If you missed “Senga Nengudi: Improvisational Gestures,” a survey of the artist’s performance-based work at the USC Fisher Museum of Art last spring, catch up (somewhat) with “Head Back and High,” a smaller show of performance objects made between 1976 and 2017. The exhibition, organized by the Baltimore Museum of Art, is on view at Art + Practice in Leimert Park.
With just four sculptures and 10 photographic and video documents, it’s a bit of a thumbnail sketch. (The artist, who first came to prominence in 1970s Los Angeles, now works in Colorado.) But two standout works make a visit worthwhile.
One is a tripartite installation sculpture, “A.C.Q.I,” primarily assembled from Nengudi’s signature materials: pantyhose and sand, plus refrigeration coils and an electric fan. Typically, she stretches the synthetic nylon, knotting and sometimes anchoring it with sand.
The resulting linear forms, besides offering a distinctive postmodern twist on the prominent motif of drawing in space, have reverberated in various ways through later artists’ work — the drawings that Matthew Barney made while wearing restraints, for example, and the suspended, spice-filled, soft-nylon sculptures of Ernesto Neto.
In the center of “A.C.Q.I,” taut lines of pantyhose stretched across the corner and tied to refrigerator coils are like the ropes of a boxing ring. Below, a steel-mesh cube houses a whirring fan, which flutters the dangling legs of another pair of hose in its breeze.
The shape of that hose, filled with sand above the crotch and laid atop the cube, recalls both a boxing glove and a sprawled body. The ensemble is like an abstract trace of the movements of a boxer, overheated and exhausted, retreating to the corner of the ring for momentary rest and refuge.
The bodily poetry of episodic physical exertions and the fluid intervals between them also marks “R.S.V.P. X,” a video projection of a performance with Maren Hassinger. Accompanied by the strains of a cello, Hassinger dances with a knotted soft sculpture of nylon mesh tights stretched between walls and weighted with sand that tethers it to the floor.
Nengudi’s sculpture is a bodily abstraction. But as much as it is suggestive of external limbs, torso and breasts, it evokes internal viscera. Hassinger navigates around and through it with fluid grace. Part obstacle, part collaborator in an engagement with the dancer’s experience of her own female body moving through space, the sculpture is art conceived and committed as a tactile entanglement with the world.