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press release

February 15–May 19, 2024

Las Vegas Ikebana: Maren Hassinger and Senga Nengudi

The Cooley is pleased to present Las Vegas Ikebana: Maren Hassinger and Senga Nengudi, the first museum exhibition focused on the pioneering collective and cross-genre practices of artists Maren Hassinger (b. 1947, Los Angeles) and Senga Nengudi (b. 1943, Chicago). Since their first encounter in Los Angeles in 1977, Hassinger and Nengudi have developed an expansive body of time-based collaborations that span nearly five decades. Exceeding categorization, their works are grounded in performance, conceptual ideas, and a passionate exploration of the body in motion—tied to their shared training in movement languages developed by choreographers such as Lester Horton and Rudy Perez. While maintaining rigorous solo practices rooted in sculpture and installation, together the artists developed suites of dances, performance events and happenings, videos, and conceptual correspondences. Through this work they vitalized their personal commitments to one another, and to their artistic practices, forging a crucial system of support in periods of institutional neglect. Las Vegas Ikebana: Maren Hassinger and Senga Nengudi explores the longevity and transformative nature of the artists’ collaboration, as it evolved across decades, geographies, and media. Created in close dialogue with the artists, the exhibition is a reflexive record of their work and history, and an enactment of their ongoing practice, built through an ethos of love.

The exhibition title Las Vegas Ikebana is derived from a concept that the artists developed in the late ’80s that drew from Hassinger’s experience working in a flower shop in Los Angeles, and Nengudi’s exploration of Japanese aesthetic forms. The phrase “Las Vegas Ikebana” was privately exchanged between Hassinger and Nengudi to describe and catalyze many of their creative expressions for years to come. As Nengudi notes, she liked the term for “the absurdity of it, and how it stirs one’s thought processes.” The phrase also encompasses many aspects of the artists’ individual and collective work such as their interests in improvisational compositions, ritual, popular culture, humor, eroticism, impermanence, and the natural world.

The exhibition includes early work made in Los Angeles in the 1970s and ’80s, including Hassinger’s performances with Nengudi’s seminal series R.S.V.P. (1977–present)—and events made with associates including Franklin Parker, Houston Conwill, Ulysses Jenkins, David Hammons, and the collective of Black artists known as Studio Z. It also draws crucial attention to lesser-known works from the 1990s and 2000s, following their departures from Los Angeles. Amidst personal challenges and newfound geographic distance between them, the artists embraced new media such as video and mailed, conceptual correspondences. Las Vegas Ikebana: Maren Hassinger and Senga Nengudi assembles a breadth of materials including video, rare artist books and ephemera, photography, drawings, as well as select sculptures and newly commissioned installations and performances.

Las Vegas Ikebana: Maren Hassinger and Senga Nengudi is curated by Allie Tepper, associate curator. It is organized for the Cooley by Tepper with director Stephanie Snyder.

Events and performances
“Don’t be Scared”: A Talk on the Art of Collaboration by Maren Hassinger and Senga Nengudi Saturday, February 17, 2pm, Performing Arts Building Atrium, Reed College, followed by a reception at the Cooley With opening remarks by exhibition curator Allie Tepper, and closing commentaries by Dr. Leslie King Hammond and Dr. Lowery Stokes Sims.

See-See Riders (2024)
Friday, February 16, 3pm; Saturday, February 17, 12pm; Saturday, March 23, 12pm A performance choreographed by Senga Nengudi and danced by sidony o’neal and keyon gaskin, presented in the exhibition with Nengudi’s installation See-See Riders. *Limited seating, to reserve please email cooleyperformance@gmail.com

Publication
The exhibition is accompanied by the first publication on Hassinger and Nengudi’s collective work, edited by Allie Tepper, co-published by the Cooley and Pacific, and designed by Pacific, forthcoming in fall 2024. A scholarly resource and conceptual sourcebook on the artists’ shared creative practice, the book includes newly commissioned conversations and essays by Tepper, Hassinger, Nengudi, Dr. Lowery Stokes Sims and Dr. Leslie King Hammond, Kemi Adeyemi, Sampada Aranke, and Steffani Jemison, alongside extensive archival material.

Maren Hassinger and Senga Nengudi come to Reed as Stephen E. Ostrow Distinguished Visitors in the Visual Arts. The program was established by Edward and Sue Cooley and John and Betty Gray in support of art history and its place in the humanities. The program brings to campus creative people who are distinguished in connection with the visual arts and who will provide “a forum for conceptual exploration, challenge, and discovery.”