NMWA by the Numbers

While traveling abroad in the 1960s, Wilhelmina Cole Holladay and her husband, Wallace, admired art by 17th-century Flemish painter Clara Peeters. Returning to the U.S., they discovered that none of the leading art history textbooks referenced Peeters or any other female artist. Inspired to rediscover this lost heritage, the Holladays began acquiring works by women artists and amassing a library of research and archival materials. From these collections, Holladay established the National Museum of Women in the Arts (NMWA) in 1981; the museum’s doors opened in 1987.

Founded to redefine traditional histories of art, NMWA exhibits, preserves, acquires, and researches art by women and teaches the public about their accomplishments. Take a look at NMWA by the numbers.

$0
Cost of admission on the first Sunday of every month, as a part of NMWA’s free community days.

1
NMWA is the only major museum in the world solely dedicated to recognizing women’s creative contributions.

10
Number of artists featured in the current special exhibition Total Art: Contemporary Video.

19
Countries represented by NMWA’s international members.

27
Women artists identified in the current edition of Janson’s Basic History of Western Art (9th Edition)—up from zero in the 1970s.

59
High-resolution images of artwork in NMWA’s collection presented on the Google Art Project beginning in March 2014. The resolution of these images, combined with a custom-built zoom viewer, allows art lovers to discover minute aspects of paintings they may have never seen up close before.

114
Issues of Women in the Arts magazine produced and published by NMWA, which began as a newsletter in the summer of 1983, four years prior to the public opening of the museum.

273
Special exhibitions presented by NMWA celebrating the achievements of women in the visual, performing and literary arts.

1987
The year NMWA opened to the public.

2,855
Average hours worked per year by NMWA’s dedicated volunteers.

061614_PhotobyDakotaFine_Gallery27

Photography by Dakota Fine

4,500
Objects preserved and displayed in NMWA’s collection.

14,000
Volumes maintained at the NMWA’s Betty Boyd Dettre Library and Research Center.

15,000+
NMWA members around the world representing all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, Croatia, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Italy, Mexico, Monaco, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Spain, Switzerland, United Kingdom and Vietnam.

18,620
Miles to Australia, home to the NMWA member who lives the farthest away.

78,810
Square feet of the main building housing NMWA, originally a Masonic temple, purchased in 1983.

400,000
The number of people served by NMWA’s education programs.

$50 million
The endowment goal reached for the Legacy of Women in the Arts campaign during NMWA’s 25th anniversary.

7 billion
Pixels contained in the Google Art Project’s high-resolution photograph of Rachel Ruysch’s Roses, Convolvulus, Poppies, and other Flowers in an Urn on a Stone Ledge (ca. 1680s).

Detail of Rachel Ruysch’s painting—click here to see more of NMWA’s art on the Google Art Project

Detail of Rachel Ruysch’s painting—see more of NMWA’s art on the Google Art Project

There’s just one NMWA, the only museum solely dedicated to celebrating the achievements of women in the visual, performing, and literary arts. The museum’s collection features 4,500 works from the 16th century to the present created by more than 1,000 artists, including Mary Cassatt, Frida Kahlo, Alma Thomas, Lee Krasner, Louise Bourgeois, Chakaia Booker, and Nan Goldin, along with collections of artists’ books, 18th-century silver tableware, and botanical prints.

NMWA is located at 1250 New York Avenue, NW, Washington, D.C., in a landmark building near the White House. Come visit: the museum is open Monday–Saturday, 10 a.m.–5 p.m., and Sunday, noon–5 p.m. Admission is $10 for adults, $8 for visitors 65 and over and students, and free for NMWA members and youths 18 and under. Free Community Days take place on the first Sunday of each month. For more information about NMWA, call 202-783-5000, visit nmwa.org, Facebook, or Twitter.

Artist Spotlight: Alex Prager’s La Petite Mort

Alex Prager (b. 1979, Los Angeles) is a self-taught photographer and filmmaker known for large-scale pictures of actresses in eccentrically costumed and choreographed crowds. La Petite Mort (2012), which is the most recent work of the 10 on view in Total Art: Contemporary Video, reflects an evolution in Prager’s practice. For Prager, photography is integral to her work process, and every series is informed by a basic emotion the artist wants to evoke. This short film links the potentially sublime experiences of sex and death, advancing Prager’s fascination with emotional experience.

Alex Prager, La Petite Mort, 2012; Film HD, shot on Red Epic camera, with color and sound; Courtesy of the artist, M+B Gallery, Los Angeles, and Lehmann Maupin Gallery, New York and Hong Kong

Alex Prager, La Petite Mort, 2012; Film HD, shot on Red Epic camera, with color and sound; Courtesy of the artist, M+B Gallery, Los Angeles, and Lehmann Maupin Gallery, New York and Hong Kong

Prager began taking photographs as a teen, while traveling across Europe. After attending an exhibition of photography by William Eggleston at the Getty Museum in 1999, she decided to pursue professional photography. She purchased her first camera and darkroom equipment off of eBay, and learned photo development techniques from a “how-to” book. Influenced by Hollywood and her interest in acting, Prager started taking bird’s-eye-view photos of friends, relatives, professional actors, and extras interacting on elaborate sets.

Since then, Prager’s work has been featured in Vogue, W, the New York Times (winning an Emmy Award for the star-studded, commissioned short-film series Touch of Evil), and an ad campaign for IFC’s hit comedy series Portlandia, based on the Face in the Crowd series. The cinematic style of Prager’s saccharine photographs and videos is part Hitchcock, part Cindy Sherman, with a little bit of 1980s-era Saturday Night Live. It remains unclear whether her work should incite horror, revulsion, intrigue, or laughter. With every series, the kitschy theatrical settings, vintage costumes, and over-the-top acting clash with the hyper-real film quality, creating tension between artifice and authenticity.

La Petite Mort is a short, surreal portrayal of a woman’s overwhelming bodily transcendence by way of death and love (the title of the video is also a French term for orgasm, “the little death”). Prager shot the video with a high-definition Red EPIC camera, and collaborated with a talented group including narrator Gary Oldman and French actress Judith Godrèche.

Alex Prager, La Petite Mort, 2012; Film HD, shot on Red Epic camera, with color and sound; Courtesy of the artist, M+B Gallery, Los Angeles, and Lehmann Maupin Gallery, New York and Hong Kong; Installation photo Laura Hoffman

Alex Prager, La Petite Mort, 2012; Film HD, shot on Red Epic camera, with color and sound; Courtesy of the artist, M+B Gallery, Los Angeles, and Lehmann Maupin Gallery, New York and Hong Kong; Installation photo Laura Hoffman

The lush video’s narrative begins with narration describing a mother’s ecstasy in labor, abruptly cutting to a speeding train headed straight toward a woman, her eyes fluttering in anticipation of the impact. The crash sends her flying backward into a pond, where she indulgently swims until surfacing to face a judgmental crowd. Lambasted by each character’s glare, she eventually reaches her “love interest” standing behind the crowd alone. She collapses to the ground as the crowd disappears and the train conductor rushes to her limp body.

The video concludes with this narration:

It has been said that the act of dying and the act of transcendent love are two experiences cut from the same cloth—the former a grand exit, the latter a slow escape. Indeed, many of the world’s greatest poets have long considered a passionate interlude as man’s closest moment to seeing god.

Just like her Face in the Crowd photographs, La Petite Mort requires more than one viewing to fully take in every detail and metaphor. To learn more, visit NMWA for a short conversation with NMWA Curatorial Assistant Stephanie Midon on Wednesday, August 27, at noon!

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

Art, Books, and Creativity! The 2014 ABC Teacher Institute

After a long school year, how do teachers recharge their batteries and fill their minds with exciting new project ideas for the year to come? For a select group from as far away as Cleveland, Ohio, and as near as Cleveland Park, D.C., NMWA’s annual weeklong Art, Books, and Creativity (ABC) Teacher Institute is just the ticket. From July 14–18, 2014, 23 teachers ranging in subject areas from science to French, grades Pre-K through 12, spent the week with NMWA’s educators and institute instructors learning arts-integration techniques centered on the ABC curriculum.

During the ABC Teacher Institute, teachers created fantastic portfolios of artists' book samples to use in the classroom

During the ABC Teacher Institute, teachers created fantastic portfolios of artists’ book samples to use in the classroom; Photo credit: Laura Hoffman

Developed by NMWA through a grant from the U.S. Department of Education, the ABC curriculum unites visual and language arts through the creation of artists’ books. In addition to developing students’ visual literacy, critical thinking, and writing skills, ABC also focuses on the cultural contributions of women artists. The ABC Teacher Institute introduces teachers of all ages, abilities, and disciplines to the curriculum and provides them with resources to successfully integrate visual arts into their classrooms. During the institute, participants created a portfolio of artists’ books and writing samples as models for classroom lessons; learned the basics of Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS), a method for facilitating discussions about art; and brainstormed numerous creative ideas for how to adapt the ABC curriculum for their own classrooms and subject areas.

While they are serious about their teaching, this year’s participants were not afraid to have fun and let the creative juices flow! Highlights of the week included creating “bug books” inspired by the work of Maria Sibylla Merian; learning landscape and pop-up book techniques from paper engineer Carol Barton, whose mind-boggling paper creations left everyone in awe; writing poems based on the Fibonacci sequence; collectively creating “exquisite corpse” sketches; and transforming newspaper into sculptural hats that any fashionable avant-gardist would love.

Photo credit: Laura Hoffman

Participants capped off the Institute by presenting the lesson concepts that they developed throughout the week. These incorporated key aspects of the ABC curriculum while addressing the unique curricula, objectives, and standards of learning of the teachers who created them. Ideas included landscape books used to teach scales in music class, pop-up books to expand the vocabulary of ESL (English as a Second Language) students, flag books for a unit on quadrilateral polygons in math class, among others. The lesson concepts clearly demonstrated the myriad cross-curricular applications of the ABC curriculum and left everyone feeling inspired and impassioned.

As one participant reflected, “the energy and ideas were flying right up ’til the last minute! I think the enthusiasm of all of the presenters rubbed off on the participants and spurred us on. I feel refreshed as a teacher going into the summer vacation, and when has that ever happened before?”

To access the free ABC curriculum, visit artbookscreativity.org. To learn more about the annual ABC Teacher Institute, check out NMWA’s Teacher Institute page.

—Olivia Mendelson is an education intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Meret Oppenheim’s “Table with Bird’s Feet”

On view at NMWA in Meret Oppenheim: Tender Friendships, through September 14, Table with Bird’s Feet is a Surrealist sculpture that blends an everyday object with the fantastical. It was first exhibited in an exhibition of avant-garde furniture in Paris in 1939, organized by Réne Drouin and Leo Castelli. In this work, Oppenheim transformed a prosaic utility object, a table, into a fantasy, supported by the bronze feet of a bird, and marked with imprints of birds’ feet on its oval surface. Under the artist’s supervision, the table was manufactured in a limited edition of thirty copies in 1973.

Table with Bird’s Feet, 1983; Top: wood, carved and goldplated; feet: bronze, 25 1/2 x 27 1/2 x 19 3/4 in.; On loan from Daphne Farago Collection, Delray Beach, Florida; Photograph by Suzanne Khalil; Image courtesy of Lisa Wenger and Martin A. Bühler, Meret Oppenheim Estate

Table with Bird’s Feet, 1983; Top: wood, carved and goldplated; feet: bronze, 25 1/2 x 27 1/2 x 19 3/4 in.; On loan from Daphne Farago Collection, Delray Beach, Florida; Photograph by Suzanne Khalil; Image courtesy of Lisa Wenger and Martin A. Bühler, Meret Oppenheim Estate

The table represents Oppenheim’s fascination with the natural world—these feet could belong to a heron, flamingo, or any other long-legged bird she might have encountered or sketched on one of her frequent walks.

Visit NMWA Wednesday, August 20, for a free noon gallery talk on Tender Friendships to learn more!

Artist Spotlight: Margaret Salmon’s Video Ode to New Mothers

In 2005 Margaret Salmon (b. 1975, NY) received the inaugural Max Mara Art Prize for Women, which awarded her the opportunity to complete a six-month residency in Italy to further develop her filmic video practice. Between attending intensive Italian courses at the American Academy in Rome and living like a local in the small town of Biella, she shot Ninna Nanna (2007), a triptych video installation featuring three new mothers with their young children, now on view in Total Art: Contemporary Video.

Installation view of Margaret Salmon, Ninna Nanna, 2007; 3-screen installation of 16-mm films transferred to DVD; Collection of Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., Museum purchase through the contributions of members of the  Contemporary Acquisitions Council and the Joseph H. Hirshhorn Purchase Fund, 2008; Photo Jake Erlich

Installation view of Margaret Salmon, Ninna Nanna, 2007; 3-screen installation of 16-mm films transferred to DVD; Collection of Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.; Photo Jake Erlich

In NMWA’s galleries, three side-by-side projector screens hold shared moments between three mother-child pairs in their homes or going about errands. Captured by Salmon on her 16-mm handheld camera, the mothers provide musical accompaniment by singing the popular Florentine lullaby “Coscine di Pollo,” which translates affectionately to “Little Chicken Thighs.” Sometimes in sync, sometimes as solo performances, the ninna nanna—the Italian word for lullaby—is sung as a tired, absentminded mantra for the sustained quietude of both mother and child.

Margaret Salmon, Ninna Nanna, 2007; 3-screen installation of 16-mm films transferred to DVD; Collection of Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., Museum purchase through the contributions of members of the  Contemporary Acquisitions Council and the Joseph H. Hirshhorn Purchase Fund, 2008; Image courtesy of the artist and Office Baroque, Brussels

Margaret Salmon, Ninna Nanna, 2007; 3-screen installation of 16-mm films transferred to DVD; Collection of Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.; Image courtesy of the artist and Office Baroque, Brussels

As a new mother herself during her residency in Italy, Salmon began observing and documenting the physical bonds and social reciprocities of the mother-child relationship. After Salmon met one of the featured mothers while they were both at the playground with their children, she visited several local women in their homes to record their daily routines without any direction or desired outcome. Salmon’s manner of filming was inspired by Italian neorealist cinema as well as cinéma vérité, film movements that prioritized accessible stories of everyday people over grand cinematic productions featuring theatrically trained actors.

Salmon was influenced by the inventive style of Federico Fellini’s semi-autobiographical 8 1/2 (1963), as well as Chantal Akerman’s Jeanne Dielman 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1975), a film chronicling the monotonous routines of a Belgian mother and housewife. Akerman’s film highlights the screen-worthy drama in domestic settings, regularly overlooked by filmmakers up to that point.

Alternating between black-and-white and color video, and regular and accelerated motion, Ninna Nanna is considered a poetic rendering of the daily minutiae of everyday life. While many of Salmon’s videos use this documentary style to reflect on the repetitious, quotidian details of our lives, this work remains focused on universal rituals and intimacies specific to motherhood.

The intense physicality of the work of mothering—feeding, bathing, rocking, toting—combined with the emotional work of soothing, cuddling, and playing, begets a sweet yet tedious intimacy between mother and child. The sense of intimacy is furthered by Salmon’s decision to film her subjects and edit the content on her own, without the help of a crew. This experience of mother-child closeness is echoed between the artist and subjects; it is extended to the viewer as Salmon’s camera lingers on detailed textures of faces, fabrics, furniture, and lighting within these family homes.

Margaret Salmon, Ninna Nanna, 2007; 3-screen installation of 16-mm films transferred to DVD; Collection of Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., Museum purchase through the contributions of members of the  Contemporary Acquisitions Council and the Joseph H. Hirshhorn Purchase Fund, 2008; Image courtesy of the artist and Office Baroque, Brussels; Photo Laura Hoffman

Margaret Salmon, Ninna Nanna, 2007; 3-screen installation of 16-mm films transferred to DVD; Collection of Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.; Photo Laura Hoffman

Reminiscent of watching dear relatives’ home movies, Ninna Nanna allows the viewer to identify with the women’s contentment, isolation, and exhaustion. Salmon celebrates this rollercoaster experience in a video that is dedicated to the new, intensely interdependent relationship between mother and child, ultimately acknowledging the bond as an archetypal relationship that is experienced in some form by all humans.

To learn more about the artist and Ninna Nanna, visit the museum for a short conversation piece with NMWA Digital Media Specialist Laura Hoffman on Wednesday, August 13, at noon!

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

Artist Spotlight: Behind the Scenes with Eve Sussman, the Rufus Corporation, and the Old Masters

When first exhibited at the 2004 Whitney Biennial, 89 Seconds at Alcázar (2004) was a runaway success. Eve Sussman and the Rufus Corporation, a collaborative of actors, choreographers, technicians, and artisans of all kinds, created the enthralling video installation that was called “the only obvious smashing work on view.”¹ The 10-minute video is a reimagined, moving meditation on Las Meninas (ca. 1656), by Spanish court painter Diego Velázquez (1599–1660). It envisions the moments leading up to and following the painting’s iconic, transient scene.

Installation view of Eve Sussman | Rufus Corporation, 89 Seconds at Alcázar, 2004; High-definition video installation

Installation view of Eve Sussman | Rufus Corporation, 89 Seconds at Alcázar, 2004; High-definition video installation

Velázquez’s enigmatic painting has garnered a cult-fandom among the art-obsessed. The slice-of-life, monumental scene in Las Meninas offers a very modern viewpoint, similar to a photographic snapshot but created more than 200 years before the camera. Velázquez’s composition is clever, even revolutionary. The painting shifts the traditional viewing perspective to focus on the creator of the image rather than the image the creator is representing.

Diego Velázquez, Las Meninas, 1656

Diego Velázquez, Las Meninas, 1656

At the foreground of Las Meninas, Velázquez depicts himself before of a massive canvas with brush and palette in hand; next to him are members of the Royal Spanish court. However, the most prominent element for art historians is the indistinct mirror that can be seen at the very center background of the painting. Velázquez’s inclusion of the mirror, depicting a bust-length view of the King and Queen of Spain, allows the viewer to see beyond the canvas. His perspective suggests that the viewer is standing in the space occupied by the King and Queen. For the centuries of art leading up to this work, representational painting was rendered as though the surface of a canvas might be substituted for a window into another world, where the spectator looked in. Instead, Velázquez presents a painting that looks out at the viewing looking in. It is a complex, behind-the-scenes glimpse at the process of art-making itself.

So what can account for this drastic change in perspective?

At the same time Las Meninas was developed, the Arnolfini Portrait (1434), by Jan van Eyck, was hanging in the halls of the Spanish palace, or alcázar, that Velázquez walked every day. It is likely that Velázquez was very familiar with this work—as a result, many historians see Las Meninas as a direct reference to the mirror-motif originally used in Van Eyck’s work.

The plot thickens, bringing us back to Sussman and the Rufus Corporation.

Eve Sussman | Rufus Corporation, Erin as María, production still from 89 Seconds at Alcázar, 2004; High-definition video installation; Image courtesy of Eve Sussman | Rufus Corporation, photo by Benedikt Partenheimer for the Rufus Corporation

Eve Sussman | Rufus Corporation, Erin as María, production still from 89 Seconds at Alcázar, 2004; High-definition video installation; Image courtesy of Eve Sussman | Rufus Corporation, photo by Benedikt Partenheimer for the Rufus Corporation

When Eve Sussman saw Velázquez’s Las Meninas at the Museo Nacional del Prado, she too was prompted to reimagine a painting that itself reimagined Van Eyck’s earlier work.

However, Sussman and the Rufus Corporation approached their journey into shifting spectatorship with a new medium and a new dynamic viewing perspective. And while the subject matter appropriates content from Velázquez’s work, Sussman describes 89 Seconds as “. . . about activating the viewpoint of the camera, so you see it’s not Las Meninas—it’s something different.”²

To learn more, visit NMWA on Wednesday, August 3, at noon for our weekly staff-led gallery talks. Associate Curator Virginia Treanor will facilitate a 30-minute conversation about 89 Seconds at Alcázar—join us during your lunch break, and return each Wednesday for up-close views of the other works in Total Art: Contemporary Video, on view at NMWA through October 12.

—J. Rachel Gustafson is a curatorial fellow at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Notes:
1. Blake Gopnik, “Shifting Through the Whitney: Eve Sussman,” in the Washington Post, March 14, 2004. (http://www.rufuscorporation.com/wapost.jpg)
2. Eve Sussman as quoted in Carol Kino, “In the Studio: Eve Sussman,” in Art + Auction, July 2006. (http://www.rufuscorporation.com/anauc.html)

Virtuoso Volunteers, Dedicated Docents

Walk through the doors of the National Museum of Women in the Arts, and chances are the first thing you will see is the smiling face of a volunteer. Here to serve as welcoming representatives and knowledgeable sources of information, NMWA’s dedicated volunteer corps is essential to the daily operations of the institution.

Volunteers have a variety of reasons for devoting their time and skills to supporting NMWA, though one shared motivation is a commitment to the museum’s mission of redefining traditional histories of art. As Josephine Cabatu, current visitor experience volunteer and docent-in-training, says, “NMWA’s mission to bring recognition to the achievements of women artists said it all for me. I wanted to be a part of this mission.” Others cite the opportunity to draw on their experiences as a motivating factor in their decision to volunteer. Erin Garland, another visitor experience volunteer and docent-in-training, says that in addition to loving the museum’s mission, she is excited to use her background in teaching. Volunteering as a docent, she says, “combines my love of art and teaching.”

Volunteers have the opportunity to learn in-depth information about NMWA's collection and exhibitions

Volunteers have the opportunity to learn in-depth information about NMWA’s collection and exhibitions

Volunteers have the opportunity to become well acquainted with NMWA’s collection, and many gravitate toward specific works over time. Erin is partial to Lady in an Evening Dress by Lilla Cabot Perry, as it served as her inspiration for a project as a costume design major in college, while docent Marilyn Cohen favors Portrait of a Noblewoman by Lavinia Fontana because of its rich details, which she enjoys sharing with visitors during tours. Josephine, who is currently taking part in the eight-month docent training program, says that “because of the NMWA docent training I am undergoing, works now strike me in such different ways and for different reasons that I don’t know how to consider a ‘favorite’ at the moment.”

NMWA’s volunteer corps builds camaraderie while supporting the museum’s mission

NMWA’s volunteer corps builds friendships and camaraderie while supporting the museum’s mission

What’s the best part of being a NMWA volunteer? That depends on whom you ask. Ed Williams, who has been a docent for 18 years, says that for him, “the best part of being a docent is meeting people from all over the world and introducing them to our marvelous collection.” Erin also finds that her interactions with visitors are what make her time at NMWA so meaningful: “Our visitors are wonderful! I’ve had so many interesting conversations about artists, works in the collection, and their experiences. I haven’t experienced this level of conversation at other museums where I’ve volunteered. I think it speaks to the connection and value our visitors place on the museum.” For Marilyn, the highlight of her ten years as a docent is the camaraderie and friendships forged between the volunteers. Sarah Cosgrove Gaumond began as a visitor experience volunteer in January 2014 and says of her experience at NMWA, “I love every part of it.”

Learn more about volunteering at NMWA!

—Olivia Mendelson is the education intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.