Magnetic Fields

  • Wooden canvas with sculptural elements protruding and whitewashed from Magnetic Fields Exhibition.
    Mildred Thompson, Wood Picture 4, ca. 1967; Found wood and paint, 25 1/2 × 38 1/4 × 2 3/4 in.; New Orleans Museum of Art, Museum Purchase, Leah Chase Fund, 2016.50; © The Mildred Thompson Estate, Atlanta Georgia. Photo: TK
  • Abstract work from Magnetic Fields Exhibition of swirling paint in pinks, blues, and purples on a dark gray background
    Mary Lovelace O’Neal, Racism is Like Rain, Either it’s Raining or it’s Gathering Somewhere, 1993; Acrylic on canvas, 86 x 138 in.; Mott-Warsh Collection, Flint, Michigan; © Mary Lovelace O’Neal
  • Large pile of shredded and twisted newspapers on the floor from Magnetic Fields Exhibition.
    Maren Hassinger, Wrenching News, 2008; Shredded, twisted, and wrapped New York Times newspapers, 8 x 72 x 72 in.; Courtesy of the artist, New York, New York; © Maren Hassinger; Photo: Dan Meyers

Magnetic Fields: Expanding American Abstraction, 1960s to Today on view October 13, 2017–January 21, 2018

Featuring work by twenty-one artists born between 1891 and 1981, Magnetic Fields places abstract works by multiple generations of black women artists in context with one another—and within the larger history of abstract art—for the first time. Evocative prints, unconventional sculptures, and monumental paintings reveal the artists’ role as under-recognized leaders in abstraction.  

Artists in Magnetic Fields dispel the notion that figurative art is the only means for visualizing personal experience. The titles of their works and their construction methods evoke intense associations. Mary Lovelace O’Neal’s use of allusive titles, such as Racism is Like Rain, Either it’s Raining or it’s Gathering Somewhere (1993), informs the reading of her monumentally-scaled painting while Maren Hassinger similarly uses socio-politically inflected titles and materials—specifically New York Times newspapers—in her textural floor sculpture Wrenching News (2008).

Many featured artists have ties to the Washington, D.C., area, particularly the Department of Art at Howard University. Alumni of this department include Alma Woodsey Thomas, Mildred Thompson, Mary Lovelace O’Neal, and Sylvia Snowden. Other artists presented in Magnetic Fields include Candida Alvarez, Betty Blayton, Chakaia Booker, Lilian Thomas Burwell, Nanette Carter, Barbara Chase-Riboud, Deborah Dancy, Abigail DeVille, Maren Hassinger, Jennie C. Jones, Evangeline “EJ” Montgomery, Howardena Pindell, Mavis Pusey, Shinique Smith, Gilda Snowden, Kianja Strobert, and Brenna Youngblood.

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Magnetic Fields Mobile Guide

Use the companion mobile guide to learn about the artists, explore local connections, and understand abstract art. Text “NMWA” to 565-12 to get a link to explore on your device.


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Magnetic Fields Blog Posts

Explore exhibition themes and artworks in depth in this special blog series. Continue to check back as new posts are added.


Magnetic Fields Audio Guide

Hear discussions of the artworks by the artists themselves. Transcripts available for download.


Magnetic Fields Videos

Explore this online playlist of videos related to the exhibition, the artists, and the collectors.


Magnetic Fields: Expanding American Abstraction, 1960s to Today is organized by the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, Kansas City, Missouri, and is supported in part by awards from the National Endowment for the Arts and from The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts.

The presentation of Magnetic Fields at NMWA is made possible through the generous support of Marcia and Frank Carlucci, FedEx, the Sue J. Henry and Carter G. Phillips Exhibition Fund, Stephanie Sale, Mahinder and Sharad Tak, and the Black Women’s Agenda, Inc. Additional support is provided by American Airlines, the official airline of the museum’s 30th Anniversary.