The Philadelphia Museum of Art has a new history-making exhibition

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- The Philadelphia Museum of Art has a new history-making exhibition showcasing an artist who was a leader of the 1970s Black American avant-garde.

The exhibition called "Senga Nengudi: Topologies" opened in the museum's Dorrance Galleries.

"She is one of the key figures in post-war sculpture, our first special exhibition after the pandemic," says Amanda Sroka, the assistant curator of Contemporary Art at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

"This is the first major exhibition of an African American woman artist that we've done in these galleries as well," says Timothy Ru, the director of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

It opens with a work called "Black and Red Ensemble," an exact rebuild of the artist's 1971 master's project.

"I don't think we've ever had a more dramatic entrance to an exhibition," exclaims Ru.

"You'll notice these kinds of suspended block forms that are actually meant to be touched and moveed with your body as you move through the space," Sroka adds.

Nengudi trained as a dancer as well as a sculptor, and her works include vinyl filled with dyed water and pantyhose loaded with sand that seems to evoke the male body.

However, Sroka says, "It completely blurs those distinctions between male and female."

"To build this question of gender and identity into work at that time, it signals a new direction in American art," added Ru.

The exhibition chronologically covers a half-century of Nengudi's pioneering career as a leading force in a group of emerging Black artists who struggled to be recognized.

"You get to see kind of the ways in which these artists navigated those difficulties, which continue today of how we marginalize artists of color from traditionally white institutions," Sroka says. "I'm hopeful for opportunities like this to change people's understanding of what art is and what art can be.

The exhibition ends fittingly with a piece Nengudi created while working in Philadelphia.

"It's called warp trance, and she made it when she was an artist in residence at the Fabric Workshop and Museum. And it really does kind of put you in a trance," Sroka reveals.

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"The Senga Nengudi" exhibition runs through July 25th
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