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MFA hosts first American exhibition dedicated solely to African-American women artists working in abstract art





Keeley LaForme

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MFA hosts first American exhibition dedicated solely
to African-American women artists working in abstract art

“Magnetic Fields” opens at the Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg on May 5


St. Petersburg, Fla. (April 20, 2018) – In May, the Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg will be the final stop for the first American exhibition dedicated solely to African-American women artists working in abstract art.

Magnetic Fields: Expanding American Abstraction, 1960s to Today” brings together 45 abstract paintings, sculptures and works on paper by 21 accomplished artists who have historically been overlooked by the mainstream. The exhibition showcases an intergenerational group of African-American women artists, born between the 1890s and 1980s, who have worked in abstraction, a school of art defined by the use of color, shape, lines and form to convey the artists’ ideas.

The exhibition takes its name from one of the works in the exhibition, Mildred Thompson’s 1991 triptych Magnetic Fields, which has sweeping marks, a bright color palette and cosmic references. Thompson, a Jacksonville native, came to Tampa in 1974 and that year served as the city’s artist in residence. Before that, Thompson spent much of the 1960s and early ‘70s teaching, traveling and exhibiting in Europe, where her work was more widely supported, exhibited and collected – a much different experience from the racial and gender discrimination she faced in the United States.


Much of the work on display reflects personal and political overtones. It also includes a number of iconic works like Mavis Pusey’s large-scale painting Dejyqea (1970), which hasn’t been shown publicly since it was featured in the Whitney Museum of American Art’s controversial 1971 exhibition “Contemporary Black Artists in America.”

Many of the artists featured in the exhibition were working during the Black Arts Movement of the 1960s and early 1970s. Artists working within the Black Arts Movement typically used representational imagery – art that clearly references the real world or human figures – in their work. The artists in Magnetic Fields were often seen as eschewing the efforts of the Black Arts Movement by working in abstraction, and often overlooked by other African-American artists working during that time period.

“Magnetic Fields explores a wide range of approaches to abstract art, from the expressionist, painterly works of Gilda Snowden, to the hard edges that characterize the work of Mavis Pusey,” said Katherine Pill, MFA curator of contemporary art. “The exhibition presents an opportunity to consider these various works in relation to each other, finding threads of comparison you wouldn’t necessarily expect.”

“The MFA is thrilled to highlight these important artists and the powerful works they have contributed to American abstraction,” said MFA Executive Director Kristen Shepherd. “As Florida’s only encyclopedic art museum, the MFA has the unique ability to help visitors explore art and artists from all time periods and cultures. The opportunity to present a long-overdue focus on artists who have traditionally been marginalized is an example of this.”

Magnetic Fields will be on view at the MFA from May 5 to August 5 in the Hazel Hough Galleries. The exhibition is organized by the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, Kansas City, Missouri and curated by Erin Dziedzic and Melissa Messina, debuting in summer 2017. It recently closed at the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, D.C. The MFA is the exhibition’s third and final stop.  



The MFA at 255 Beach Drive N.E. has a world-class collection, with works by Monet, Morisot, Rodin, O’Keeffe, Willem de Kooning, and many other great artists. Also displayed are ancient Greek and Roman, Egyptian, Asian, African, pre-Columbian, and Native American art. Selections from the photography collection, one of the largest and finest in the Southeast, are on view in a gallery dedicated solely to the medium. Kristen A. Shepherd is the Executive Director.

Hours are 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday, until 8 p.m. on Thursday, and noon-5 p.m. Sunday. Admission is only $5 after 5 p.m. on Thursday. Regular admission is $17 for adults, $15 for those 65 and older, and $10 for students seven and older, including college students with current I.D. Children under seven and Museum members are admitted free. Groups of 10 or more adults pay only $12 per person and children $4 each with prior reservations. The MFA Café is open from 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday. For more information, please call 727.896.2667 or visit mfastpete.org.

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