Senga Nengudi

Senga Nengudi

Senga Nengudi came to performance through her study of dance while she was a graduate student at California State University, Los Angeles, in the late 1960s. After traveling to Japan and New York, she returned to Los Angeles in the early 1970s and became an active member of an emerging community of African American artists whose work engaged with the radical political movements developing in the United States while moving toward the more abstract, dematerialized, and conceptual artistic modes of the period. It was at this point that Nengudi began to incorporate elements inspired by Japanese Gutai and Mono-ha, African ceremonial dress, African-American improvisation, and Western vernacular vocabularies into a new visual language that would result in her seminal R.S.V.P. series.

Nengudi, along with David Hammons, Maren Hassinger, and several other artists, formed a loosely structured group called Studio Z, where they collaborated and experimented with discarded and overlooked materials and forgotten spaces. They came together at Hammons’ studio on Slauson Avenue—a large former dance hall with a wooden floor—to engage in spontaneous actions, some of which were performed on the streets of the city. Soon after her son was born in 1974, Nengudi began to use secondhand pantyhose as her primary medium. She stretched the nylon garments into various forms across walls, frequently also extending them onto the floor, and then invited a collaborator (most often Hassinger) to “activate” the works, either through dance or other types of interactions and movements. In the words of the artist, “there is a charging that takes place, an activation of mutual energy, in concert with the sculpture.”

In the performance of Masking It, the artist tore off small pieces of masking tape from a roll and stuck them all over her body, from the top of her head—including her face—to her knees. Thus adorned, she moved about her studio, experiencing the "sensualness of the tape on her body in motion." Nengudi saw this “masking” of herself as a means to explore elements of her African heritage, including mask-making, dance, and other rites and rituals.

Nengudi has been featured in many significant exhibitions, including Vive Arte Vive, curated by Christine Macel, at the 57th Venice Biennale; Improvisational Gestures, a three year-long traveling retrospective of the artist's work which was organized in 2015 by the Museum of Contemporary Art, Denver, and traveled to the Contemporary Arts Center, New Orleans; the DePaul Art Museum, Chicago; and the USC Fisher Museum, Los Angeles, among others. Nengudi's work was also included in the 54th Carnegie International, at the Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh in 2004-2005. In 2017, the solo exhibition Head Back and High: Senga Nengudi, Performance Objects (1976-2015) opened at the Baltimore Museum of Art, and traveled to Art + Practice, Los Angeles. The group exhibition We Wanted a Revolution: Black Radical Women, 1965–85 opened at the Brooklyn Museum in 2017, and traveled to the Albright Knox, Buffalo; and the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston. The Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, opened the group exhibition West by Midwest, curated by Charlotte Ickes, in the fall of 2018, while in September of 2019 a retrospective of Nengudi's career, Senga Nengudi, will open at Lenbachhaus, Munich.

Nengudi's work is in the permanent collections of many major museums worldwide, including: The Museum of Modern Art, New York; The Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Studio Museum in Harlem, New York; The Brooklyn Museum, New York; Los Angeles County Museum of Art, The Hammer Museum, Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; The Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh; Musée National d'Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; Tate Modern, London; and Jerusalem Museum of Art, Jerusalem.

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Selected Works

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  • Senga Nengudi.
    Performance Piece (Detail 1 of 3 prints),
    1978.
    Silver gelatin prints,
    Triptych:
    40 x 31 1/2 inches (101.6 x 80 cm),
    31 1/2 x 40 inches (80 x 101.6 cm),
    31 1/2 x 40 inches (80 x 101.6 cm).
    © Senga Nengudi.

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  • Senga Nengudi.
    Performance Piece,
    1978.
    Silver gelatin prints,
    Triptych:
    40 x 31 1/2 inches (101.6 x 80 cm),
    31 1/2 x 40 inches (80 x 101.6 cm),
    31 1/2 x 40 inches (80 x 101.6 cm).
    © Senga Nengudi.

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  • Senga Nengudi.
    A.C.Q. III,
    2016-17.
    Refrigerator parts, nylon pantyhose,
    132 x 96 inches (335.3 x 243.8 cm).
    © Senga Nengudi.

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  • Senga Nengudi.
    Ceremony for Freeway Fets,
    1978.
    11 C-prints,
    Each photograph, vertical: 18 x 12 inches (45.7 x 30.5 cm),
    Each photograph, large horizontal: 13 x 18 inches (33 x 45.7 cm),
    Each photograph, small horizontal: 12 x 18 inches (30.5 x 45.7 cm).
    Overall installation: variable.
    © Senga Nengudi.
    Photo: Quaku / Roderick Young.

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  • Senga Nengudi.
    R.S.V.P.,
    2004.
    Nylon mesh and sand.
    71 5/8 x 59 7/8 x 24 inches (182 x 152 x 61 cm).
    © Senga Nengudi.

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Exhibitions

Other Exhibitions

Publications

Selected Press

The Skinny | Hold Water: Senga Nengudi's Solo Show in Edinburgh

March 12, 2019

Senga Nengudi is one of the foremost of the avant garde black art scene extending from the 1970s in the …

Artforum | College Art Association Announces Its 2019 Award Recipients

January 18, 2019

Honorees of this year’s College Art Association awards include Howardena Pindell, Ursula von Rydingsvard, …

The Baltimore Sun | Baltimore Museum of Art acquires 48 new works, some with funds from sale of major pieces

December 19, 2018

The acquisitions, announced today by museum officials, include paintings by Meleko Mokgosi and Amy Sherald; …

Ursula | Making Doors - Linda Goode Bryant in Conversation with Senga Nengudi

December 1, 2018

The following conversation between Bryant and Nengudi was recorded in Bryant's Upper West Side apartment …

Makers & Founders | Senga Nengudi

November 15, 2018

Senga Nengudi came to performance through her study of dance while she was a graduate student at California …

Sculpture | "Senga Nengudi"

October 30, 2018

As far as symbolism is concerned, certain materials arrive ready-made, freighted with meaning. The protean …

Frieze | Yield To Touch

October 15, 2018

As a member of a radical generation of Los Angeles-based artists who emerged during the turbulent Civil …

Culture Type | Looking in London: 10 Exhibitions to See This Season Featuring Kerry James Marshall, Julie Mehretu, and Adam Pendleton Among Others

October 7, 2018

This career-spanning exhibition is described as the most comprehensive to date of Senga Nengudi. Her …

Hyperallergic | “Being Born Black in America Is a Political Act”: An Interview With Senga Nengudi

September 25, 2018

In advance of her first retrospective outside the US, avant-garde artist Senga Nengudi discusses her …

ARTnews | ‘Interrogate the World as It Is and Imagine How It Could Be’: Four Trailblazing Artists in ‘Soul of a Nation’ Discuss the Show and Their Careers

September 20, 2018

After stops at Tate Modern in London and the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas, …

Artnet | Here Are 5 Women Artists Who Dominated Berlin Gallery Weekend, Despite Evidence of German Gender Bias

May 3, 2018

Senga Nengudi came to performance through her study of dance while she was a graduate student at California …

Los Angeles Times | Spring art exhibitions that transport to Laguna, Teotihuacan, Iran and beyond

March 22, 2018

Nengudi, whose work is also on view in a survey at USC Fisher Museum of Art, was among a major group …

Modern Art Notes Podcast | SENGA NENGUDI

March 8, 2018

Senga Nengudi came to prominence in the 1960s and 1970s with abstract sculpture made from common materials, …

The New York Times | A Groundbreaking Show Presents a New, Inclusive Vision of American Art

February 15, 2018

Then the show turns to work by the second group, an imposing cadre of trained artists working in Los …

Vogue | The Women to Watch at Art Basel Miami

December 5, 2017

Senga Nengudi, the increasingly influential artist who works with objects familiar to women’s everyday …

Chicago Tribune | Senga Nengudi stretches the limits of womanhood

September 20, 2017

“I don’t believe in spoon-feeding the meaning of a piece,” she says. “That’s why I called my …

The New York Times | The 10 Best Things We Saw at the Venice Biennale

May 16, 2017

Senga Nengudi debuted her “R.S.V.P.” sculptures in the ’70s, and since then the artist has continually …

Artnews | A Look at ‘Viva Arte Viva,’ the Hippie, Heal-the-World Venice Biennale

May 9, 2017

From the moment you walk into the main pavilion at the 2017 Venice Biennale, it is apparent that the …

Flash Art | Christine Macel on VIVA ARTE VIVA / 57th Venice Biennale

May 3, 2017

“VIVA ARTE VIVA” is the title of the 57th International Art Exhibition in Venice, curated by Christine …

Vogue | Beyond the French Quarter: Experiencing New Orleans Like a Local

April 25, 2017

The CAC’s talented head curator, and former New Yorker, Andrea Andersson, is the brains behind two …

Artsy | The 20 Best Booths at The Armory Show

March 2, 2017

This sparse but powerful presentation convenes both the historic and recent works of radical performance …

Art News | Visions for Pantyhose and Sand: Senga Nengudi’s Booth at the Armory Show

March 2, 2017

Senga Nengudi, who started her career in the fertile African-American art scene of 1960s and ’70s Los …

The Seattle Times | Artist Senga Nengudi uses pantyhose in surprising ways

September 14, 2016

“Senga Nengudi: Improvisational Gestures,” at the Henry Art Gallery, surveys her sculpture, performance …

Artforum | Senga Nengudi

September 1, 2015

Senga Nengudi trained as both an artist and a dancer in the 1960s and continues to work across a variety …

Hyperallergic | The Improvised Body: The Reemergence of Senga Nengudi

September 6, 2014

The artist Senga Nengudi was recently honored with dual retrospectives of her work at Denver’s Museum …

Artforum | Senga Nengudi

April 3, 2014

WHEN I BEGAN WORKING, it was very personal. I wanted to express how I was feeling about my body and my mind.

The New York Times | Senga Nengudi: ‘Performances 1976-81’

February 14, 2013

Senga Nengudi was recently featured in “Now Dig This! Art & Black Los Angeles 1960-1980” at MoMA …

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