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signed, titled and dated 'Untitled 1971 Howardena Pindell' (on the reverse)
acrylic on canvas
68 1/2 x 118 1/2 in. (173.9 x 301 cm.)
Painted in 1971.
The artist
Garth Greenan Gallery, New York, 2012
Acquired from the above by the present owner

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Vanessa Fusco
Vanessa Fusco Head of 20th Century Evening Sale, Head of Impressionist and Modern Art

Lot Essay

Howardena Pindell, an influential artist who was also the first Black woman to serve in a curatorial department at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, has a vast and complex practice, of which Untitled is a seminal example. At a grand scale of nearly seven feet by ten feet, the present work was created when the artist was only 28 and is a universe in and of itself that captures the vastness of history and identity. A formative early painting and a rare canvas of this size, Untitled represents the roots of the artist’s incomparable career with its fascinating detail and chromatic subtlety reminiscent of pointillism. Pindell is also an activist, which is inextricable from her artistic practice. In 1972, she co-founded A.I.R. Gallery in New York, the first artist-directed gallery for women in the United States, which still provides support and space for women artists today.

Untitled is among Pindell’s earliest works, many of which have gone unseen for over 40 years. It was painted early in her tenure at MoMA and not long after she moved to New York in 1967. She soon pioneered a signature style of the rigorous applications of dots, drawing on her love of Georges Seurat, Claude Monet, and artists she contemplated while working at MoMA. Untitled amplifies the earthy and transcendent blues, greens, and reds of Impressionism and post-Impressionism, creating an abstract landscape that envelops the viewer. Pindell’s methods, however, are squarely contemporary. The dots of Untitled are created by spray-painting stencils that Pindell hole-punched thousands of times by hand and numbered—a record of her intense labor and precision. According to art historian Raphael Rubenstein, “The paintings created in this unconventional manner bear surfaces that can suggest a lunar landscape, encrusted skins skimmed off some strange liquid or the variegated face of an ancient, much-eroded wall” (R. Rubenstein, “The Hole Truth,” Art in America, October 29, 2014, In addition to these Gothic associations of beautiful ruins, we can also recall Judy Chicago’s Minimalist sculptures of the period that used car spray painting techniques, or the rigorous craftsmanship of Pattern and Decoration artists like Betty Woodman and Miriam Schapiro. Equally important is the larger history of painting in the 1970s. Returning to Rubenstein, “The art of the 1970s fell in love with rough textures, especially in the medium of painting…Of all the artists experimenting with unevenly textured surfaces, perhaps no one did so with such nuance and intensity as Howardena Pindell” (Ibid.).

What emerges in Untitled is an image both laborious and beautiful, textured and unified. The present canvas is the product of a generative moment in painting that Pindell pushed to new limits as she explored how paint could express the truth of lived experience. Writer John Yau muses that Pindell’s work has a “rhythmic peacefulness” that offers “bits of unanswered hope amid the order and chaos blooming throughout” (J. Yau, “The Beauty of Howardena Pindell’s Rage,” Hyperallergic, May 11, 2014, Untitled is thus a poem that brings together generative and disparate emotions and styles. Its precisely applied pigment vibrates through the past while remaining just as relevant to our contemporary moment.

Pindell, born in Philadelphia in 1943, studied painting at Boston University and Yale University. She worked in the curatorial department of MoMA for twelve years, during which time she mounted lauded solo exhibitions at Spelman College, Atlanta (1971) and A.I.R. Gallery (1973). She went on to teach at the State University of New York, Stony Brook, where she is now a Distinguished Professor of Art, and she won a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1987. Other solo exhibitions include the Studio Museum in Harlem, New York (1986), the Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, CT (1989), the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago (2018), The Shed, New York (2020-2021) and, most recently, Kettle’s Yard, the University of Cambridge, UK (2022). Pindell has also been featured in a host of historic group exhibitions, including We Wanted a Revolution: Black Radical Women, 1965–1985 (2017) at the Brooklyn Museum, New York. The Guardian called Pindell’s Kettle’s Yard show “jaw-dropping” and “majestic,” cementing her continued influence to new generations of contemporary artists (J. Jones, “Howardena Pindell review—from sheer painterly bliss to depictions of appalling racial terror,” The Guardian, July 1, 2022,

A rare and historically significant canvas, Untitled is so expansive as to be beyond words. In it, we see the roots of Pindell’s revolutionary career, which has consistently evolved over four decades. Her impulse has always been to create and honor community, making Untitled a radical act of generosity and unity. Untitled absorbs us into its multiplying dots, as if we are stars in its universe far above the rigid pointillism of A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grand Jatte. Pindell, as empathetic as she is incisive, always takes us along.

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