April Kingsley, who as a curator and a critic gave important exposure to Black and women artists in the 1970s and ’80s, a period when it was often difficult for them to draw mainstream attention, died on June 13 at a nursing home in Harwich, Mass. She was 82.
Her daughter, Grace Hopkins, said the cause was Alzheimer’s disease, which Ms. Kingsley had had for 12 years.
In a career that began in the mid-1960s, Ms. Kingsley, working for various museums and as an independent curator, mounted or consulted on numerous shows. Among the most important was “Afro-American Abstraction,” featuring works by 19 Black artists, which opened at the P.S. 1 art space in Queens in 1980. One of those artists was James Little, who was then struggling for recognition; last year his work was in the Whitney Biennial.
“There is no person more important to the trajectory of my career as an abstract painter in the United States than April Kingsley,” Mr. Little said by email. “At a time when Black abstract artists in America were ignored and shut out, she embraced us. When we were in the trenches, she jumped in with us.”
Ms. Kingsley also wrote extensively — not only penning the catalogs for the exhibitions she curated, but also articles for Artforum, The Village Voice and other publications. In that capacity, too, she often shined a light on underappreciated artists, showing an understanding of what they went through in trying to make an impact in a world that was largely white and male.
A case in point was her 1981 article for Arts magazine about Pat Lasch, who for years had been creating art that didn’t fit easily into the usual categories of paint-on-canvas or sculpture, incorporating stitched or piped elements (a nod to her family’s background in baking)and more.
“Like the majority of those women artists who have ‘made it’ during the last decade,” Ms. Kingsley wrote, “Lasch’s career began in earnest in the late ’60s, when her marriage ended and she began to make art full time. And, like many of those women, she found her voice sounded clearer and truer when it wasn’t singing the songs with which men had so long been identified. Oil paintings on oversized canvases, steel or bronze sculptures, even drawing from the nude, that old standby, made little sense to the emerging woman artist of the early ’70s.”
In an email, Ms. Lasch, now recognized as one of the more innovative artists to emerge from the 1970s, summarized Ms. Kingsley’s importance to her and others.
“April was a visionary,” she said, “and promoted artists of color and women when no one would touch them.”
April Kingsley was born on Feb. 16, 1941, in Queens. Her father, Kingdon, was a printer, and her mother, Grace Consilia (Haddock) Kingsley, was a homemaker.
Ms. Kingsley grew up in Queens. She graduated from Flushing High School in 1958 and earned a bachelor’s degree in art history at New York University in 1966. By then she had spent a year working as an assistant director at the Park Place Gallery in Manhattan.
After earning a master’s degree and certificate in museum training at the Institute of Fine Arts at New York University in 1968, she worked as a curatorial assistant at the Museum of Modern Art, then changed coasts and worked as an associate curator at the Pasadena Art Museum (now the Norton Simon Museum) in California in 1971 and 1972. In the 1980s she was a consulting curator at the Sculpture Center in New York, and in the 1990s she worked at the American Craft Museum (now the Museum of Arts and Design).
From 1997 until her retirement in 2011, she was curator at the Kresge Art Museum in East Lansing, Mich. She also furthered her education over the years, earning a master’s degree in art history at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York in 1986 and a Ph.D. there in 2000.
“She loved learning and discovery,” Ms. Hopkins, director of the Berta Walker Gallery in Provincetown, Mass., said by email.
Her work covered a wide range. She wrote catalog essays for exhibitions of Al Loving, another Black Abstract Expressionist; Melvin Edwards, a Black sculptor; and others. She wrote articles on Mary Shaffer, a glass artist; John Clem Clarke, an early Pop artist; and numerous other figures whose work was out of the mainstream. For “Fiber: Five Decades From the Permanent Collection,” a 1995 exhibition at the American Craft Museum, she assembled 32 works of fiber art. In 2002 she mounted an exhibition at the Kresge Museum called “Art in the ’Toon Age,” featuring works showing the influence of cartooning and advertising.
Ms. Kingsley’s first two marriages, to Walter McMenamin and Max Schubel, ended in divorce. In 1973 she married the artist Budd Hopkins; they had one child, Ms. Hopkins, before divorcing in 1991. Her fourth husband, Donald Spyke, died in 2020. In addition to her daughter, she is survived by a sister, Grace Helene Dunegan, and a granddaughter.
The 1980 “Afro-American Abstraction” show, a breakthrough for many of its artists, came about somewhat by accident, Mr. Little told The Commercial Appeal of Memphis in 1983, when it toured there. P.S. 1 had booked an exhibition of punk artists but canceled it when it became apparent that the artists’ plans included “some very ritualistic things, like slaying a lamb or a chicken,” Mr. Little told the newspaper.
That opened a spot on the calendar, which Ms. Kingsley eagerly filled.
In his email, Mr. Little called Ms. Kingsley “a lover of art and people without prejudice.”
“She loved us and we loved her back,” he said, adding, “She helped change the course and conversation forever.”