Mary Lovelace O’Neal: Whales, A Romance…

Museum of the African Diaspora, San Francisco, United States
25 Mar 2020 - 23 Aug 2020

Mary Lovelace O’Neal, White Whale (from Whales Fucking series), circa 1980s. Mixed media on canvas, 81 x 138 inches. Artwork © Mary Lovelace O’Neal. Photography Tom Powel Imaging, courtesy Mnuchin Gallery, New York.

Museum of the African Diaspora presents Mary Lovelace O’Neal: Whales, A Romance…, an extensive installation of O’Neal’s Whales Fucking series. This body of work was created upon viewing rhapsodic and free whales in the Pacific Ocean and the San Francisco Bay in the 1970s during her first visit and extended stay on the West Coast.

Exploding in expressionist physicality, the abstracted landscapes on canvas are composed of oil paint, glitter and tape. Also inspired by D.H. Lawrence’s evocative poem Whales Weep Not!, this series followed O’Neal’s noted abstract minimalist “lampblack” paintings. The dramatic landscapes and bestial realities of San Francisco catalyzed this turning point in O’Neal’s career.  Forty years after the creation of these works, O’Neal’s intersecting environmental and social justice commitments present a timely reflection on the Bay Area as a central geo-social site of politicized artistic expression.

This exhibition will include large scale canvases and intimate works on paper from Whales Fucking, along with a documentary film of her life and career as an artist and activist. Having studied with David Driskell and Loïs Mailou Jones at Howard University, O’Neal continued working alongside artists such as Bob Blackburn and Robert Colescott. Under-recognized, yet deeply influential to generations of artists, Mary Lovelace O’Neal is an integral figure in expanding the canon of abstraction.

Mary Lovelace O’Neal (b. 1942, Jackson, Mississippi) received her BFA from Howard University and her MFA from Columbia University. A painter and activist, O’Neal was a member of CORE and SNCC, and participated in a fellowship at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in the 1960s. O’Neal taught throughout the Bay Area at institutions including the San Francisco Art Institute, California College of Arts and Crafts, Humboldt State University, Laney College, and University of California, Berkeley, where she was the first African American awarded tenure in Berkeley’s Department of Art Practice and ultimately became Chair of the department. She has been the subject of solo exhibitions at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (1979), the Cité International des Arts, Paris (1994) and the Mississippi Museum of Art, Jackson (2002). Her work is in the permanent collections of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Brooklyn Museum, the Smithsonian Institutions, the Baltimore Museum of Art, the Oakland Museum of California, and the National Museum of Fine Arts, Santiago, Chile.

This exhibition is curated by Emily Kuhlmann, Director of Exhibitions and Curatorial Affairs, Museum of the African Diaspora and Erin Jenoa Gilbert, Independent Curator.


Museum of the African Diaspora
685 Mission St (at 3rd)
San Francisco, CA 94105




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