Galleries of Contemporary Art
Senga Nengudi: Improvisational Gestures

Senga Nengudi: Improvisational Gestures

August 28–December 5, 2015


Events are free, but space is limited—register to secure your spot.

SAY WHAT with Idris Goodwin
November 19, 7:00 PM–

The UCCS Gallery of Contemporary Art (GOCA) is proud to present a major exhibition in our campus GOCA1420 space - Senga Nengudi: Improvisational Gestures. The exhibition is co-produced with the Museum of Contemporary Art, Denver, and is curated by Elissa Auther (Windgate Research Curator, Museum of Arts and Design and Bard Graduate Center) and Nora Burnett Abrams (Curator, Museum of Contemporary Art, Denver).

As part of the university's 50th anniversary marking, GOCA celebrates the work of long-time UCCS Visual Art faculty member (1998-2009) and internationally lauded multi-media and performance artist Senga Nengudi. This exhibition is the first survey of Nengudi's R.S.V.P. sculptures, performances, and related works from the 1970s to the present and includes an accompanying catalog publication.

Senga Nengudi began her career as a member of a group of avant-garde black artists working in Los Angeles and New York from the 1970's to the early 1980's, developing her performance style of melding the body in movement with the use of common, everyday materials in a series of collaborative performances with her artist peers, including Maren Hassinger, Ulysses Jenkins, Noah Purifoy, Franklin Parker, Houston Conwill, David Hammons, and Barbara McCullough.

Nengudi's approach to art making is inspired by and rooted in ritualistic performances from wide-ranging sources: traditional African ceremonies, Japanese Kabuki theater, Happenings from the 1960s, and other forms of modern dance. These cultural forms and rituals also root Nengudi's practice as a performance artist. Nengudi is best known for her abstract sculptures from this time, particularly her biomorphic nylon mesh series, "Respondez s'il vous plait" (1975-77), made from panty hose that the artist stretched, twisted and knotted, as well as filled at intervals with sand to create sagging breast or testicle-like bulges. In contrast to the works of many of her African-American peers, these sculptures abjured specific political content or ethnic associations, even as they powerfully evoked fragility and resilience, both bodily and psychic.

Examples of Nengudi's "R.S.V.P." sculptures have appeared in the traveling group shows "Radical Presence: Black Performance in Contemporary Art", recently at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco, "Now Dig This! Art & Black Los Angeles 1960-1980," recently at MoMA P.S.1, and "Blues for Smoke," recently at the Whitney Museum of American Art, a sign that a reappraisal of her sensual, witty art is under way. Concurrent to many of these exhibitions was "Senga Nengudi: Performances 1976-1981" at Thomas Erben Gallery, a presentation of documentary and staged photographs and videos that revealed the integral role sculpture played in an oeuvre encompassing performance art, ritual, music, dance and theater.


Senga Nengudi received her BA from California State University, Los Angeles, where she also received her MA in sculpture in 1971. In between degrees she studied for one year at Waseda University in Tokyo. Her solo exhibitions include Performances, 1976-81, Thomas Erben Gallery, New York (2013); Lov U, Warehouse Gallery, Syracuse University, (2012); Warp Trance, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia (2007); R.S.V.P. Retrospective, Thomas Erben Gallery, New York (2003); Vestige-"The Discovery of America by Christopher Columbus" S.D., Just Above Midtown Gallery, New York (1981); and Répondez s'il-vous-plaît, Just Above Midtown Gallery, New York (1977). Her group exhibitions include Radical Presence: Black Performance in Contemporary Art, Contemporary Arts Museum Houston (2012 - 2013, traveling); Blues for Smoke, Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (2012-13, traveling); Now Dig This! Art and Black Los Angeles, 1960-1980, Hammer Museum, Los Angeles (2011, traveling); Under the Big Black Sun, Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (2011); Los Angeles Goes Live: Los Angeles Performance Art, 1970-1983, Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions (2011); VideoStudio: Playback, The Studio Museum in Harlem (2011); WACK! Art and the Feminist Revolution, Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (2007, traveling); Second Lives: Remixing the Ordinary, Museum of Art and Design, New York (2008); L.A. Object and David Hammons Body Prints, Jack Tilton Gallery, New York (2006); Double Consciousness: Black Conceptual Art since 1970, Contemporary Arts Museum Houston (2005); 54th Carnegie International, Carnegie Museum of Art,Pittsburgh (2004); Parallels and Intersections: Art/Women/California, 1950-2000, San Jose Museum of Art, San Jose, CA (2002); The Influence of Yoruba on Contemporary Artists, Brickhouse, London (2000); Out of Actions: Between Performance and the Object, 1949-1979, Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (1998); Now-Here, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebaek, Denmark (1996); Homecoming, Watts Towers Arts Center, Los Angeles (1995); Art as a Verb: The Evolving Continuum, Maryland Institute College of Art, Baltimore (1989); Carnival: Ritual of Reversal, Kenkeleba House, New York (1985); Afro-American Art in the Twentieth Century: Three Episodes, Bronx Museum of the Arts, Bronx, NY (1980); Afro-American Abstractions, P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center, Long Island City, NY (1980); Freeway Fets, public art project, freeway underpass, Los Angeles (1979); The Concept as Art, Just Above Midtown Gallery, New York (1977); California Black Artists, The Studio Museum in Harlem, New York (1977); and Sapphire Show, Gallery 32, Los Angeles (1970).

Senga Nengudi