“Women in Jazz Saturday” (2020) by Dindga McCannon

 

EMPLOYING TRADITIONAL QUILTING TECHNIQUES in combination with paint, printed images, and beaded embellishments, mixed-media works by Dindga McCannon reference the March on Washington and Monet’s Garden and pay tribute to Maya Angelou, Faith Ringgold, Nelson Mandela, Mariam Makeba, women in jazz, and Lavinia Williams, a lead dancer with the Katherine Dunham Company in the 1940s.

For more than half a century the enduring subject of McCannon’s practice has been Black women, which is evidenced in a new exhibition hosted by Phillips, the international auction house. This week, Phillips launched an online selling exhibition featuring 11 works by the artist.

The exhibition is organized in collaboration with McCannon, who will benefit directly from the sale of her work (unlike an auction, where the consignor, usually a collector or institution, not the artist, reaps the proceeds of the sale, which generally reflects an exponentially increased market value of the work above the original purchase price.) The selection was sourced from the McCannon’s own holdings. She is offering paintings and mixed-media quilts that span more than four decades, from 1976 to 2020.

“Phillips X Presents: Dindga McCannon” opened online Nov. 16 and is on view through Dec. 16, 2020. Prices range from $32,500 to $78,000.

“We are thrilled to bring the work of Dindga McCannon to Phillips. She is a groundbreaking artist whose work across mediums, including textiles and quilting and figurative painting, defies easy categorization, but cements her as a visionary artist who has charted her own path over the past 55 years,” Phillips Chairman of the Americas David Norman said in a statement. “As a whole, her body of work is richly narrative and speaks to Black Pride and feminism in a way that is singular and extremely powerful.”

Phillips Chairman of the Americas David Norman called Dindga McCannon a “groundbreaking” artist. He said he was “thrilled” to bring her work to Phillips, adding: “As a whole, her body of work is richly narrative and speaks to Black Pride and feminism in a way that is singular and extremely powerful.”


DINDGA MCCANNON, “Ola,” 1976 (acrylic on canvas, 36 x 24 1/4 inches / 91.4 x 61.6 cm). | Price $78,000

 

A MIXED-MEDIA ARTIST, McCannon works across painting, printmaking, textiles, and wearable art. She began developing her practice as the Civil Rights Movement was giving way to the Black arts and Black Power movements. Women were finding their voices and speaking up about their rights. Natural hairstyles were favored among her peers. Afrocentric themes and Black liberation were prominent in her work.

Raised in Harlem, McCannon is 73. She spent most of her career in New York, where she was a member of the Weusi Artist Collective. In 1970, with Kay Brown and Faith Ringgold, she co-founded Where We At, a collective of Black women artists. In the early 1970s, she took classes at the Art Students League of New York where her instructors included Jacob Lawrence, Charles Alston, Richard Mayhew, and Alvin Hollingsworth. She also studied at the Robert Blackburn Printmaking Workshop, from the 1980s to late 1990s. Today, she lives and works in Philadelphia.

Two works by McCannon were featured in “We Wanted a Revolution: Black Radical Women, 1965–85,” the landmark traveling exhibition organized by co-curators Catherine Morris and Rujeko Hockley at the Brooklyn Museum (2017-18). One of them, “Revolutionary Sister” (1971), is a mixed-media work on construction wood acquired by the museum in 2012.

Writing about “Revolutionary Sister,” McCannon has said: “In the 60s and 70s we didn’t have many women warriors (that we were aware of) so I created my own. Her headpiece is made from recycled mini flag poles. The shape was inspired by my thoughts on the statue of liberty; she represents freedom for so many but what about us (African Americans)? My warrior is made from pieces from the hardware store—another place women were not welcomed back then. My thoughts were my warrior is hard as nails. I used a lot of the liberation colors: red—for the blood we shed; green—for the Motherland—Africa; and black—for the people.”

“In the 60s and 70s we didn’t have many women warriors (that we were aware of) so I created my own. Her headpiece is made from recycled mini flag poles. The shape was inspired by my thoughts on the statue of liberty; she represents freedom for so many but what about us (African Americans)?” — Dindga McCannon


DINDGA MCCANNON, “Sisters,” 2020 (40 x 40 inches / 101.6 x 101.6 cm). | Price $65,000

 

EARLIER THIS YEAR, a major painting by McCannon was offered at auction for the first time. “The Last Farewell” (1970), a two-figure, color-blocked composition appeared on the cover of the sale catalog and was estimated at $30,000-$40,000.

The painting sold for $161,000 (four times the high estimate) on Jan. 30, 2020, at Swann Auction Galleries in New York. It was featured in a special sale dedicated to African-American Art from the collection of the Johnson Publishing Company. McCannon was in the salesroom and the auctioneer announced her presence from the podium. After the lot sold, he called the result a world record and said to her, “Congratulations!” The room erupted with applause.

Shortly afterward, McCannon recounted the experience in an oral history interview with BOMB Magazine. The conversation with Philip Glahn occurred in April 2020 and was published in August 2020:

    McCannon: One of my artist friends, doll artist Tanya Montegut, sent me the cover of a Swann Galleries upcoming auction. Johnson Publications bought a lot of artwork in the ’70s. They bought a piece of mine that I used to go visit in the lounge of the ladies’ room in their building whenever I was in Chicago.

    Glahn: There offices were there?

    McCannon: Yup, fast forward to a couple of weeks ago, my artist friends email that Swann is auctioning off my work as part of the Johnson collection. The asking bid is 30,000 to 40,000 dollars. As I sat in the audience at the auction, with Tanya there as my cheering section, and Shelley Innis and Otto Neals, I almost fainted as the work sold for $161,000. I don’t get a dime of that. And that was one of the things that the Artists’ Coalition wanted to do—to make a law so that artists would get a piece of resale prices. I’m not even dead yet and they’re making money off of me! Big time!

In May, “Festival in Harlem” (1976) by McCannon sold for $12,500 at the Black Art Auction in Indianapolis, Ind. Three more works by McCannon are featured in Swann’s upcoming African-American Fine Art sale on Dec. 10.

“I almost fainted as the work sold for $161,000. I don’t get a dime of that. And that was one of the things that the Artists’ Coalition wanted to do—to make a law so that artists would get a piece of resale prices. I’m not even dead yet and they’re making money off of me! Big time!”
— Dindga McCannon


DINDGA MCCANNON, “Lavinia Williams, Legendary Dancer, Choreographer, and Teacher,” 2018 (mixed media quilt, 30 x 31 inches / 76.2 x 78.7 cm). | Price $48,750

 

AT PHILLIPS, a conversation with McCannon was commissioned to accompany the selling exhibition. Curator Lowery Sims conducted the interview.

Sims asked about the origins of the Where We At collective and they discussed interest in McCannon’s work that resulted from the Swann sale, why the artist resisted being regarded as a quilter, and what prompted her to start painting again.

McCannon also talked about some of the works in the exhibition. “Threads of the Past, Inspiration for the Future,” a painted quilt, is anchored by a self-portrait of the artist, surrounded by text references to trailblazers such as Sojourner Truth, Phillis Wheatley, Rosa Parks, Shirley Chisholm, and Sonia Sanchez. McCannon said the women triumphed under the worst circumstances and inspire and encourage her to keep going.

Then she explained the unique shape of one of the works, “Lavinia Williams, Legendary Dancer, Choreographer, and Teacher” (2018). Williams toured Europe, danced on Broadway, and founded a dance institute in Haiti. She also taught dance throughout the Caribbean and at the Alvin Ailey American Dance Center School in New York.

“As I began to work on the piece, the shape just kind of evolved. I thought, ‘Well, why does it have to be square anyway?’ It’s more interesting when it’s not square. And then the beading came in. At the end of the fringe, there are ballerinas, and I did that piece to tell the story of Lavinia Williams who was a contemporary of Katherine Dunham, but she’s not as well-known,” McCannon told Sims.

“Since Lavinia passed I felt many of the women who are the forebearers of the Black Art movement in one way or the other are ageing and disappearing. So I made that quilt to celebrate her life.” CT

 

TOP IMAGE: DINDGA MCCANNON, “Women in Jazz Saturday,” 2020 (acrylic on canvas, 30 x 43 inches / 76.2 x 109.2 cm). | Price $52,000

 

UPDATE (11/25/20): Fridman Gallery in New York announced its representation of Dindga McCannon today. Her first solo exhibition with the gallery is scheduled for September 2021 and will include a catalog.

 

FIND MORE about Dindga McCannon on her website

READ MORE about Dindga McCannon in an oral history interview recently published by BOMB magazine

 


DINDGA MCCANNON, “Dancers #4,” 2020 (oil on canvas 40 x 40 inches / 101.6 x 101.6 cm). | Price $65,000

 


DINDGA MCCANNON, “Threads of the Past, Inspiration for the Future,” 2000 (mixed media, 55 x 55 inches / 139.7 x 139.7 cm). | Price $65,000

 

BOOKSHELF
Two publications were produced to coincide with “We Wanted a Revolution: Black Radical Women, 1965–85,” a Sourcebook featuring an invaluable collection of historic articles about Black women artist’s activities, insights, challenges, and triumphs navigating the art world, along with New Perspectives, a collection of original essays. Over the years, Dindga McCannon has illustrated and written several books for children and young readers, including “Peaches,” “Children of the Night,” “Sati the Rastifarian,” and “Wilhemina Jones, Future Star: A Novel.”

 

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