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. Click here to 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. 

“Say It Enough and It Becomes . . .”

Despite everything we learned in school about sticks and stones, language has an immense impact on the world. Words transform perceptions, and once words are spoken they can continue to inform our thinking whether they are true or not. In her 1989 painting Untitled (141,257), Jane Hammond employs this transformative effect to demonstrate the ways in which words can negatively impact women artists before anyone even sees their actual work.

Jane Hammond, Untitled (141,257), 1989; Oil on linen; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Greg Kucera and Larry Yocum

Jane Hammond, Untitled (141,257), 1989; Oil on linen; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Greg Kucera and Larry Yocum; (c) Jane Hammond

Hammond, a self-described conceptual artist, has demonstrated throughout her career a fascination with the ways in which recognizable images shape our understanding of the world. She culls these images, which include superheroes, celebrities, and miscellaneous household objects, from postcards and pulp literature that she finds at garages sales and flea markets.¹ The center of Untitled (141,257) contains an example of that frequently appearing stock imagery, a familiar silhouette of a Victorian woman painting. However, what makes painting distinct in her oeuvre is the bold inclusion of language. Two words are repeated several times across the picture plane in boldface capital letters: “defensive” and “jitters.” These words form a loose frame around the woman, who is something of a cliché with her easel, brushes, and palette.

However, despite what she holds and what she is doing, viewers cannot solely see this woman as an artist. As a result of the proximity and visual intensity of the printed words that surround her, we cannot help but associate the depicted artist with the jitters and defensiveness. Due to their official-looking font and imposing black and red coloring, the words become like labels, informing the viewer what is before them. Whether we like it or not, these labels state that she is a defensive, jittery artist.

Two questions remain: Is she really defensive and jittery? And what kind of artist is she? Those questions will remain unanswered and her true identity will remain hidden, as the silhouette prevents the viewer from seeing what she or her work really looks like. But perhaps if we could see her face, we could note her calm demeanor. Or if we could just see her work, we could see a groundbreaking moment in the history of art. Unfortunately, there is no legitimate evaluative process that can take place here. All we have is the barrier of words.

As the feminist art collective Pussy Galore have shown us with their recent update of the Guerrilla Girls’ iconic 1986 report card, New York’s blue-chip galleries are far more likely to represent male artists than female artists, despite the fact that women make up the majority of practicing artists today. Untitled (141,257) speaks to the impact that reality has on women artists. If only we could see their work and evaluate it without preconceived labels, perhaps then we could see the full picture.

—Lucas Matheson is a development intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Note:
1. Douglas Dreishpoon, “Interview with Jane Hammond,” in Jane Hammond: Paper Works, exh. cat., ed. Marianne Doezema (University Park: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 2007), 30.

Women in the Arts: [Citation Needed]

The gender gap in the arts is narrowing, yet women continue to only make up around 25% of solo gallery shows, and in 30 years of prizes, a woman has only won the Turner Prize six times.

Editors at work at the Wikipedia Edit-a-thon; Photograph by Kat Brewster

Editors at work at the Wikipedia Edit-a-thon; Photograph by Kat Brewster

Consider Wikipedia: It is often the first resource for any high-school or college research paper, any quibble about who starred in what movie, or, for that matter, any question asked of the internet. With almost 5 million English-language articles and growing (there is even a Wikipedia article that attempts to calculate the size and growing rate of Wikipedia), Wikipedia is a dominant digital source for human knowledge.

Then, consider the fact that Wikipedia reports that only 8.5% of its editors identify as female. With that lack of female voices contributing to the seventh most visited website on the entire internet, there’s going to be a worrying lack of representation. Couple the online gender disparity with the one found in the arts, and we’ve got a problem.

It’s possible that with the historic underrepresentation of women in STEM fields, some women feel that they lack the skills or confidence to contribute online. Recent events and longstanding dynamics—from Gamergate to any YouTube comment thread—may mean that women don’t feel safe creating content. But it doesn’t take a woman to write about a woman, so what explains the lack of female artists on Wikipedia? And if people aren’t writing about women artists, what’s the likelihood they’re learning about women artists? What are the consequences?

On March 8, International Women’s Day, the National Museum of Women in the Arts held a Wikipedia Edit-a-thon to combat the gender disparities on the internet and in Wikipedia arts representation. The aim was to create, edit, and expand Wikipedia entries about female artists, as well as give women the skills to continue to contribute. With my friend Kim, my laptop, a cup of coffee, and a book about women in the arts (thanks, Library and Research Center!) I was more than ready to participate.

Photograph by Laura Hoffman

Photograph by Laura Hoffman

First, Wikipedia’s editing system is a little tricky to learn. I had worked with HTML in the past, but Wikipedia is its own beast. Thankfully, we were given a quick tutorial and a cheat sheet, so once I started with smaller editing commands for an hour or so, I felt confident diving into articles.

Here’s something I hadn’t anticipated: Wikipedia was always my go-to for reading about people (Millennial alert), which meant I couldn’t use it as a reference tool for quick facts. I hadn’t even realized my own dependency on Wikipedia until this moment, and it made it all the more important for me to add some content. So, I opened a book and started editing.

When I resurfaced hours later, I had contributed bits and pieces to articles about Cady Noland, A. L. Steiner, and Sophie Calle. These edits were small—largely adding citations, moving content, or adding to help with flow or cohesiveness—but I was surprisingly gratified to know that I had contributed to someone else’s knowledge of these artists. As a whole, Art+Feminism’s 2015 Wikipedia Edit-a-thon added 334 new articles to Wikipedia about female artists and, more importantly, gave me the confidence to continue contributing to Wikipedia in the future.

—Kat Brewster is a development events intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Allusions in Picturing Mary

The art of Picturing Mary: Woman, Mother, Idea overflows with religious symbolism and iconography. Images of Mary hold a prominent place in Christian iconography and operate on two distinct levels: the literal and the metaphorical. Representationally, many of these images depict Marian Biblical scenes or quiet moments between mother and child. Yet many of the pieces in Picturing Mary are also full of subtle allusions to central religious teachings.

Luca della Robbia, Madonna and Child (Madonna col Bambino), also called Madonna of the Rose Garden (Madonna del Roseto), ca. 1450–60; Glazed terracotta; Museo Nazionale del Bargello, Florence; inv. R031

Luca della Robbia, Madonna and Child (Madonna col Bambino), also called Madonna of the Rose Garden (Madonna del Roseto), ca. 1450–60; Glazed terracotta; Museo Nazionale del Bargello, Florence; inv. R031

Flowers, fruits, and other everyday objects symbolize the purity of Mary. In Luca della Robbia’s Madonna of the Rose Garden (ca. 1450–60), white flowers surround the Virgin, signifying her purity and chastity.

Besides symbolizing purity, vegetation in other works, such as the fruit bowl in Sandro Botticelli’s Madonna of the Book (1480–81), carries diverse Christian allegorical meanings.

Botticelli’s cherries may represent either the Blood of Christ or allude to Paradise while the figs suggest the Resurrection and the plums show the love between mother and child.

Allusions to Christ’s fate reveal Mary’s early knowledge of his destiny. Mary’s distant gaze and solemn expression, seen in works such as Luca della Robbia’s sculpture Madonna and Child (ca. 1430) and Botticelli’s Madonna of the Book, conveys a deep sense of foreboding.

In Botticelli’s painting, the Virgin’s downcast eyes and pensive expression suggest her premonition of Jesus’s Crucifixion, furthered symbolized by the golden crown of thorns around Christ’s wrist and the three nails held in his right hand. Mary’s open mouth and wide-eyed look, as well as her tight grasp on baby Jesus in the sculpture by della Robbia, indicates knowledge of her son’s future. Other symbols, such as scenes of the Christ sleeping and the infant Saint John the Baptist holding a cross, are often interpreted as alluding to the Pieta and the Crucifixion.

Sandro Botticelli (Alessandro Filipepi), Madonna and Child (Madonna col Bambino), also called Madonna of the Book (Madonna del Libro), 1480–81; Tempera and oil on wood panel, 22 7/8 × 15 5/8 in.; Museo Poldi Pezzoli, Milan; inv. 443

Sandro Botticelli (Alessandro Filipepi), Madonna and Child (Madonna col Bambino), also called Madonna of the Book (Madonna del Libro), 1480–81; Tempera and oil on wood panel, 22 7/8 × 15 5/8 in.; Museo Poldi Pezzoli, Milan; inv. 443

Jesus’s position on the canvas also allegorically reveals his dual nature and casts him as the way to eternal salvation. Christ divides Orsola Maddalena Caccia’s Nativity (ca. 1621–25) and Madonna with the Sleeping Christ Child (1620–25) into two realms: earth and heaven. In both works, the area to the left of Christ represents earth.

Here, Mary and a distant city are depicted in clear, vivid detail. To Christ’s right is heaven, symbolized by winged angels and a swirling, dreamlike cloudscape. Christ belongs to both of these worlds and, read left to right, the works demonstrate that he is the way to salvation.

Orsola Maddalena Caccia,  Nativity (Natività), ca. 1621–25;  Oil on canvas; Musei di Strada Nuova, Palazzo Bianco, Genoa; inv. PB 493

Orsola Maddalena Caccia, Nativity (Natività), ca. 1621–25; Oil on canvas; Musei di Strada Nuova, Palazzo Bianco, Genoa; inv. PB 493

In the Botticelli, Jesus’s location between Mary and the open prayer book symbolizes the Christian belief that Christ is the “word made flesh,” meaning that he embodies God’s grace and truth. By placing Jesus on his mother’s lap, Botticelli alludes to his humanity while simultaneously reinforcing Christ’s holiness through his proximity to the holy text.

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

Visit soon to find more symbols and allusions in person—Picturing Mary is on view at NMWA through April 13.