Inside the White Cube
26 November 2014 – 18 January 2015
White Cube Bermondsey
Nengudi’s pioneering art, developed over a 40-year long career, seamlessly traverses the disciplines of visual arts, dance, and spirituality while at the same time, eloquently dealing with such powerful themes as race, gender and culture. This exhibition, Nengudi’s first ever solo presentation in the UK, included a selection ranging from the mid-1970s to newly produced ‘Reverie’ works.
Nengudi first came to prominence in the 1970s when she was a Los Angeles-based artist affiliated with Studio Z. This radical group of African-American artists were distinguished by their experimental and improvisational practice, and included amongst them David Hammons and Maren Hassinger, with whom Nengudi frequently collaborated.
Nengudi’s output has always been wide-ranging, although she is perhaps best known for her sculptures and choreographed performances – sometimes merging the two together – which encouraged an active involvement on the part of the viewer. Her free-form, abstract and biomorphic ‘soft’ sculptures incorporated a variety of found materials (such as nylon mesh tights or ‘pantyhose’, everyday objects or masking tape) as well as natural materials like sand or rock. As part of this practice, in the mid-1970s she produced the ‘R.S.V.P.’ series; works that used nylon tights – a material associated with a gendered, female body – stretched, twisted and knotted and then filled with sand. Hung on the wall but stretching out three-dimensionally into the gallery space, the materiality of these sculptures suggests skin, breasts, or bodily organs and places an emphasis on the performative body through its palpable sense of tactility.
Nengudi’s performances, which incorporate sculptural objects with real bodies – either her own or those of others – are powerfully engaging. In R.S.V.P., performed with Maren Hassinger, Nengudi utilised movement to explore ‘feminist issues … a sense of body, how body issues related to self-esteem and self-acceptance … also entanglements – being entangled by my stuff and stretching oneself beyond your limits.’ While it can clearly be positioned in relation to both Minimalism and Feminism, Nengudi’s work resists any defined political or ethnic content, but rather, evokes the fragility and resilience of both mind and body.
Senga Nengudi was born in 1943 in Chicago. She studied in both Los Angeles and Japan, and currently lives and works in Colorado. Her work has been included in solo and group exhibitions internationally. Solo exhibitions include Senga Nengudi: The Material Body, MCA Denver and Senga Nengudi: The Performing Body, Redline Gallery, Denver (both 2014). Recent important group exhibitions include Blues for Smoke, Whitney Museum and MoCA, Los Angeles (2012-13); Radical Presence: Black Performance in Contemporary Art, Contemporary Art Museum, Houston (2012); Now Dig This – Art & Black Los Angeles 1960-1980, Hammer Museum, Los Angeles and MoMA PS1, New York (2011-12) and ‘Wack!: Art and the Feminist Revolution’, MoCA, Los Angeles (2007).