Urgent Museum Notice

Magnetic Fields: Expanding American Abstraction, 1960s to Today

Large abstract work shows half the painting with solid dark gray paint on the right and swirling paint in pinks, blues, black, and purples on the right.
Oct 13, 2017, to Jan 21, 2018

Featuring work by twenty-one artists born between 1891 and 1981, Magnetic Fields: Expanding American Abstraction, 1960s to Today 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 ThomasMildred 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.

Multiple rectangular wooden shapes and dowels positioned vertically and casting shadows on the right side of a whitewashed wooden canvas.

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

Exhibition Sponsors

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.

  • Fed Ex
  • Black Women's Agenda
  • American Airlines

Related Media

Audio Guide

Large abstract work shows half the painting with solid dark gray paint on the right and swirling paint in pinks, blues, black, and purples on the right.
Enrich your experience of the exhibition by hearing from the artists themselves. Audio recorded especially for the exhibition at NMWA.

Educator Guide

Painting features vertical tile-shaped brushstrokes in various shades of red separated by horizontal white lines. Creating a rhythmic and mosaic-like pattern that resembles stitching, the white lines create stairsteps in the lower right corner, separating as they move towards the center.
These lesson plans, written with elementary through high school students in mind, are designed to encourage the thoughtful observation, creation, and written reflection of abstract art.


Explore this online playlist of videos related to the exhibition, the artists, and the themes represented in the artworks of Magnetic Fields.