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Ritual and connection: DePaul Art Museum to feature Senga Nengudi

‘Improvisational Gestures’ runs Sept. 7-Dec. 10

Senga Nengudi
In the fall of 2017, DePaul Art Museum will feature work and documentary photography from Chicago-born artist Senga Nengudi, including “R.S.V.P. sculptures activated by the artist in Performance Piece—Nylon Mesh and Maren Hassinger, Pearl C. Wood Gallery, Los Angeles, 1977,” which shows Nengudi activating one of her sculptures. (Photograph © Harmon Outlaw, Pearl C. Wood Gallery, Los Angeles)
CHICAGO — In the 1970s, artist Senga Nengudi would carry pantyhose and other supplies for her “R.S.V.P.” series of sculptures around in her bag. Born in Chicago and a pioneer of performative art, Nengudi would stage choreographic actions within the works of nylon and sand.

Senga Nengudi sculpture
“R.S.V.P. Reverie ‘W/B’” is a sculpture of nylon mesh and sand is part of the “Senga Nengudi: Improvisational Gestures” exhibition. Born in Chicago, Nengudi pioneered performative art in the 1970s. The exhibition runs Sept. 7-Dec. 10. (Photograph courtesy Galleries of Contemporary Art, University of Colorado, Colorado Springs)
This fall, DePaul Art Museum will host a touring exhibition of Nengudi’s work, including documentation of her earliest performances. “Senga Nengudi: Improvisational Gestures” will be held on DePaul University’s Lincoln Park Campus Sept. 7-Dec. 10 and is co-organized by Museum of Contemporary Art Denver, and the Gallery of Contemporary Art at University  of  Colorado, Colorado Springs.

“Senga Nengudi is one of the most important American artists of the past 50 years, yet she is still under-recognized,” said Julie Rodrigues Widholm, director and chief curator of the DePaul Art Museum. “Her work continues to be relevant as we think about the body, identity and ways art can be innovative and connect people.”

Once installed, Nengudi’s sculptures mimic the female form but are stretched, pulled and twisted into distended proportions. Nengudi was inspired by her experience of motherhood and depicts the elasticity, fragility and strength of the body, said Widholm.

Born Sue Irons in 1943, the artist spent her early childhood in Chicago. She was raised and educated in Los Angeles and Pasadena, California, then spent an influential year in Tokyo where she studied noh and buto theatre performance styles. The ritual of theatre and the everyday routine of putting on pantyhose merge in her sculptures. “There is a hybrid, intercultural dialog in the work about inclusiveness and bringing people together,” said Widholm.

The work is also connected to Nengudi’s perspective as a black woman artist in the 1970s. As part of a radical black avant-garde that included contemporary artists David Hammons and Maren Hassinger, Nengudi lived in New York City and had a solo exhibition in 1977 at the pioneering Just Above Midtown Gallery in Harlem.

The exhibition is co-curated by Windgate Research Curator Elissa Auther of the Museum of Design, and Nora Burnett Abrams of MCA Denver. Nengudi and Abrams will give a gallery talk Sept. 9 at 2 p.m. and will discuss the exhibition and the artist's practice over the last four decades. Performers will activate works in the “R.S.V.P.” series of sculptures immediately following the talk.

The museum is located at 935 W. Fullerton Ave. Hours are 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday; 11 a.m. to 5 pm. Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The museum is closed Monday and Tuesday. Admission is free. Additional information at​ or 773-325-7506.


Correction note: Updated Aug. 30, 2017 to reflect DePaul Art Museum's new hours. ​

Julie Rodrigues Widholm

Media Contact:
Kristin Claes Mathews