Senga Nengudi: Improvisational Gestures

JANUARY 20 – APRIL 14, 2018

Senga Nengudi is one of the seminal conceptual and performance artists of our time. Educated in Los Angeles in the 1960s, Nengudi left L.A. to study art in New York and Tokyo decades ago. She is now returning to Los Angeles, to major acclaim, with Senga Nengudi: Improvisational Gestures, a comprehensive exhibition at USC Fisher Museum of Art on view from January 20 through April 14, 2018.

Nengudi emerged as part of a group of avant-garde African-American artists active in Los Angeles and New York in the 1970s and 1980s. Her peers, members of the Studio Z collective and what came to be known as the LA Rebellion, included the artists David Hammons, Maren Hassinger, Barbara McCullough, John Outterbridge, Noah Purifoy and others. Informed by a shifted sociopolitical consciousness, Nengudi’s earliest work synthesized feminism, African and Japanese dance, music, and religious rituals in experimental sculptures and performances. These themes continue to inform Nengudi’s interdisciplinary practice to this day. Nengudi’s work often draws from collaboration with other artists and disciplines, including dancers and musicians. Blending natural and synthetic materials, including pantyhose, rubber and sand, her sculptures often await the activation of a human body, marking and mystifying the dynamic intimacy between us and the matter that we move through.

Fisher will be presenting a conference on the closing day, April 14, in collaboration with the California African American Museum, USC Roski School of Art and DesignUSC Dornsife’s Department of Art History, and USC Visions and Voices. Inspired by the exhibition Senga Nengudi: Improvisational Gestures, this day-long symposium offers both new and familiar audiences an opportunity to explore and experience the work of Senga Nengudi, as well as investigate its intersections in contemporary art and performance. Panels, screenings, and a performance will bring together artists, students, activists, curators, writers, and intellectuals for a day of dialogue and discovery. Please click here to RSVP.


PART 1 – Morning program at CAAM
9:00 – 9:15 a.m. Check in, coffee, and pastries
9:15 a.m. Introduction and Opening Remarks
Selma Holo, USC Fisher Museum of Art and Chelo Montoya, CAAM
9:30 – 11:00 a.m. Improvise, Fetishize, Ritualize
Elissa Auther, MAD/Bard, and Uri McMillan, UCLA, moderated by Grant Johnson, USC
11:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. Ritual in Rearview
Senga Nengudi and Barbara McCullough in conversation with Isabel Wade, USC, and Maren Hassinger

PART 2 – Afternoon program at the USC Fisher Museum of Art
12:00 – 1:30 p.m. Lunch at the USC Fisher Museum of Art Courtyard
2:00 – 2:30 p.m. Performance: R.S.V.P.
Choreographed by Senga Nengudi, with Cheryl Banks-Smith and Breeze Smith
3:00 – 4:00 p.m. Roundtable: On Activism and Performance
Senga Nengudi, Rafa Esparza, and Patrisse Cullors with Nao Bustamente, USC; moderated by Suzanne Hudson, USC

Presented in partnership with California African American Museum, USC Roski School of Art and Design, USC Dornsife Department of Art History, and USC Visions and Voices. Note: Capacity for the afternoon session is limited. RSVP required. Tickets will be allocated on a first-come, first-served basis.

About the artist: Senga Nengudi was born in 1943 in Chicago. Her work has been included in the group exhibitions Out of Action: Between Performance and the Object, Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, 1998; WACK! Art & The Feminist Revolution, Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, 2007; and Now Dig This!, The Hammer Museum, 2011. In addition, her work is in the permanent collection of the Carnegie Museum, Pittsburgh; the Studio Museum in Harlem; Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; the Museum of Modern Art; and the Brooklyn Museum, among others. Nengudi currently lives and works in Colorado Springs.

Senga Nengudi: Improvisational Gestures is organized by the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver and the University of Colorado Colorado Springs Galleries of Contemporary Art.

Image: Senga Nengudi, R.S.V.P., 1977, sculpture activated by Maren Hassinger, dimensions variable.