Howardena Pindell at The Shed

Artist, Filmmaker, Curator Brings Black Experience Close

By: - Oct 22, 2020

Howardena Pindell
The Shed
New York, New York
through October 31, 2020

As The Shed opens to visitors in New York, the McCourt performance hall holds a remarkable exhibit by black artist Howardena Pindell.

The 4,000-ton chassis retracts telescopically on six-foot-tall wheels to transform the space into an open plaza. For this exhibit, the space is enclosed.  The gallery is tucked into the back of the huge hall. It was Alex Poots, the artistic director’s hope to have  “…no poor relation in any art form.” He notes that the design affords the possibility of commissioning works across disciplines and presenting them with parity. 

“Our mission is one of the simplest ever.  We commission new work across all art forms for all audiences. That’s it,” says Poots.    

Howardena Pindell was a curator at the Museum of Modern Art decades ago.  She then moved on to teaching at SUNY’s Stony Brook campus on Long Island.  There she continues to create work.  The Shed commission gave her a chance to explore an unrealized idea, a reaction to a LIFE photograph depicting a lynched man’s remains being burned as white men looked on smiling. 

Pindell’s statement puts it best. 

Howardena Pindell writes: "Working on my commission for the Shed has been a very rewarding and healing experience. It allowed me to conceptualize an idea as a result of an experience I had as a child. I put it forth as a performance piece to a group of white women artists at the AIR Gallery where I was a founder in the early 1970s. They turned it down. ( I was the only non-white member of the gallery.) As a child, I was visiting a friend whose mother was cooking dinner consisting of cooking meat. On their living room table they had a recent issue of Life magazine. In it, there was a picture of an African American man who was lying on his back on a log, who was burning from the inside out. White men surrounded thegruesome scene bubbling over with self-congratulatory smiles seeing what they had done. The smell of the meat cooking made it impossible for me to eat and I could not eat meat for about a year.

"The film Rope/Fire/Water is the centerpiece of the exhibition. The film spun off the two large blackpaintings, one about Columbus in part and the other about the murder of the 4 little girls in a churchbombing in Birmingham, Alabama. I with a friend made a pilgrimage to Alabama to the site of the church and one of the parks where the police with dogs attacked demonstrators. I also refer to the burning of Black churches and Black towns by mobs of angry whites who hated the prosperity of the towns. The beauty of the abstract paintings is for me a healing place where I go after seeing, reading about and experiencing throughout my life the ravages of 'caste,' class, bigotry, and violence throughout the world."