Profile: Howardena Pindell

Born in Philadelphia in 1943, Howardena Pindell studied painting at Boston University and Yale University. After graduating, she accepted a job at the Museum of Modern Art, where she worked for 12 years (1967–1979), first as Exhibition Assistant, then as Assistant Curator in the Department of National and International Traveling Exhibitions, and finally as an Associate Curator and Acting Director in the Department of Prints and Illustrated Books.  In 1979, she began teaching at the State University of New York, Stony Brook where she is now a full professor. Throughout her career, Pindell has exhibited extensively. Notable solo-exhibitions include: Spelman College (1971, Atlanta), A.I.R. Gallery (1973, 1983, New York), Just Above Midtown (1977, New York), Lerner-Heller Gallery (1980, 1981, New York), The Studio Museum in Harlem (1986, New York), the Wadsworth Atheneum (1989, Hartford), Cyrus Gallery (1989, New York), G.R. N’Namdi Gallery (1992, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2002, 2006, Chicago, Detroit, and New York), Garth Greenan Gallery, New York (2014, 2017), Spelman College Museum of Fine Art, Atlanta (2015) and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago (2018).

Pindell often employs lengthy, metaphorical processes of destruction/reconstruction. She cuts canvases in strips and sews them back together, building up surfaces in elaborate stages. She paints or draws on sheets of paper, punches out dots from the paper using a paper hole punch, drops the dots onto her canvas, and finally squeegees paint through the “stencil” left in the paper from which she had punched the dots. Almost invariably, her paintings are installed unstretched, held to the wall merely by the strength of a few finishing nails. The artist’s fascination with gridded, serialized imagery, along with surface texture appears throughout her oeuvre. Even in her later, more politically charged work, Pindell reverts to these thematic focuses in order to address social issues of homelessness, AIDs, war, genocide, sexism, xenophobia, and apartheid.

Early Life

Howardena Pindell was born on April 4, 1943, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania  Her parents were Howard and Mildred (née Lewis) Douglas. Pindell graduated from the Philadelphia High School for Girls. From a young age, she demonstrated promise in figurative art classes at the Philadelphia College of Art, the Fleisher Art Memorial, and the Tyler School of Art. She received her BFA from Boston University in 1965 and her MFA from Yale University in 1967. She also holds honorary doctorates from the Massachusetts College of Art and Design and Parsons The New School for Design.



n 1967, Pindell began working at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City, in the Department of Prints and Illustrated Books. She would continue to work at MoMA for the next 12 years (until 1979) in a variety of capacities, including exhibit assistant, curatorial assistant, and associate curator.

In 1972, Pindell co-founded the A.I.R. Gallery, which was the first artist-directed gallery for women artists in the United States. There were twenty artist cofounders, including Nancy Spero, Agnes Denes, Barbara Zucker, Dotty Attie, Judith Bernstein, Harmony Hammond, Maude Boltz, Louise Kramer, and others.  At the first meeting, held on March 17 1972, Pindell suggested naming the gallery the “Eyre Gallery” after the novel Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë.  The artists decided to name the gallery “A.I.R. Gallery” instead, which stands for “Artists in Residence.”The gallery allowed women artists to curate their own exhibitions, allowing them the freedom to take risks with their work in ways that commercial galleries would not.

In the mid-1970s, she began traveling abroad as a guest speaker and lecturer. Her seminars included “Current American and Black American Art: A Historical Survey” at the Madras College of Arts and Crafts in India, 1975, and “Black Artists, U.S.A.” at the Academy of Art in Oslo, Norway, 1976.

By 1977 she was associate curator of MoMA’s department of Prints and Illustrated Books. She continued to spend her nights creating her own pieces, drawing inspiration from many of the exhibits hosted by MoMA, especially the museum’s collection of Akan batakari tunics in the exhibit African Textiles and Decorative Arts.

Currently, Pindell is a professor of art at Stony Brook University, where she has taught since 1979. From 1995–1999, she worked as a visiting professor in the art department at Yale University.




Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s