Senga Nengudi

Senga Nengudi
Blossom, 2014
Nylon mesh and metal
184 × 26 × 19 cm
72 3/8 × 10 1/4 × 7 1/2 inches

Senga Nengudi
Senga Nengudi

Senga Nengudi
Blossom (detail)

Senga Nengudi

Senga Nengudi
Flying, 1982/2014
8 Digital prints
6 horizontal prints, each: 51 × 61 cm
2 vertical prints, each: 61 × 51 cm
6 horizontal prints, each: 20 × 24 inches
2 vertical prints, each: 24 × 20 inches

Senga Nengudi
Senga Nengudi

Senga Nengudi
Flying, 1982/2014 (detail)

Senga Nengudi
Senga Nengudi

Senga Nengudi
Flying, 1982/2014 (detail)

Senga Nengudi
Senga Nengudi

Senga Nengudi
Flying, 1982/2014 (detail)

Senga Nengudi
Senga Nengudi

Senga Nengudi
Flying, 1982/2014 (detail)

Senga Nengudi
Senga Nengudi

Senga Nengudi
Flying, 1982/2014 (detail)

Senga Nengudi
Senga Nengudi

Senga Nengudi
Flying, 1982/2014 (detail)

Senga Nengudi
Senga Nengudi

Senga Nengudi
Flying, 1982/2014 (detail)

Senga Nengudi

Senga Nengudi
Studio performance with R.S.V.P., 1976
Silver gelatin print
73.7 × 101.6 cm
29 × 40 inches

Senga Nengudi

Senga Nengudi
Rapunzel, 1981
Silver gelatin print
101.6 × 76.2 cm
40 × 30 inches

Senga Nengudi

Senga Nengudi
Water Composition III, 1969–70/2018
Heat sealed vinyl, coloured water, rope
91 × 120 × 73 cm
35 7/8 × 47 1/4 × 28 3/4 inches

Senga Nengudi
Senga Nengudi

Senga Nengudi
Water Composition III, 1969–70/2018 (detail)

Senga Nengudi
Senga Nengudi

Senga Nengudi
Water Composition III, 1969–70/2018 (detail)

Senga Nengudi

Senga Nengudi
Masked Taping, 1978/79
Contact sheet, silver gelatin prints
101.6 × 83.2 cm
101.6 × 76.2 cm
101.6 × 76.2 cm
40 × 33 inches
40 × 30 inches
40 × 30 inches

Senga Nengudi
Senga Nengudi

Senga Nengudi
Masked Taping, 1978/79 (detail)

Senga Nengudi
Senga Nengudi

Senga Nengudi
Masked Taping, 1978/79 (detail)

Senga Nengudi
Senga Nengudi

Senga Nengudi
Masked Taping, 1978/79 (detail)

Details
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Current and Upcoming
Senga Nengudi
Senga Nengudi, Performance Piece, 1978 (detail). Photo: Harmon Outlaw

Senga Nengudi
Topologies
April 30–August 1, 2020
MASP Museo de Arte de São Paulo, São Paulo

The first large monographic show of US artist Senga Nengudi in Latin America will feature around 50 artworks, in the areas of installation, sculpture, photography and drawing, made between the 1970s and the 2010s. Nengudi was a central figure in the Afro-American scene of Los Angeles in the 1970s and became known for involving sculpture and performance in her installations. The show is the result of a partnership with the Lenbachhaus Museum, in Munich, which is co-organizing the exhibition.

Link
Exhibitions at Sprüth Magers
Senga Nengudi

Senga Nengudi
June 7–July 13, 2019
London

The work of Senga Nengudi has been at the forefront of sculptural, performative, and photographic practices for over forty years. Using simple materials in innovative, unexpected ways, Nengudi’s compositions evoke a rich array of references, from subtle allusions to the body, to feminist considerations of space and movement, to the confluence of different cultural and religious rituals. With equal parts rigor and grace, they encourage us to rethink our relationship to the people and world around us.

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Senga Nengudi
April 28–September 8, 2018
Berlin

For over four decades, artist Senga Nengudi has been pushing at the boundaries between sculpture, photography, and performance. The exhibition features four recent sculptures from Nengudi’s celebrated R.S.V.P series, which the artist first began in the late 1970s in response to her changing pregnant body. Using nylon stockings, sand, and metal objects, Nengudi generates delicate, webbed and knotted forms that stretch across walls, from one wall to another, or from the wall to the floor. Though decidedly abstract, each sculpture assumes bodily stances and proportions.

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Senga Nengudi
Senga Nengudi

POWER
Beverly Buchanan, Elizabeth Catlett, Sonya Clark, Renee Cox, Njideka Akunyili Crosby, Karon Davis, Minnie Evans, Nona Faustine, LaToya Ruby Frazier, Ellen Gallagher, Leslie Hewitt, Clementine Hunter, Steffani Jemison, Jennie C. Jones, Simone Leigh, Julie Mehretu, Sister Gertrude Morgan, Senga Nengudi, Lorraine O'Grady, Sondra Perry, Howardena Pindell, Faith Ringgold, Betye Saar, Joyce J. Scott, Emmer Sewell, Ntozake Shange, Xaviera Simmons, Lorna Simpson, Shinique Smith, Renee Stout, Alma Woodsey Thomas, Mickalene Thomas, Rosie Lee Tompkins, Unknown, Kara Walker, Meta Vaux Warrick Fuller, Carrie Mae Weems, Brenna Youngblood
Work By African American Women From The Nineteenth Century To Now
March 28–June 10, 2017
Los Angeles

Sprüth Magers, Los Angeles, is proud to present POWER, an exhibition curated by Todd Levin that surveys the work of African American women artists from the nineteenth century to now. Titled after the 1970 gospel song by Sister Gertrude Morgan, the exhibition begins with artists born soon after the Civil War and continues to the present, weaving together fine and folk art traditions to explore how artists have engaged issues of race, gender, and class against our evolving cultural and artistic landscape. The 37 artists in POWER draw into focus their struggle to establish themselves as equal players on the uneven field of the American republic.

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Press

Individual Collective: A Conversation with Senga Nengudi
Walter Art Center, article by Allie Tepper, March 2020

“Being Born Black in America Is a Political Act”: An Interview With Senga Nengudi
Hyperallergic, interview by Anna Souter, September 26, 2018

The Improvised Body: The Reemergenc of Senga Nengudi
Hyperallergic, article by Noel Black, September 6, 2014

Senga Nengudi’s “Ceremony for Free way Fets” and Other Los Angeles Collaborations
East of Borneo, article by Nick Stillman, December 7, 2011

Yield to Touch
Frieze, article by Osei Bonsu, October 2018

 

Biography

Senga Nengudi (*1943, Chicago) lives Colorado Springs, Colorado. Selected solo exhibitions include Lenbachhaus, Munich (2019, traveled to Museo de Arte de São Paulo (2020), Denver Art Museum (2020), Henry Moore Institute, Leeds (2018), Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami (2017–18). Selected group exhibitions include Brooklyn Museum, New York and Venice Biennale (both 2017), Whitney Museum, New York (2013), and Contemporary Arts Museum Houston (2012). 

Education
1971 California State University, Los Angeles
1967 Waseda University, Tokyo
1966 California State University, Los Angeles
Awards, Grants and Fellowships
2014 Art Matters Grant, New York
2013 Arts Advocacy Award, Arts Business Education Awards, Pikes Peak Art Council, Colorado Springs
2011 Artist in Residence, Hammer Museum, Los Angeles
2010 Lifetime Achievement Award, Women’s Caucus for the Arts, New York
2009 Panelist, Black Women, But Are They Feminist?, College Art Association, Los Angeles
2008 Panelist, Modern Art in L.A.: African-American Avant-Garde, 1965-1990, Getty Center, Los Angeles
2006 Artist in Residence, Fabric Workshop and Museum, Philadelphia
2005 Anonymous Was A Woman Award, Philanthropy Advisors, New York
2005 Biennial Award, Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation, New York
2005 Finalist, Ordway Prize, Penny McCall Foundation, New York
2005 Invitational Artist Residency, “Kamp Kippy” Acadia Summer Arts Program, Mount Desert, IS
2002 Website of the Week Awarded to www.mountainmovingday.org, Artwomen.org
2001 Panelist, The Black Aesthetic: 1960-2001, University of California, Riverside
2001 Guest Speaker, The State of Feminism in Visual Culture, Colorado University, Colorado Springs
2000 Visiting Artist, Maryland Institute College of Art, Baltimore
1997 Visiting Artist, School of Art & Art History, University of Illinois, Chicago
1997 Visiting Artist, Maryland Institute College of Art, Baltimore
1996 Guest Curator, Guest Whisper! Stomp! Shout! A Salute to African American Performance Art Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, Colorado Springs
1994 Distinguished Service Award, Board of Regents, University of Colorado
1991 Co-President, Performing Arts for Youth Organization, Colorado Springs
1986 Co-Curator with Charles Abramson, 1+1=3, Gallery 1199, New York
1974 Set Designer, Dead Center, Sounds in Motion Dance Co. New York
1974 Grant (Sculpture), Creative Artists Public Service Program (CAPS), New York State Council on the Arts
1965 Orchesis Dance Scholarship
Performances
2012 re.act.feminism, Galerija Miroslav Kraljević, Zagreb; traveled to Museet for Samtidskunst, Roskilde
2012 Walk Tall, Billy Wilder Theatre, Hammer Museum, Los Angeles; in collaboration with Maren Hassinger and Ulysses Jenkins
2011 Video Studio Playback, Studio Museum in Harlem, New York
2011 Clifford Owens – Anthology, Museum of Modern Art, New York; in collaboration with Truth and Sweep
2010 Remembering Parker, This Long Century, Online Art Magazine
2006 Side by Side, Nomadic Nights Series, Fondation Cartier pour l’Art Contemporain, Paris; in collaboration with Maren Hassinger
2002 Mountain Moving, Day-Ritual: Celebration Women’s History Month, www.mountainmovingday.org (ongoing)
2001 Developed personas Propecia Leigh, Harriet Chin, and Lily Bea Moor for other media explorations (ongoing)
1999 Walk a mile in my shoes
1998 Mail Art and Long Distance Conceptual Exercises; in collaboration with Maren Hassing
1995 Developed persona of Propecia Leigh for photography work (ongoing)
1995 Lecture/Performance, The Banff Centre for the Arts, Banff
1995 Making a Scene of Ourselves – The Black Arts: Nappy Ruminations on Life in America, University of Colorado, Colorado Springs
1995 Singing the Circle: Four Women Creating Themselves (radio performance); in collaboration with Kim Campbell, Stacy Dyson, Felicia Rose Caton Garcia and Jane Hilberry; sponsored by Colorado College, Colorado Springs
1989 Double Think Bulemia, Mouth to Mouth: Conversations on Being (radio performance)
1988 A Series From A to Z, Mouth to Mouth: Conversations on Being (radio performance)
1986 Nature’s Way, Contemporary Art Forum, Santa Barbara, CA
1984 Four, Cotton Exchange, Los Angeles; in collaboration with Chrono, Maren Hassinge and Ulysses Jenkins
1983 Chance Unfrozen, Other Visions Studio, Los Angeles; in collaboration with Cheryl Banks and Roberto Miranda
1983 Spooks Who Sat By the Door, Long Beach Museum, Long Beach, CA
1982 Blind Dates, White Dog, New York; presented by: Just Above Midtown Gallery, New York; in collaboration with Blondell Cummings and Yasuno Tone
1982 Flying, Barnsdall Park, Los Angeles; in conjunction with the opening of Afro-American Abstractions, Municipal Art Gallery, Barnsdall Park, Los Angeles; in collaboration with Maren Hassinger, Ulysses Jenkins and Franklin Parker
1982 Men, Watts Towers Art Center, Watts
1981 Air Propo, Just Above Midtown Gallery, New York; in collaboration with Cheryl Banksand Butch Morris
1980 C.C. Rider, Central Park, New York; in collaboration with Charles Abramson
1980 Alive Performance, California State University, Los Angeles; in collaboration with Maren Hassinger and Franklin Parker
1980 Bird, Jewish Home for the Aged, Reseda
1980 Get Up, Paper Mill, Los Angeles; in collaboration with Houston Conwill, Maren Hassinger and Franklin Parker
1978 Ceremony for Freeway Fets, L.A. Freeway Underpass, Los Angeles; presented by Brockman Gallery, Los Angeles; in collaboration with David Hammons and Maren Hassinger
1977 Costume Study for Mesh Mirage, Studio Performance, Los Angeles
1977 Répondez S’il-vous-plaît, Just Above Midtown Gallery, New York
1977 Performance Piece - Nylon Mesh and Maren Hassinger, Woods Gallery, Los Angeles
Public Collections
Brooklyn Museum, New York
Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh
Centre Pompidou, Paris
Denver Art Museum
Hammer Museum, Los Angeles
Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles
Museum of Modern Art, New York
Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus und Kunstbau München, KiCo Collection
Studio Museum in Harlem, New York