Denver Art Museum Unveils Exhibition of Abstract Work by a Colorado Artist

For fans of abstract and conceptual art — the most recent exhibition at Denver Art Museum is a must see. Opening December 13 and running through April 11 — the museum is now home to Senga Nengudi: Topologies. Senga Nengudi is a Colorado-based artist who was one of the most prominent artists working during the 1970s Black Arts Movement. The exhibition showcases more than 70 of her works — which are comprised of performance art, sculpture, photography and mixed media. If you visit the show — you’ll see how Nengudi has used pantyhose, foam and water to make artistic commentary on the environment, race and identity.

“Senga Nengudi champions experimentation with unconventional materials and forms of expression,” curator Rebecca Hart said. “Using very simple everyday materials in unexpected ways, she creates evocative works that are subtle and complex in consideration of the female body, space, movement and the function of rituals.”

Nengudi is best known for being part of a group of Black avant-garde artists in the 1960s and ’70s. Perhaps some of her most prominent works are those that combine physical performance and the everyday objects she uses. Visitors will find that she is committed to demonstrating Black experiences and womanhood throughout her pieces.

Senga Nengudi, Performance Piece (detail, right panel), 1977

The exhibition has been separated into five sections. One of them — titled “Collaboration and Convergence” — emphasizes how Nengudi uses collaboration with performance artists to bring her sculptures alive. One of her pieces is a series of five sets of pantyhose secured to the gallery wall. A dancer would then interlace themselves within the pantyhose and perform a set of choreographed movements within the piece Nengudi created. In many of her works, it’s clear to see how Nengudi created for the purpose of being activated by a dancer. Denver Art Museum is planning to hold an event in the spring of 2021 — in which a dancer will activate Nengudi’s work for the public.

Along with her collaborative pieces — visitors will find a series of infamous photographs that have served as a backbone of Nengudi’s career. “Ceremony for Freeway Fets” was a performance Nengudi conducted under a freeway in Los Angeles in 1978. The performance brought together Japanese dance, jazz and West African practices to create a sort of ritual under the highway overpass. Nengudi aims to sanctify urban spaces through the art of ritual and created the costumes for the participants. This performance was captured by a series of photographs that are now on display in the museum.

“I’m inspired by found objects. If I’m going down the street and see something that stimulates something in me, I’ll build off of that,” Nengudi said. “I also think of performance activities that I can put into place that will excite other people to participate in.”

Senga Nengudi, Ceremony for Freeway Fets, 1978. Photos by Timo Ohler.

Denver Art Museum curator Rebecca Hart shared that while many Denver art lovers may not be used to abstract works — all visitors to this exhibition should be able to relate to it in some form and be inspired by it.

“The real strength of this work is its abstraction, it invites us into it,” Hart said. “It begins with the body and we all have bodies and have a personal reference to enter this work. I hope people can take a moment, pause and think of the bodily sensations that are represented in these artworks.”

Nengudi frequently uses pantyhose to represent the human body. Some of her works feature the stockings filled with sand — representing the elasticity of our changing bodies. For Nengudi — she was inspired to create these works after seeing how her body changed after becoming a mother.

“Look at your own living space with new eyes,” Nengudi said. “Take a thing that resonates with you, such as a rock, and view it as a power object. Let that object talk to you and go from there.”

“Senga Nengudi: Topologies” can be viewed with a general admission ticket for $10. Tickets must be reserved in advance here, as the museum is operating at 25% capacity. Denver Art Museum is located at 100 West 14th Avenue Parkway, Denver.