At Sprüth Magers, London, the centerpiece of the exhibition is Nengudi’s monumental installation Bulemia (1990/2018), recently recreated at the Henry Moore Institute for the first time since its original presentation in 1990. Inside a specially constructed room, the walls are covered in an abundant collage of recent newspapers: some affixed flat, others pinned at one corner, hanging loosely from the wall, while others still are crumpled into tight nuggets sprayed with gold paint. The articles Nengudi has incorporated relate to civil rights issues affecting the African American community, but rather than excising them from the page, the artist includes the entire sheet so that all of the newspaper’s additional context remains intact, including advertisements, weather reports, and other articles. Nengudi’s layered installation suggests a geological structure, in which the articles have gathered into numerous lines of sediment awaiting exhumation and discovery. Bulemia also stands as an allegory of the creative process, particularly its call for self-reflection, digestion of knowledge, and productive reemergence.
The exhibition also highlights the breadth and ingenuity of Nengudi’s practice of performance photography, through the inclusion of several singular and serial photographs. In Performance Piece (1978), for example, a dancer engages with one of the artist’s nylon R.S.V.P. sculptures, arching and contorting her body in relation to the works’ knotted, pliable strands. Flying (1982/2014), a suite of eight photographs printed and presented here for the very first time, captures members of the artist collective Studio Z (including Nengudi and fellow artist-performer Maren Hassinger) as they make sound and perform improvisationally before a white stone edifice. Often moving in unison, their bodies create dramatic shapes, taking on the look of an ancient architectural frieze as if it had peeled away from the building façade and come to life. In other photographs, the artist herself poses with more of her sculptures, partially concealed and assuming otherworldly auras.