Uncommon Ground: Summer Exhibitions at NMWA

What is natural? Porcelain grass lawns and anthropomorphic scooters may not be the first objects to come to mind, although they are likely to make a lasting impression. Visitors can explore sensational and surprising views of flora and fauna in NMWA’s summer exhibitions, Organic Matters—Women to Watch 2015 and Super Natural, opening on June 5.

Dawn Holder, Monoculture (detail), 2013; Porcelain, 2 ½ x 92 x 176 in.; Courtesy of the artist; On view in Organic Matters

Dawn Holder, Monoculture (detail), 2013; Porcelain, 2 ½ x 92 x 176 in.; Courtesy of the artist; On view in Organic Matters

The latest installment of NMWA’s biennial exhibition series, Organic Matters explores the connections between nature, women, and art. In collaboration with 13 participating national and international outreach committees, this exhibition features contemporary artists working with the subject of nature.

Calling to mind entrenched associations of women with nature, Organic Matters opens a dialogue about traditional views. The artists recontextualize nature and redefine the relationships between women and nature. Their works are fanciful and sometimes frightful. They also reference modern society’s complex relationship with nature, ranging from concern for its future to fear of its power.

Through a delightfully diverse array of mediums, including photography, drawing, sculpture, and video, these artists capture nature in its most interesting forms. Rachel Sussman’s images documenting Earth’s oldest organisms (including a 9,500-year-old spruce tree) are as enchanting as Ysabel LeMay’s otherworldly ecosystems. From Polly Morgan’s creepy-cool birds to Lara Shipley’s ominous landscapes, these uninhibited works offer a fresh perspective on the natural world.

Patricia Piccinini, The Stags, 2008; Fiberglass, automotive paint, leather, steel, plastic, and rubber, 69 ¾ x 72 x 40 ¼ in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Heather and Tony Podesta Collection, Washington, D.C.; Photograph by Graham Baring; On view in Super Natural

Patricia Piccinini, The Stags, 2008; Fiberglass, automotive paint, leather, steel, plastic, and rubber, 69 ¾ x 72 x 40 ¼ in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Heather and Tony Podesta Collection, Washington, D.C.; Photograph by Graham Baring; On view in Super Natural

Giving context to Organic Matters, Super Natural juxtaposes historical artists’ works with photographs, books, and videos by contemporary artists. Featuring works by 25 artists, including Rachel Ruysch, Kiki Smith, and Sam Taylor-Johnson, Super Natural highlights the way that old mistresses’ interpretations of the natural world directly inspire artists today.

Maria Sibylla Merian, Plate 18 from Dissertation in Insect Generations and Metamorphosis in Surinam, 2nd Ed., 1719; Hand-colored engraving on paper, 20 ½ x 14 ¼ in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Wallace and Wilhelmina Holladay; On view in Super Natural

Maria Sibylla Merian, Plate 18 from Dissertation in Insect Generations and Metamorphosis in Surinam, 2nd Ed., 1719; Hand-colored engraving on paper, 20 ½ x 14 ¼ in.; NMWA, Gift of Wallace and Wilhelmina Holladay; On view in Super Natural

Remarkable prints by 17th-century artist-naturalist Maria Sibylla Merian depict insects she studied in South America, while contemporary prints, artist’s books, and sculptures feature spiders, reptiles, and hybrid creatures. The female form historically symbolized abstract ideas such as spring or the Earth. In response to these ideas, works by Janaina Tschäpe and Ana Mendieta include dramatic performances and interventions in the landscape in order to show a new vision of nature.

NMWA Director Susan Fisher Sterling says, “Both exhibitions demonstrate that women artists, historical and contemporary, are often adventurous, inventive and subversive when dealing with nature in their work.”

Don’t wait—plan your visit to see these wild works by women artists. Organic Matters—Women to Watch 2015 and Super Natural are on view June 5–September 13, 2015.

—Emily Haight is the digital editorial assistant at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

NMWA receives Simone de Beauvoir Prize for Women’s Freedom

On January 9, Director Susan Fisher Sterling accepted the Simone de Beauvoir Prize for Women’s Freedom on behalf of the National Museum of Women in the Arts, during a ceremony at Musée d’Art moderne de la Ville de Paris. As the first U.S. organization to be presented this prestigious award, NMWA joins the company of recipients such as Pakistani education activist Malala Yousafzai and Russian novelist and civil rights activist Lyudmila Ulitskaya, honored for their contributions to women’s rights and free speech.

Left, Fabrice Hergott, director of the Musée d’Art moderne de la Ville de Paris listens to remarks by Josyane Savigneau, chair of the jury prize; Right, Susan Fisher Sterling receives  the award from Sylvie Le Bon de Beauvoir; Photographs Université Paris Diderot, E. Descarpentri

Left, Fabrice Hergott, director of the Musée d’Art moderne de la Ville de Paris listens to remarks by Josyane Savigneau, chair of the jury prize; Right, Susan Fisher Sterling receives the award from Sylvie Le Bon de Beauvoir; Photographs Université Paris Diderot, E. Descarpentri

The prize, which has been awarded since 2008, was created to mark the 100th anniversary of the birth of feminist philosopher Simone de Beauvoir (1908–1986). It honors women, men, and associations who, in the spirit of Simone de Beauvoir, fight to defend women’s rights wherever they are comprised. Chaired by Josyane Savigneau (writer and journalist for Le Monde), with founding president Julia Kristeva (professor at Paris Diderot University, writer, and psychoanalyst) and Sylvie Le Bon de Beauvoir (honorary president), the jury is composed of public figures from the world of arts and literature.

Belinda de Gaudemar, Connie Borde, Susan Fisher Sterling, Sheila Malovany-Chevallier, and Tara Whitbeck, Les Amis du NMWA; Photographs Université Paris Diderot, E. Descarpentri

Belinda de Gaudemar, Connie Borde, Susan Fisher Sterling, Sheila Malovany-Chevallier, and Tara Whitbeck, Les Amis du NMWA; Photograph Université Paris Diderot, E. Descarpentri

During her acceptance remarks, Sterling said, “We recognize the significance of this award and deeply appreciate the jury’s selection of NMWA for its dedication to foregrounding women’s free expression and filling the void in the recognition of women artists, past and present.” She discussed the museum’s mission and its worldwide committee-based network of volunteers and supporters, which had brought it to the attention of the jury. NMWA’s committees, Sterling said, “aid in promoting the museum’s message of equity for women through excellence in the arts. It is thanks to Les Amis du NMWA that I am here before you today and it is my pleasure to share the credit for this award with them today.”

The award ceremony in Paris occurred only two days after the attack on the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo and the same day that its perpetrators were killed in a related hostage incident. Sterling expressed her condolences, saying, “To you, who are active in the French press, cultural, and academic communities, we offer deepest sympathy. This tragedy reminds us that cultural expression has real power. It is one of the most visible and creative aspects of free societies, and must be safeguarded.”

The award was presented at Musée d’Art moderne de la Ville de Paris; Photograph Université Paris Diderot, E. Descarpentri

The award was presented at Musée d’Art moderne de la Ville de Paris; Photograph Université Paris Diderot, E. Descarpentri

These somber events underscored the importance of advocacy for equality and creative expression in the tradition of Simone de Beauvoir. Sterling acknowledged the generations of artists, art historians, critics, and curators whose work continues to provide inspiration for the museum and its mission. She noted, “I don’t believe it is an exaggeration to say that it is thanks to the space created for women’s creative projects by Simone de Beauvoir’s writings that our museum exists today.”

The Magic of Daisy Makeig-Jones

The upcoming exhibition Casting a Spell: Ceramics by Daisy Makeig-Jones brings the magic of the 20th-century ceramic designer to the National Museum of Women in the Arts, May 1–August 16. One of the best-known ceramic designers of her time, Makeig-Jones (1881–1945) was born in Yorkshire, England, and quickly rose from an apprentice to a lead designer within the esteemed Wedgwood pottery company. Combining her experimentation in ceramic production and design with her love of fairy tales, Makeig-Jones developed a dreamy decorative collection aptly called “Fairyland Lusterware.”

Daisy Makeig-Jones, Empire bowl, ca. 1916–31; Bone china with underglaze, luster, and gilding; Exterior color scheme: Black Fairyland; Pattern: Leapfrogging Elves

Daisy Makeig-Jones, Empire bowl, ca. 1916–31; Bone china with underglaze, luster, and gilding; Exterior color scheme: Black Fairyland; Pattern: Leapfrogging Elves; Private collection, photo Lee Stalsworth

Casting a Spell features 38 pieces of Fairyland Lusterware whose fantastical influences created a new form of aesthetic escapism during World War I. First released in 1915, Makeig-Jones’s ornamental ceramics were unlike the streamlined pieces being produced by Wedgwood and other firms at the time. Makeig-Jones synthesized the contemporary Arts and Crafts aesthetic with the Art Nouveau style raging in Paris to create innovative designs with iridescent glazes. Her popular creations also boosted Wedgwood sales at a time when it was desperately needed.

Daisy Makeig-Jones, Vase, ca. 1929–31; Bone china with underglaze, luster, and gilding; Exterior color scheme: Sunset Fairyland; Pattern: Imps on a Bridge

Daisy Makeig-Jones, Vase, ca. 1929–31; Bone china with underglaze, luster, and gilding; Exterior color scheme: Sunset Fairyland; Pattern: Imps on a Bridge; Private collection, photo Lee Stalsworth

The jewel tones and fairy tale motifs—often inspired by contemporary fairy tale illustrations and featuring fairies, imps, goblins, and other fantastical creatures—of Makeig-Jones’s Fairyland Lusterware create a distinct whimsical atmosphere for each bowl, vase, cup, and box. The popularity of Asian aesthetics and ceramic shapes was also a source of inspiration for Makeig-Jones’s designs, which sometimes incorporated palaces and landscapes that evoke the Middle East. According to New York City antiques dealer Nicholas Dawes, the collection’s wild motifs provided the fanciful escapism that “many Europeans were looking for . . . to escape from the horrors of war.”

Makeig-Jones’s designs transport the viewer to a world of fantasy and dreams. The most frequently produced motif within the collection is “Imps on a Bridge and Treehouse.” This design, which features imps crossing a bridge while a bird swoops overhead, is replicated on multiple vases on view in Casting a Spell, in distinct color schemes. Makeig-Jones developed eight color schemes for Fairyland Lusterware production, four of which corresponded to types of natural light. One vase showing this motif is painted with a striking “Sunset Fairyland” theme of orange and scarlet, while the cooler “Moonlight Fairyland” coloration of another creates a more dreamlike atmosphere.

Casting a Spell examines Makeig-Jones’s role within the decorative arts both as a pioneering designer and as a modern woman and artist. Be sure to check out her ceramics this summer at NMWA.

—Margie Fuchs is the publications and marketing/communications intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

5 Fast Facts: Suzanne Valadon

Impress your friends with five fast facts about Suzanne Valadon (1865–1938), whose work is in NMWA’s collection.

Suzanne Valadon, Girl on a Small Wall, 1930; Oil on canvas, 36 ¼ x 29 in.; Gift of Wallace and Wilhelmina Holladay

Suzanne Valadon, Girl on a Small Wall, 1930; Oil on canvas, 36 ¼ x 29 in.; Gift of Wallace and Wilhelmina Holladay

1. Artist Model Turned Model Artist
As a young woman, Valadon acted as a model for well-known artists including Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. The enchanting female figure in Renoir’s Dance at Bougival (1883) is said to be Valadon. Inspired and mentored by these artists, she began her own career in her 30s.

2. Bosom Buddies
In the late 1800s, Valadon and Edgar Degas developed a close friendship that lasted until his death in 1917. Degas, who affectionately addressed Valadon as “ferocious” and a “she-devil,” championed her work and taught her the etching printmaking technique.

Suzanne Valadon, Bouquet of Flowers in an Empire Vase, 1920; Oil on canvas, 28 ¾ x 21 ½ in.; Gift of Wallace and Wilhelmina Holladay

Suzanne Valadon, Bouquet of Flowers in an Empire Vase, 1920; Oil on canvas, 28 ¾ x 21 ½ in.; Gift of Wallace and Wilhelmina Holladay

3. All in the Family
Valadon’s son Maurice Utrillo and second husband André Utter were also recognized artists.

4. Collectables
The five works by Valadon in NMWA’s collection are a representative sample of her preferred subject matter—still lifes, nudes, and portraits—and her favored artistic techniques of printmaking and oil painting.

5. Out of this World
A crater on Venus is titled Valadon. Her namesake is in good company, as all 899 Cytherean calderas are named after famous women or female first names. Other artists in NMWA’s collection have their own Venusian cavities, including Valadon’s gallery neighbors Barbara Hepworth (1903–1975) and Frida Kahlo (1907–1954).

—Adrienne Gayoso is associate educator at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

 

Recent Acquisitions at the Library: Global Feminisms and Yin Xiuzhen

The next time you visit NMWA, come to the Betty Boyd Dettre Library and Research Center to see new books on contemporary art, as well as reference books, artists’ books, and more!

Global Feminisms: New Directions in Contemporary Art
Exhibition catalogue, Brooklyn Museum (2007)
Edited by Maura Reilly and Linda Nochlin
Full-color illustrations, artist biographies, chapter notes, and a 10-page bibliography

GlobFem_BK-coverThis noteworthy exhibition and its equally impressive catalogue honor and examine trends in feminist art and international women artists whose work deals with political, economic, socio-cultural, gender, sexual, and racial identities. Over 80 contemporary women artists from 50 countries are included, and the artwork encompasses a broad range of artistic mediums and expression.

Editors Maura Reilly, curator of the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art at the Brooklyn Museum, and Linda Nochlin, a prominent feminist art historian, and seven other art historians and curators offer a variety of international perspectives on the subject.

Visit the Brooklyn Museum’s website to view videos and an exhibition checklist.

Yin XiuzhenYX_cover
Contemporary Artist Series
Phaidon (2015)
Contributors: Hou Hanru, Wu Hung, Stephanie Rosenthal, and Song Dong
Full-color illustrations, interview, survey, focus, studio visit, and excerpts from the artist’s writing

Yin Xiuzhen, born in Beijing in 1963, is one of China’s leading contemporary artists. Her work addresses globalization, displacement, industrialization, and environmental issues. Her installations and sculptures draw from intense political and economic changes during her childhood and the ’85 New Wave movement.

She first gained international recognition for her 2001 Portable City: Beijing installation, part of an ongoing series incorporating clothing collected from the world’s largest cities in an artistic expression of each city’s urban environment. She has participated in many prestigious group exhibitions worldwide and was featured at the Museum of Modern Art in 2010.

Yin Xiuzhen

Yin Xiuzhen inside her Heterotopic Cavitity 2009 installation

This first comprehensive monograph of Yin’s work provides an in-depth exploration of the artist’s background and creative process, including full-color illustrations of the artist’s work, an interivew with the artist, an essay examining historical and cultural contexts, previously unpublished writings by the artist, and insight into her studio practice.

All are welcome to look at these books, which are on display in the LRC’s reading room. If you’re touring the museum’s exhibitions, the library makes a great starting point on the fourth floor. In addition to beautiful books and comfy reading chairs, visitors enjoy interesting exhibitions that feature artists’ books, archival manuscripts, and rare books. Reference Desk staff are always happy to answer questions and offer assistance. Open Monday–Friday, 10 a.m.–noon and 1–5 p.m.

—Jennifer Page is the library assistant at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

As Teachers Know, There’s Something about Mary—The “Picturing Mary” Teacher Workshop

Staff at the National Museum of Women in the Arts (NMWA) not only provide space to research, present, and discuss the lives and work of women artists, but also hold educational programs and events. At the beginning of many new exhibitions, the Education Department hosts a focused teacher workshop that provides didactic and hands-on materials for teachers’ use in classrooms and beyond. These workshops create a fun and collaborative environment for the teachers to explore the new exhibition, and they present different techniques for using art in educational settings.

The workshop for Picturing Mary happened on a cold and windy evening in January, but many teachers braved the weather to come and learn! Director of Education and Digital Engagement Deborah Gaston introduced the workshop, as well as the online resources available outside of the exhibition. Many of the teachers were excited to explore A Global Icon: Mary in Context online exhibition.

Teachers learned and talked in the Picturing Mary galleries; Photograph Laura Hoffman

Teachers learned and talked in the Picturing Mary galleries; Photograph Laura Hoffman

Associate Educator Adrienne L. Gayoso led the teachers to the exhibition. They spent time in the gallery and then worked in small groups, using discussion strategies to explore the exhibition. One popular method called QUESTs, developed by Harvard Project Zero’s Project MUSE, provided several entry points for talking about art. “(The) QUESTs were very helpful,” commented one teacher, continuing that it was great to get “group input about impressions” of the artworks. Another teacher saw an immediate connection to the classroom, commenting, “I teach an ESL (English as a Second Language) class, and those will provide great general entry points into talking about art as a class that are accessible to my students.” Many of the teachers found the QUESTs adaptable for different types of classrooms, and for exploring art outside of the museum.

Teachers took part in activities that they can use in their classrooms; Photograph Laura Hoffman

Teachers took part in activities that they can use in their classrooms; Photograph Laura Hoffman

Last but certainly not least, the teachers took part in the final activity—a hands-on bookmaking project. They made star books with tooled metal covers. These connected to the idea of the early modern “Book of Hours,” which often included prayers for the Virgin Mary. The teachers were given a chance to make their own special books, and after folding, gluing, and even metal tooling, they were delighted to have fun keepsakes to remind them of their experience at NMWA. One teacher commented, “I really enjoyed this workshop, especially the hands-on component. It’s good to be in my students’ place as well.”

This workshop may sound like fun and games, but the teachers also learned valuable ways to incorporate art, and especially works from Picturing Mary, into their curricula. One teacher saw the benefit of working in groups, appreciating “the fact (that) we did more than we listened—We looked, discussed, and created, accessing multiple modalities,” and making the workshop successful. In the end, the teachers went out into the cold, wintery night with new resources, confidence, and knowledge to help them integrate art into their classrooms.

For those who missed the Picturing Mary teacher workshop, you will not be left in the cold! Here you can find the Picturing Mary Educator’s Resource Packet, a comprehensive guide to strategies discussed in the teacher workshop, and more. This resource does not have to stay in the classroom, however. Use it anywhere to help others picture Mary!

—Rebecca Ljungren is an education intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

If you are a teacher looking for another chance to learn at NMWA, consider applying to our ABC Teacher Institute, which runs Monday, July 13–Friday, July 17, 2015. Learn more and apply.

Expanding Mary’s narrative: Apocryphal influences in Picturing Mary

For being the mother of Christ, Mary is a surprisingly scarce figure in the Bible. The primary canonical source for information about Mary is the New Testament, yet the basic biographical sketches created by the four Evangelists lack detail about her life before Christ.¹ Despite the scarcity of written accounts documenting Mary’s past, her life story is a prevalent theme throughout both art history and Picturing Mary: Woman, Mother, Idea—artists and the public sought more information than could be found in the Bible.

Many artists drew their information from apocryphal texts, ancient sources that were not recognized by the church or included in the Bible, in depicting specific events in Mary’s life. Most likely written sometime during the 2nd century C.E., New Testament Apocrypha contain rare information about both Mary’s life and Christ’s childhood, and provide vivid accounts of the teachings of Christ and his apostles. Apocrypha such as the Infancy Gospels were extremely popular in the following centuries. They were also the dominant source for pictorial depictions of Mary during the late Middle Ages and continued to be widely used as artistic inspiration after the Renaissance.

Vittore Carpaccio, Marriage of the Virgin (Sposalizio della Vergine), also called Miracle of the Flowering Staff (Miracolo della Verga Fiorita), 1502–05; Oil on canvas, 56 3/4 × 60 in.; Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan

Vittore Carpaccio, Marriage of the Virgin (Sposalizio della Vergine), also called Miracle of the Flowering Staff (Miracolo della Verga Fiorita), 1502–05; Oil on canvas, 56 3/4 × 60 in.; Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan

Vittore Carpaccio’s Marriage of the Virgin, also called Miracle of the Flowering Staff (1502–05), illustrates the story of Joseph and Mary’s marriage as written in the apocryphal Protevangelium (or Protogospel) of James. Using vivid naturalism and high levels of detail, Carpaccio portrays the miracle of Joseph’s staff blossoming with flowers upon his betrothal to Mary. The supernatural element of Joseph’s staff blooming reveals the role of God in bringing Mary and Joseph together.

By detailing the holy selection of Joseph as Mary’s husband, the Protevangelium of James provides greater insight into the life of Mary and enhances Joseph’s role in religious writings. Carpaccio’s choice of subject indicates the contemporary popularity of apocryphal work and suggests society’s desire to know more about the life of Mary than the Bible provides.

Albrecht Dürer, The Birth of the Virgin, ca. 1503–04; Woodcut, 11 3/4 × 8 5/16 in.; National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; Rosenwald Collection, 1943.3.3577

Albrecht Dürer, The Birth of the Virgin, ca. 1503–04; Woodcut, 11 3/4 × 8 5/16 in.; National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; Rosenwald Collection, 1943.3.3577

The six Dürer prints (ca. 1502–10) featured in Picturing Mary capture key moments in Mary’s life as detailed in a number apocryphal texts, including the Protevangelium of James and the Pseudo-gospel of Matthew. The Birth of the Virgin (1503–04) combines the reality of a bustling birthing room with the dreamlike image of an angel floating overhead. By dressing the figures in 16th-century fashion, Dürer visualizes the apocryphal phrase “Anna conceived and gave birth to a daughter and, as commanded by the angel, the parents named her Mary,” as occurring in his native Germany.² By doing so, he directly links the narrative of the Virgin to the people of Nuremberg.

In the 21 images in his Marian series, Dürer uses apocryphal inspiration and similar stylistic elements to flesh out Mary’s life story. In doing so, he and countless other artists help viewers better understand and identify with the Virgin.

—Margie Fuchs is the publications and marketing/communications intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Notes:
1. Zlotnik, Ann. “Mary and Apocryphal Writings,” International Marian Research Institute, http://campus.udayton.edu/mary/maryapocryphal.html.

2. Elliott, J. K. A Synopsis of the Apocryphal Nativity and Infancy Narratives. Leiden: Brill, 2006. eBook Academic Collection (EBSCOhost), EBSCOhost (accessed March 30, 2015).

Last chance! Visit Picturing Mary, on view through April 12 at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.