Dia announces major Senga Nengudi exhibition at Dia Beacon
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Dia announces major Senga Nengudi exhibition at Dia Beacon
Senga Nengudi with Water Composition II, ca. 1970. Courtesy Tilton Gallery, New York.

BEACON, NY.- Dia Art Foundation announced today a long-term exhibition of work by Senga Nengudi, which opened at Dia Beacon on February 17, 2023. Sculptures and room-sized installations made between 1969 and 2020, including recent acquisitions for Dia’s permanent collection, are on display.

“Senga Nengudi’s multifaceted practice has continually expanded the possibilities of avant-garde abstraction,” said Jessica Morgan, Dia’s Nathalie de Gunzburg Director. “Addressing notions of contingency and site-specificity in sculpture, Nengudi’s work uniquely addresses Dia’s defining mission to support Conceptual, Minimal, and Postminimal art from the generation that came of age in the 1960s and 1970s.”

Over her five-decade-long career, Nengudi has realized a remarkable body of work that blurs the boundaries between sculpture and performance, fine art and ritual, individual authorship and collective energy. Made of everyday materials such as vinyl, water, nylon, sand, dry-cleaning bags, lint, paper, and tape, Nengudi’s installations are at once proxies for bodies and sites for performance. The works accommodate a variety of cultural references from African, Japanese, and South Asian rites to Western avant-garde art. Characteristic of her openness to multiplicity, the artist, born Sue Ellen Irons, has assumed pseudonyms that inflect her creative identities as sculptor (Senga Nengudi), painter (Harriet Chin), photographer (Propecia Leigh), and writer (Lily Bea Moor).

Selected works from Nengudi’s Water Compositions series (1969–70) have been installed in two galleries at Dia Beacon. Pivotal to her career, these heat-sealed vinyl forms are filled with colored water, their shape and surface tension determined by gravity and entropy. Improvisation and ritual are parallel motifs that Nengudi continued to explore in room-size installations in the 1990s. Wet Night–Early Dawn–Scat Chant–Pilgrim’s Song (1996), which has been re-created by the artist in situ, explores how different cultures acknowledge spirit through ritual. A fourth gallery presents Sandmining B (2020), a recent work from her Sandmining series (2004—) referencing ceremonial uses of sand in cleansing rituals in South Asian and Native American communities as well as Brazilian avant-garde art. Part of Sandmining B, a sound piece, which weaves together a new poem by the artist and a music improvisation by the late cornetist Butch Morris, will be audible throughout.

This long-term exhibition of Nengudi’s work will be accompanied by a performance program and publication, revealing the multiplicity of her practice. Performances at Dia Beacon and partnering venues will activate and complement the sculptural presentation, and an artist book will collect, for the first time, Nengudi’s drawings, photographs, prints, poems, performance instructions, and other writings. 

“Characteristic of Nengudi’s practice, all works in the exhibition—by either alluding to or retaining traces of the attuned, improvisational acts that made them—are an invitation to join the artist in the creative process. Her distinct approach and foremost contribution to sculpture and performance will be further revealed over a series of live events and a publication, and in juxtaposition with the work of her contemporaries on view at Dia Beacon,” said Matilde Guidelli-Guidi, exhibition curator.

Senga Nengudi is curated by Matilde Guidelli-Guidi, associate curator, Dia Art Foundation.

Senga Nengudi was born in Chicago in 1943. She completed a BA in fine arts with a minor in dance at California State University, Los Angeles, in 1966. She spent the year between her undergraduate and graduate studies enrolled at Waseda University, Tokyo. Her practice spans collaborative performances, sculpture, installation, video, drawing, photography, and poetry and writing. In 2019–21 a retrospective of her work was organized by the Lenbachhaus, Munich, and Museu de arte de São Paulo and traveled to the Denver Art Museum and the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Nengudi has also been the subject of recent solo exhibitions at the Baltimore Museum of Art (2017–18); Henry Moore Institute (2018–19); and Fruitmarket Gallery, Edinburgh (2019). The artist was recently awarded the prestigious 2023 Nasher Prize. Dia’s engagement with Nengudi began in 2017 with an invitation to participate in the institution’s long-running Artists on Artists Lecture Series and continues with the upcoming exhibition at Dia Beacon. Nengudi lives in Colorado Springs.

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