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Senga Nengudi. Topologies
September 17, 2019 until  January 19, 2020

Lenbachhaus

For more than forty years, Senga Nengudi has shaped an oeuvre that inhabits a specific and unique location between sculpture, dance and theatrical performance. Before moving to Colorado Springs in 1988 where she lives until today, Nengudi spent close to four decades in Los Angeles. In the 1960s and 1970s, Los Angeles was home to an African-American avant-garde with Nengudi as one of its pivotal figures. Her iconic sculptures, exhibited for the first time in 1976, are made from pantyhose combined with natural materials such as sand and stone. The artist herself describes these ostensibly abstract, yet suggestive biomorphic sculptures as "stationary performances." As the title of the growing series—R.S.V.P., short for "Répondez, s’il vous plait" or "Please reply"— implies, these objects formulate an invitation and are occasionally activated during performances. R.S.V.P. Reverie "D" (2014), the sculpture the KiCo Collection now acquired for Lenbachhaus, is one of the most imposing current works in the R.S.V.P.series, in which contemporary forms of dance fuse with an expanded understanding of sculpture. The photographic triptych Performance Piece (1978) shows Nengudi’s fellow artist and lifelong collaborator Maren Hassinger with in an R.S.V.P. sculpture during one of the earliest documented performances of its kind at the Pearl C. Wood Gallery, Los Angeles.

In the 1970s, Nengudi together with a group of fellow artists, musicians, and filmmakers founded Studio Z. The Los Angeles-based group—among its members were Hassinger and David Hammons—engaged in "spontaneous Actions" around town and supported each other at a time when African-American artists faced systemic discrimination and marginalization in the official art world. In the spring of 1978, members of Studio Z held the performance Ceremony for Freeway Fets, in which Nengudi intertwined disparate traditions from West African dance to Japanese theatrical forms and free jazz. The performance was, at the same time, set up as a ritual of reconciliation between the sexes with Nengudi’s nylon sculptures serving as masks, headdresses, and stage settings. The eleven-part photographic documentation of this remarkable performance, which took place under a freeway overpass in downtown Los Angeles, is key to an understanding of the artist’s eclectic practice.


Fig.: Senga Nengudi, Performance Piece, 1977, Triptych (detail), Performer: Maren Hassinger, Original photo: Harmon Outlaw, Lenbachhaus Munich, KiCo Collection © Senga Nengudi 2019.


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