Magnetic Fields: Expanding American Abstraction, 1960s to Today

Magnetic Fields: Expanding American Abstraction, 1960s to Today

KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI—April 26, 2017—Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art is pleased to announce the forthcoming exhibition, Magnetic Fields: Expanding American Abstraction, 1960s to Today, which will be on view at Kemper Museum June 8 through September 17, 2017, and will then travel to the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, D.C. Magnetic Fields is the first U.S. presentation dedicated exclusively to the formal and historical dialogue of abstraction by women artists of color. The exhibition has also garnered major support and merit through the reception of prestigious grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and from The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts. The exhibition is organized by Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, Kansas City, Missouri, and co-curated by Erin Dziedzic, director of curatorial affairs at Kemper Museum, and Melissa Messina, independent curator and curator of the Mildred Thompson Estate, Atlanta, Georgia.

Magnetic Fields focuses a long-overdue lens on the contributions of women artists of color within the lineage of non-representational art making. As the first museum exhibition of its kind, Magnetic Fields aims to spark more broad and inclusive presentations of American abstraction going forward. Intergenerational in scope, this exhibition and the accompanying catalogue amplify the formal and conceptual connections among twenty-one artists born between 1891 (Alma Thomas) and 1981 (Abigail DeVille), many presented in conversation with one another for the first time.

Co-curators Erin Dziedzic and Melissa Messina stated, “As curators, we are honored to present this incredible, intergenerational group of artists.” They added, “This exhibition is intended to be a platform to further their visibility, as well as to generate more inclusive conversations about the history of American abstraction that consider the accomplishments and contributions of women artists of color going forward.”

Executive Director Barbara O’Brien said, “The exhibition Magnetic Fields has proven to be historic for Kemper Museum both in content and support. The unprecedented grant support from The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts and the National Endowment for the Arts contributes to the groundswell of interest and enthusiasm received for the theme, artists, and works of art organized for this extraordinary exhibition.”

In the June 2014 ARTnews article “Black Abstraction: Not a Contradiction,” Hilarie M. Sheets aptly notes, “The contributions of African American artists to the inventions of abstract [art] have historically been overlooked…” Magnetic Fields focuses on non-representational art making by women artists of color, reframing the art historical narrative to convey a more complete presentation of American abstraction than has ever previously been examined. 

The exhibition introduces the work of twenty-one exceptional artists in conversation with one another for the first time. With works in a variety of media, including painting, sculpture, printmaking, and drawing, the exhibition showcases a diverse range of unique visual vocabularies within non-representational expression. By highlighting the artists’ individual approaches to form, color, composition, material exploration and conceptual impetus within hard-edge and gestural abstraction, Magnetic Fields provides an expanded history of non-pictorial image- and object-making. 

"Magnetic Fields celebrates the lives and work of a group of extraordinary artists whose dedication to abstraction is quite literally magnetic," said Director of Curatorial Affairs Erin Dziedzic, "Intergenerational in scope, the exhibition is conceptually grounded in illuminating the formal conversations amongst artists' works from 1960 to the present." 

Magnetic Fields features early- and later-career works, pieces from specific series, several exhibited for the first time, and the long-awaited reappearance of iconic works such as Mavis Pusey’s large-scale painting Dejygea (1970) from the Whitney Museum of American Art’s 1971 exhibition Contemporary Black Artists in America. Also drawn in part from Kemper Museum’s Permanent Collection, this exhibition features Chakaia Booker’s rubber tire sculpture El Gato (2001).

Exhibiting Artists

Candida Alvarez (b. 1955) Mary Lovelace O’Neal (b. 1942)
Betty Blayton (b. 1937, d. 2016) Howardena Pindell (b. 1943)
Chakaia Booker (b. 1953) Mavis Pusey (b. 1928)
Lilian Thomas Burwell (b. 1927) Shinique Smith (b. 1971)
Nanette Carter (b. 1954) Gilda Snowden (b. 1954, d. 2014)
Barbara Chase-Riboud (b. 1939) Sylvia Snowden (b. 1942)
Deborah Dancy (b. 1949) Kianja Strobert (b. 1980)
Abigail DeVille (b. 1981) Alma Thomas (b. 1891, d. 1978)
Maren Hassinger (b. 1947) Mildred Thompson (b. 1936, d. 2003)
Jennie C. Jones (b. 1968) Brenna Youngblood (b. 1979)
Evangeline “EJ” Montgomery (b. 1930)  

An exhibition advisory group has been assembled to engage in broader dialogue throughout the planning of the exhibition. Thought-provoking educational programming has been designed to complement the themes within Magnetic Fields, and will be offered free of charge to engage learners of all ages. A complete list of Museum programs relating to this exhibition can be found at

Magnetic Fields: Expanding American Abstraction,1960s to Today is an important and relevant project at a time when the art world is at last recognizing the contributions of women artists to the key moments in American Art,” notes Lowery Stokes Sims, Curator Emerita, Museum of Arts and Design, and member of the Magnetic Fields advisory group. “It not only expands the roster of artists working abstractly but also bravely tackles the quandary of black women artists who often have had to overcome familial uncertainty with their chosen careers, and have had to harness color, line, and form to address the inevitable and unavoidable political and personal challenges they have faced in the world.”

Magnetic Fields Advisory Group

Isolde Brielmaier Dena Muller
Licia E. Clifton-James Valerie Cassel Oliver
Gia M. Hamilton Lowery Stokes Sims
Adrienne Walker Hoard Lilly Wei
Sandra Jackson-Dumont  

Image Credits: (top) Mildred Thompson, Magnetic Fields (triptych), 1990, oil on canvas, 70½  x 150 inches. Courtesy and copyright of the Mildred Thompson Estate, Atlanta, GA. (middle) Alma Thomas, Orion, 1973, acrylic on canvas, 59 3/4 x 54 x 1 1/4 inches. Courtesy of the National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Wallace and Wilhelmina Holladay © Estate of Alma Woodsey Thomas. Photo: Lee Stalsworth. (bottom) Chakaia Booker, El Gato, 2001, rubber tire and wood, 48 x 42 x 42 inches. Collection of the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, Bebe and Crosby Kemper Collection, Museum purchase, Enid and Crosby Kemper and William T. Kemper Acquisition Fund, 2004.12 © Chakaia Booker. Photo: Dan Wayne.


Kansas City’s renowned FREE contemporary art museum, Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art opened in October 1994 and draws more than 100,000 visitors each year. The Museum boasts a rapidly growing Permanent Collection that uniquely bridges modern and contemporary works of art featuring artists such as Louise Bourgeois, Helen Frankenthaler, Willem de Kooning, Georgia O’Keeffe, Keltie Ferris, Trenton Doyle Hancock, Richard Mosse, and Ursula von Rydingsvard. The Museum hosts special exhibitions, installations, lectures, as well as children and family programs and workshops.
Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art (4420 Warwick Blvd.) is open 10:00 a.m.–4:00 p.m., Tuesday–Wednesday; 10:00 a.m.–9:00 p.m., Thursday–Friday; and 10:00 a.m.–4:00 p.m., Saturday–Sunday. The Museum is closed on Mondays and all major holidays. 

For more information about Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, visit
For high-resolution images or media inquiries please contact:
Kent Michael Smith, Director of Marketing and Communications | 816-457-6132