About this commission
“Reigning over them all is Rope/Fire/Water, an overdue survey of Howardena Pindell’s alternating forays into abstract painting and politics…”
—“The Most Important Moments in Art in 2020,” The New York Times
“She has used her work to confront pain and embrace pleasure.”
—The New York Times
“Shedding Light on Injustice in America”
For her solo exhibition at The Shed, Howardena Pindell will present Rope/Fire/Water, her first video in 25 years and a project unrealized by the artist since the 1970s that The Shed commissioned. In this powerful work, Pindell recounts personal anecdotes and anthropological and historical data related to lynchings and racist attacks in the United States. She accompanies this voice-over with archival photos of lynchings and the historic Birmingham, Alabama, Children’s Crusade, a series of nonviolent protests carried out by young people in May 1963.
Over her nearly 60-year career, Pindell has created richly textured abstract paintings while engaging with politics and the social issues of her time. In the exhibition, Pindell will also debut a pair of large-scale paintings related to global atrocities of imperialism and white supremacy, and several abstract paintings that demonstrate a through line in Pindell’s practice: after working on traumatic historical projects, the artist decompresses by creating meticulously produced, large-scale abstract works on unstretched canvas.
Organized by Adeze Wilford, Assistant Curator
Edited by Adeze Wilford
A fully illustrated catalogue including an essay from exhibition curator Adeze Wilford, a conversation between Howardena Pindell and Guggenheim curator Ashley James, writings by the artist, and a conversation between Pindell and Shed senior program advisor Hans Ulrich Obrist. The book concludes with an illustrated checklist that includes an image of each artwork in the exhibition. Co-published by The Shed and König Books/Verlag der Buchhandlung Walther und Franz König.
6.5 x 9.5 inches
More about the exhibition
Howardena Pindell (b. 1943, Philadelphia, PA) works across painting and film. She is an activist, critic, and professor who spent over a decade working at the Museum of Modern Art as one of the institution’s first Black curators. In 1972, she was a founding member of the pioneering, women-led A.I.R. Gallery and continues to teach at the State University of New York at Stony Brook as a distinguished professor. Largely known for her monumentally scaled abstract canvases, Pindell has expanded the definition of what abstract painting can be through her inclusion of glitter, paper circles made with hole punches, and the layering of mixed media and scent.
Though racist violence has plagued American life since this country’s beginnings, we do not all share the same awareness of this history. In this exhibition, Pindell presents Rope/Fire/Water (2020), a new video work commissioned by The Shed that examines the painful legacy of white supremacy in the United States. This video bookends the artist’s searing exploration of racial microaggressions in her landmark video Free, White and 21 (1980), in which she embodied several characters including a Black everywoman and an argumentative white woman. To accompany Rope/Fire/Water, Pindell has created two new thematic paintings, Columbus (2020) and Four Little Girls (2020), each an homage to the victims of race-based violence in this country and the lasting effects of imperialism on a global scale. These paintings are surrounded by large-scale abstract works that give visitors space to process the information in the video and thematic paintings, just as the artist puts her mind at ease after engaging with emotionally fraught material through the methodical process of creating such textured and layered canvases as Plankton Lace #1 (2020). Taken together, these works offer hope for a less violent future by educating viewers about our painful history while providing comfort in its aftermath.
Works in this exhibition include images and descriptions depicting racial violence, including lynching. An educator is available in the gallery if you would like to discuss the work. Please look for the staff member with a badge that reads, “Let’s talk about the art.”
Howardena Pindell: Rope/Fire/Water is organized by Adeze Wilford, Assistant Curator. Exhibition management by Jesse Hamerman, Director of Exhibitions, Heather Reyes, Exhibitions Producer, and Elizabeth Berridge, Exhibitions Assistant.
Works in the Exhibition
Explore Public Programs
- To learn more about what to expect at The Shed and how we’re keeping you safe, please review our Visit page before you arrive.
- To help you maintain a safe distance from others in the gallery, images and explanatory texts for selected works in the exhibition will be available in an online exhibition guide, available via your smartphone.
- Works in this exhibition include images and descriptions depicting racial violence, including lynching. An educator will be available in the gallery if you would like to discuss the work. Please look for the staff member with a badge that reads, “Let’s talk about the art.”
- Ticketing desks are equipped with t-coil technology.
- Assistive listening devices are available at the entrance to the gallery.
- Laminated large-format wall labels are available in the gallery and regularly disinfected.
Location and dates
Thursday – Sunday
11 am – 6 pm
Please enter The Shed via The McCourt on the Hudson Yards Public Square. For more on what to expect, visit this page.