Senga Nengudi Studio Performance

Experimental Sculptor Senga Nengudi Wins the 2023 Nasher Prize

Today, the Nasher Sculpture Center announced Senga Nengudi as the recipient of its 2023 Nasher Prize, an annual award given to an artist “who elevates the understanding of sculpture and its possibilities.” The award was established in 2015 by the Dallas art institution and has since honored Nairy Baghramian, Theaster Gates, Isa Genzken, Pierre Huyghe, Michael Rakowitz, and Doris Salcedo with a $100,000 prize, a presentation in its public gallery, and a celebratory gala. Nengudi’s more than 50 years of experimental practice across a range of mediums—sculpture, installation, performance, dance, film and photography—earned her the favor of the jury, and she won out over a nomination list of approximately 150 worthy talents. On April 1, 2023, she will be toasted by the Center and guests at an honorary soirée in Texas.

Senga Nengudi, Maren Hassinger activating Senga Nengudi’s R.S.V.P. at Pearl C. Wood Gallery, 1977. Photography by Harmon Outlaw, courtesy of Sprüth Magers and Thomas Erben Gallery.

Nengudi’s most recognized works include her “R.S.V.P” series, where she filled pantyhose with sand, stretching and pinning the materials to a wall to convey the fragility of the human form. The Chicago-born. Colorado Springs, Colorado-based artist began using this inexpensive and historically gendered material in 1974 after she and fellow members—including David Hammons—of art collective Studio Z in Los Angeles, started to experiment with discarded materials found in highway underpasses. Almost five decades later, this material is emblematic of her work, highlighting how everyday objects can be repurposed in sculpture. At a luncheon hosted in New York yesterday, Nasher Prize juror Lynne Cooke reflected on this aspect of Nengudi’s work, saying, “What I think is so remarkable is that she found a very everyday, inexpensive material that’s associated with women and women’s bodies and used it to make an abstract art that thinks about the relationship of a body—a female body—to space.”

The “R.S.V.P” series debuted at New York art gallery Just Above Midtown in 1977 and will make a historic return to the upcoming exhibition, “Just Above Midtown: Changing Spaces” at the Museum of Modern Art. The show celebrates the contributions made to a noncommercialized art world by founding gallerist Linda Goode Bryant and the host of Black artists that worked and showed with her at JAM. Nengudi’s work will also be the subject of long-term solo exhibition at the Dia Beacon in upstate New York, opening in February of next year.

Senga Nengudi, R.S.V.P. Reverie “Scribe”, 2014. Photography by Timo Ohler, courtesy of Sprüth Magers and Thomas Erben Gallery.

In her contemporary work, Nengudi continues to push the boundaries within the field of sculpture and is recognized by the Nasher Sculpture Center for her resistance against artistic conventions. “An artist’s supposed greatest desire is the making of objects that will last lifetimes for posterity after all,” she wrote in a 1995 artist’s statement. “This has never been a priority for me. My purpose is to create an experience that will vibrate with the connecting thread.”