Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art Announces Exhibition Magnetic Fields: Expanding American Abstraction, 1960s to Today

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The first U.S. presentation dedicated exclusively to the formal and historical dialogue of abstraction by women artists of color.

Mildred Thompson, Magnetic Fields (triptych), 1990

Mildred Thompson, Magnetic Fields (triptych), 1990

This exhibition is intended to be a platform to further their visibility, as well as to generate more inclusive conversations about the history of American abstraction that consider the accomplishments and contributions of women artists of color...

Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art is pleased to announce the forthcoming exhibition, Magnetic Fields: Expanding American Abstraction, 1960s to Today, which will be on view at Kemper Museum June 8 through September 17, 2017, and will then travel to the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, D.C. Magnetic Fields is the first U.S. presentation dedicated exclusively to the formal and historical dialogue of abstraction by women artists of color. The exhibition has also garnered major support and merit through the reception of prestigious grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and from The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts. The exhibition is organized by Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, Kansas City, Missouri, and co-curated by Erin Dziedzic, director of curatorial affairs at Kemper Museum, and Melissa Messina, independent curator and curator of the Mildred Thompson Estate, Atlanta, Georgia.

Magnetic Fields focuses a long-overdue lens on the contributions of women artists of color within the lineage of non-representational art making. As the first museum exhibition of its kind, Magnetic Fields aims to spark more broad and inclusive presentations of American abstraction going forward. Intergenerational in scope, this exhibition and the accompanying catalogue amplify the formal and conceptual connections among twenty-one artists born between 1891 (Alma Thomas) and 1981 (Abigail DeVille), many presented in conversation with one another for the first time.

Co-curators Erin Dziedzic and Melissa Messina stated, “As curators, we are honored to present this incredible, intergenerational group of artists.” They added, “This exhibition is intended to be a platform to further their visibility, as well as to generate more inclusive conversations about the history of American abstraction that consider the accomplishments and contributions of women artists of color going forward.”

Executive Director Barbara O’Brien said, “The exhibition Magnetic Fields has proven to be historic for Kemper Museum both in content and support. The unprecedented grant support from The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts and the National Endowment for the Arts contributes to the groundswell of interest and enthusiasm received for the theme, artists, and works of art organized for this extraordinary exhibition.”

In the June 2014 ARTnews article “Black Abstraction: Not a Contradiction,” Hilarie M. Sheets aptly notes, “The contributions of African American artists to the inventions of abstract [art] have historically been overlooked. …” Magnetic Fields reframes the art historical narrative to convey a more complete presentation of American abstraction than has ever previously been examined.

With works in a variety of media, including painting, sculpture, printmaking, and drawing, the exhibition showcases a diverse range of unique visual vocabularies within non-representational expression. By highlighting the artists’ individual approaches to form, color, composition, material exploration and conceptual impetus within hard-edge and gestural abstraction, Magnetic Fields provides an expanded history of non-pictorial image- and object-making.

"Magnetic Fields celebrates the lives and work of a group of extraordinary artists whose dedication to abstraction is quite literally magnetic," said Director of Curatorial Affairs Erin Dziedzic, "Intergenerational in scope, the exhibition is conceptually grounded in illuminating the formal conversations amongst artists' works from 1960 to the present." ​

Magnetic Fields features early- and later-career works, pieces from specific series, several exhibited for the first time, and the long-awaited reappearance of iconic works such as Mavis Pusey’s large-scale painting Dejygea (1970) from the Whitney Museum of American Art’s 1971 exhibition Contemporary Black Artists in America. Also drawn in part from Kemper Museum’s Permanent Collection, this exhibition features Chakaia Booker’s rubber tire sculpture El Gato (2001).

Exhibiting Artists
Candida Alvarez (b. 1955)
Betty Blayton (b. 1937, d. 2016)
Chakaia Booker (b. 1953)
Lilian Thomas Burwell (b. 1927)
Nanette Carter (b. 1954)
Barbara Chase-Riboud (b. 1939)
Deborah Dancy (b. 1949)
Abigail DeVille (b. 1981)
Maren Hassinger (b. 1947)
Jennie C. Jones (b. 1968)
Evangeline “EJ” Montgomery (b. 1930)
Mary Lovelace O’Neal (b. 1942)
Howardena Pindell (b. 1943)
Mavis Pusey (b. 1928)
Shinique Smith (b. 1971)
Gilda Snowden (b. 1954, d. 2014)
Sylvia Snowden (b. 1942)
Kianja Strobert (b. 1980)
Alma Thomas (b. 1891, d. 1978)
Mildred Thompson (b. 1936, d. 2003)
Brenna Youngblood (b. 1979)

An exhibition advisory group has been assembled to engage in broader dialogue throughout the planning of the exhibition. Thought-provoking educational programming has been designed to complement the themes within Magnetic Fields, and will be offered free of charge to engage learners of all ages. A complete list of Museum programs relating to this exhibition can be found at kemperart.org.

“Magnetic Fields: Expanding American Abstraction,1960s to Today is an important and relevant project at a time when the art world is at last recognizing the contributions of women artists to the key moments in American Art,” notes Lowery Stokes Sims, Curator Emerita, Museum of Arts and Design, and member of the Magnetic Fields advisory group. “It not only expands the roster of artists working abstractly but also bravely tackles the quandary of black women artists who often have had to overcome familial uncertainty with their chosen careers, and have had to harness color, line, and form to address the inevitable and unavoidable political and personal challenges they have faced in the world.”

Magnetic Fields Advisory Group
Isolde Brielmaier
Licia E. Clifton-James
Gia M. Hamilton
Adrienne Walker Hoard
Sandra Jackson-Dumont
Dena Muller
Valerie Cassel Oliver
Lowery Stokes Sims
Lilly Wei

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