Judy’s Diamond Jubilee

Today is a very special day for the legendary Judy Chicago—her 75th birthday!

Over her 75 years, Judy Chicago has made a prominent name for herself as an artist, author, educator, and source of inspiration for men and women all over the globe. After producing installation pieces such as Womanhouse (1972) and The Dinner Party (1975), Chicago achieved international stardom as a pioneer of the feminist art movement in the 1970s.

Judy Chicago at NMWA with museum Founder Wilhelmina Cole Holladay; Photo Laura Hoffman

Judy Chicago at NMWA with museum Founder Wilhelmina Cole Holladay; Photo: Laura Hoffman

In order to commemorate this dynamic period of Chicago’s career and the coinciding feminist movement, NMWA held an exhibition of her work earlier this year, Judy Chicago: Circa ’75. In March, Chicago visited the museum for an opportunity to speak to NMWA’s members and guests about the exhibition as well as her newest book, Institutional Time: A Critique of Studio Art Education.

During the conversation, Chicago applauded NMWA, saying, “as long as MoMA is a museum of men, we need a museum for women in the arts.” She described her regular past visits to the museum, noting how “every time I walk into [NMWA] I see my predecessors and what they had to go through to get here.”

At the end of the discussion, NMWA Director Susan Fisher Sterling presented Chicago with personalized cards to celebrate her birthday and pay homage to her incredible artistic achievements. Chicago was touched by the heartfelt gesture by the members, noting that she wanted to read their notes right then and there.

Cards from NMWA members to Chicago: “Thank you for sharing wisdom and beauty with your powerful art!”

Cards from NMWA members to Chicago: “Thank you for sharing wisdom and beauty with your powerful art!”

In Institutional Time, Chicago discusses her legacy, stating “I became determined to use my time on earth to create art—as much of it as possible . . . and to make a place for myself in art history.” Now, on her 75th birthday, Chicago has irrefutably, permanently left her mark on modern discourses of art history. Happy birthday to this visionary artist!

—Olivia Zvara is the member relations intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Meret Oppenheim’s “Schoolgirl’s Notebook”

On view in Meret Oppenheim: Tender Friendships, the artist’s early work Schoolgirl’s Notebook (Cahier d’une Écoliere) provides insight into her spirit and ambition as a young artist, as well as her inclination toward Surrealism.

memory of Rosemary Furtak, from her collection; Photograph by Lee Stalsworth; Image courtesy of Lisa Wenger and Martin A. Bühler, Meret

Schoolgirl’s Notebook (Le Cahier d’une Écolière), 1973; Etching on paper,
embossed and printed in rust, gray, green, and black; Original blue paper-covered
stiff wrappers, 11 x 8 ½ (closed); Edition 41/100; NMWA; Gift of Thomas Hill in
memory of Rosemary Furtak; Photograph by Lee Stalsworth; Image courtesy of Lisa Wenger and Martin A. Bühler, Meret Oppenheim Estate

In 1930, when she was 16 years old, Meret Oppenheim created a collage in her mathematics exercise book for her father’s birthday. She did not like school, and her first Surrealist work was the absurd equation x = hare (or rather an image of an orangey-red hare or rabbit) was intended to convince her father that she was ill-suited for conventional education and should be allowed to become an artist and go to Paris. Her strategy worked, and in 1932 Oppenheim went to Paris, with her friend Irène Zurkinden, to study art.

In 1957, André Breton, leader of the Surrealist movement, published Oppenheim’s Schoolgirl’s Notebook in the magazine Le Surrealisme même. After Breton died, his wife Elisa returned the notebook to Oppenheim. It was published in 1973 in a limited edition of 100 copies.

The exhibition also includes a selection of Oppenheim’s correspondence, including a handwritten letter to Elisa Breton in which Oppenheim mentioned the notebook.

Meret Oppenheim: Tender Friendships is on view at NMWA through September 14. Exhibition curator Krystyna Wasserman will lead a tour of the show at noon on Wednesday, July 16.

Artist Spotlight: The Collaboration of Ingrid Mwangi and Robert Hutter

In 2005, spouses Ingrid Mwangi (b. 1975, Nairobi, Kenya) and Robert Hutter (b. 1964, Ludwigshafen, Germany) began working as a collaborative artistic force. Today, they exhibit their joint works under the combined name of Mwangi Hutter and aim to show their “shared vision . . . [to] overcome gender and ethnic boundaries.”¹

Mwangi Hutter, Neger Don't Call Me (installation view), 2000; DVD, speakers, four wood chairs, and Dolby surround sound; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Heather and Tony Podesta Collection, Washington, D.C., Image courtesy of the artists

Mwangi Hutter, Neger Don’t Call Me (installation view), 2000; DVD, speakers, four
wood chairs, and Dolby surround sound; National Museum of Women in the Arts,
Gift of Heather and Tony Podesta Collection, Washington, D.C., Image courtesy of
the artists

Mwangi Hutter’s Neger Don’t Call Me (2000) is one of the 10 video pieces in NMWA’s Total Art: Contemporary Video exhibition. To introduce the work and mark the opening of the show, Ingrid Mwangi visited the museum on June 6, 2014. She spoke with visitors about the production of Neger Don’t Call Me, and offered a preview of three of Mwangi Hutter’s most recent video collaborations.

Ingrid Mwangi at NMWA on June 6, discussing Mwnagi Hutter's video installation and (background) photographic series Shades of Skin

Ingrid Mwangi at NMWA on June 6, discussing Mwnagi Hutter’s video installation and (background) photographic series Shades of Skin

Ingrid Mwangi is the daughter of a German mother and a Kenyan father. Growing up between Germany and Kenya, Mwangi felt the constraints of finding her identity. During her lecture at NMWA, she explained that her dreadlocked hair in Neger Don’t Call Me acts signifies one aspect of her identity. The camera shows her face as it is covered and uncovered with sculptural masks made of her own dreadlocks, while the dialogue (in Mwangi’s own voice) recalls memories from her childhood related to the use of the German word neger, or negro, as it translates in English. “Many people can’t say the word because they are so wounded by it,” Mwangi shared, “. . . but for me, the more I used it, the history behind the word dissolved.”

In addition to the projected video, Neger Don’t Call Me includes four wooden chairs with speakers attached under their seats. The fragmented sentences offer insight into Mwangi’s experiences with stereotypes and discrimination after leaving Kenya for Germany. Her voice reverberates between the speakers mounted on the gallery walls and the chairs as they jump from source to source, suggesting a collective experience.

In a 2003 exhibition catalogue, Mwangi discussed the sound, dialogue, and language in Neger Don’t Call Me:

Using the example of the German word ‘Neger’ . . . a word in which the history of racist ideology still echoes, I explain the feeling of wrongness I sensed when faced with the use of discriminating words or ignorant action. With this piece I wish to show the constant dialogue which occurs between self and society, in this case especially dealing with the continuing problem of being judged and categorized due to skin-colour.²

At noon on Wednesday, July 9, Assistant Educator Ashley W. Harris will discuss Mwangi Hutter’s Neger Don’t Call Me during a 30-minute viewing and “Conversation Piece.” Join us during your lunch break to learn more about this emotionally-charged video.

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

Notes:

1. Ingrid Mwangi as quoted at NMWA, June 6, 2014.

2. Ingrid Mwangi, “Neger Don’t Call Me/Coloured/Down by the River/To Be in the World/Your Own Soul/Wild at Heart/Static Drift: Selected Works and Texts by Ingrid Mwangiin Ingrid Mwangi: Your Own Soul (Saarbrücken: Stadtgalerie Saarbrücken, 2003), 9.

Artist Spotlight: Pipilotti Rist’s Red Room and Blue Bodily Letter

One of the nine gallery spaces in Total Art: Contemporary Video is vividly painted with an oblong white space centered on a red wall. This was not a random design decision, but rather a feature of the installation at the request of the artist, Pipilotti Rist (b. 1962, Rheintal, Switzerland), who created the video piece featured in the crimson gallery.

Pipilotti Rist, Blauer Liebesbrief (Blue Bodily Letter), 1992/98; Audio-video installation; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Heather and Tony Podesta Collection, Washington, D.C.

Pipilotti Rist, Blauer Liebesbrief (Blue Bodily Letter), 1992/98; Audio-video installation; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Heather and Tony Podesta Collection, Washington, D.C.

Rist’s Blauer Leibesbrief (Blue Bodily Letter) (1992/98) is part of a genre of video works that are as connected to the installation space as the projected imagery. NMWA’s installations of each of the ten works in the exhibition required specific parameters. The museum’s curatorial and design team worked with the Total Art artists and their galleries to ensure the installation of each video reflected the artist’s original thought process and the work’s integrity. Notably, Rist’s Blauer Leibesbrief—projected at an angle to overlap the oblong white space—was the only work to break from the traditional mode of straight projection and dark, movie theater-esque walls.

NMWA members looking at Rist's video installation and a series of her prints on Member Preview Day; Photo Laura Hoffman

NMWA members looking at Rist’s video installation and a series of her prints on Member Preview Day; Photo Laura Hoffman

The immersive qualities of video art are largely dependent on proper installation, and Rist’s video was no different. The looped imagery in Blauer Leibesbrief is shown through the progression of a handheld camera that sweeps over the artist’s nude body as she lays motionless in a wooded landscape with jewels adorning her body. The work is projected at a sharp right angle, forming a trapezoidal shape on the wall. This work was one of the artist’s first experiments in altering the projector’s orientation.

Pipilotti Rist’s practice aims to introduce viewers to unexpected new perspectives:

“Art’s task is to contribute to evolution, to encourage the mind, to guarantee a detached view of social changes, to conjure up positive energies, to create sensuousness, to reconcile reason and instinct, to research possibilities, to destroy clichés and prejudices. Most people don’t see it that way.”¹

However, there is more to Blauer Leibesbrief than its installation methods. The video’s content reinterprets the female nude motif and its traditional relationship to the viewer’s gaze in the art historical and cinematic canons. Rather than show Rist’s body from a distanced, full-length perspective, the artist obscures the viewer’s gaze, inhibiting an erotic reading by placing the camera as close to the body as it can get. In that sense, Blauer Leibesbrief follows Rist’s explanation of art’s function as it dismantles banality—both in method and content.

Visit NMWA on Wednesday, July 2, at noon for NMWA’s weekly staff-led gallery talks to learn more about Rist’s Blauer Leibesbrief (Blue Bodily Letter). Chief Curator Kathryn Wat will lead a 30-minute conversation and viewing of the work—come make the most of your lunch hour!

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

Notes:

1.Pipilotti Rist as quoted in Hans Ulrich Obrist, “I rist, she rists, he rists, we rist, you rist, they rist, tourist: Hans Ulrich Obrist in Conversation with Pipilotti Rist,” in Pipilotti Rist (New York: Phaidon Press, Inc., 2001), 10.

Membership, Mission, and Masterpieces

From NMWA’s founding in 1981 to the public opening of the museum in 1987, to the exhibitions and programs that have kept NMWA’s audiences educated and entertained throughout the years, the success of the National Museum of Women in the Arts depends on the loyal support of members. With thousands of members around the U.S. and abroad, NWMA’s membership is large, enthusiastic, and connected to the museum’s mission.

Members with Elena Brockmann's painting "Philip II Receiving the News of the Loss of the Invincible Armada," 1895; Members' Acquisition Fund

Members with Elena Brockmann’s painting Philip II Receiving the News of the Loss of the Invincible Armada, 1895; Members’ Acquisition Fund

In addition to supporting the museum’s special exhibitions, valued NMWA members have helped the museum to add numerous works to the collection—by distinguished artists such as Elena Brockmann, Chakaia Booker, Lesley Dill, and Judy Chicago. Works by these artists were acquired in part from the Members’ Acquisition Fund—which is built a few dollars at a time, when members add to their annual donations—and represent a wide range of mediums, time periods, and genres.

While Brockmann’s enormous work, Philip II Receiving the News of the Loss of the Invincible Armada, is an example of large-scale history painting from 19th-century Spain, Judy Chicago’s preparatory drawing for Emily Dickinson’s place setting in her iconic installation The Dinner Party is an emblem of the American feminist movement of the 1970s.

Chakaia Booker, Acid Rain, 2001; Museum purchase: Members’ Acquisition Fund

Chakaia Booker, Acid Rain, 2001; Museum purchase: Members’ Acquisition Fund

Members have also helped NMWA purchase contemporary installation pieces such as Booker’s Acid Rain, which deals with themes including the intersection between domestic femininity and the traditionally masculine realms of construction and technology. Lesley Dill’s I Heard a Voice, another contemporary work, provokes individual reflection through imagery related to nature, the body, literature, and the spirit.

These wonderful additions to the collection are just a few of the many works NMWA members have helped the museum to acquire.

In celebration of the summer season and the subsequent influx of visitors to NMWA, June has been designated as Membership Month. If you’d like to help NMWA celebrate the artistic accomplishments of women, please join today.

In honor of Membership Month, NMWA sends a special thanks to all of the members who have supported the museum over the years! Feel free to use the comments section to tell a story about the museum or let us know about your favorite accomplishment by members.

—Olivia Zvara is the member relations intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Spotlight on Twitter: #DegasCassattChat or #CassattDegasChat?

The National Gallery of Art (NGA) recently opened Degas/Cassatt, an exhibition exploring the collaborations and interactions of Edgar Degas and Mary Cassatt. NGA hosted a Twitter chat shortly after the opening to introduce the artists and exhibition to the public. Anyone could take part in this conversation by using the hashtag “#DegasCassattChat” and posing questions or providing insight.

#DegasCassatt Twitter ChatNMWA has 11 Cassatt works in its collection and additional resources online and in the library. Members of NMWA’s social media team were thrilled to be able to join the #DegasCassattChat Twitter conversation to help tell Cassatt’s story.

Research came first: Beginning in NMWA’s Betty Boyd Dettre Library and Research Center, museum staff members examined the life of Cassatt through various publications.

Image of Cassatt books in NMWA's libraryNew facts and interesting pieces of history came to light: artist Childe Hassam venerated her by saying “hers is the most notable name in the history of the graphic arts,” she encouraged her friends in America to purchase works by Degas, and she occasionally posed for Degas when he was in need of a model with an artistic inclination.

Armed with this new information as well as online resources, NMWA was prepared to contribute to the conversation.

#DegasCassattChat Twitter conversationConservation arose as a theme in the Twitter chat. NGA’s postings included imagery that detailed the museum’s treatment and analysis of Cassatt’s Little Girl in the Blue Armchair oil painting, which, they note, is the only documented case of a work painted by both artists.

The exhibition also features pastels and works on paper. Because NMWA’s Cassatt prints are so delicate they are not currently on view, but you can still examine details of Mother’s Kiss, Maternal Caress, and The Bath in high resolution on the Google Art Project.

Additional conversation topics included the influence each artist had on one another, the artistic collaboration between both artists, and the significance of having an entire room in the exhibition dedicated to Degas’s drawings and prints of Cassatt at the Louvre.

To learn more about Cassatt and Degas, check out the entire #DegasCassattChat conversation on Storify. Also, don’t forget to follow @WomenInTheArts on Twitter.

—Stacy Meteer is the communications and marketing associate at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Artist Spotlight: Dara Birnbaum—Video as Subject and Form

On view in Total Art: Contemporary Video, Dara Birnbaum’s Technology/Transformation: Wonder Woman (1978–79) opens with several minutes of footage showing intense explosions, transformations, and sampled disco tunes. Just as a viewer becomes comfortable with the repeating imagery, the camera turns to the super-heroine as she bumps into a surprised friend and says, “We’ve got to stop meeting like this.” It the only segment in the nearly six-minute video work in which the main figure speaks; the rest is all action.

Dara Birnbaum, Technology/Transformation: Wonder Woman, 1978–79; Single-channel color video and stereo sound, 5 min. 50 sec.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Elizabeth A. Sackler

Dara Birnbaum, Technology/Transformation: Wonder Woman, 1978–79; Single-channel color video and stereo sound, 5 min. 50 sec.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Elizabeth A. Sackler

Dara Birnbaum (b. 1946, New York) used this abbreviated dialogue in her single-channel video work with a specific goal in mind. As the earliest work in Total Art, Birnbaum’s video serves as an example of the genesis of the medium, but her work is distinct from that of other video artists. Rather than create new recordings with a video camera, Birnbaum repurposed footage from the CBS television show Wonder Woman (1975–79). Critics have often noted that many video artists use television’s technology and language to create works detached from the medium, but here Birnbaum directly incorporated television as both her subject and form.

Provocation is at the heart of Technology/Transformation: Wonder Woman. In highlighting the technological transformation and repeatedly showing the footage, Birnbaum awakens viewers to the sexualized and violence imagery that was shown in the television series but rarely questioned. In 1983, a few years after completing Technology/Transformation: Wonder Woman, Birnbaum wrote an article that expanded upon her video work and the goals. She states:

Much of the videowork completed from 1978 to 1982 had been an attempt to slow down ‘technological speed’ and to ‘arrest’ movements of TV-time for the viewer. For it is the speed at which issues are absorbed and consumed by the medium of video/television, without examination and without self-questioning, that remains astonishing…By dislocating the visual and altering the syntax, images were cut from their original narrative flow and then countered with additional musical texts. The viewer was to be caught in a limbo of alteration where he/she was able to plunge headlong into the very experience of TV—unveiling TV’s stereotyped gestures of power and submission, of self-presentation and concealment, of male and female ego.¹

The explosive Technology/Transformation: Wonder Woman asks viewers to take another look at the technologies and images that create such perspectives. To learn more visit NMWA on Wednesday, June 25, at noon, for one of our weekly staff-led gallery talks. Put your lunch break to good use and join Director of Education Deborah Gaston as she facilitates a 30-minute discussion and viewing of Birnbaum’s iconic Technology/Transformation: Wonder Woman.

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

Notes:

1. Dara Birnbaum, from “Watching Television: A Video Event Conference,” October 1983, as quoted in Robin Reidy, “Pop-Pop Video,” American Film (January/February, 1985), 61.