Looking Forward: Women to Watch 2015—Organic Matters

NMWA is thrilled to host the fourth Women to Watch exhibition, Organic Matters, from June 5 to September 13, 2015. Developed in collaboration with the museum’s national and international outreach committees, the exhibition will feature work by emerging and underrepresented artists from communities across the country and the world. Committees collaborate with curators in their regions to choose a shortlist of artists, and then NMWA curators select one from each region, whose work will be shown at the museum.

Reto Thüring

Reto Thüring

We spoke with the Ohio Committee’s collaborating curator Reto Thüring, Associate Curator of Contemporary Art at the Cleveland Museum of Art, and the United Kingdom’s Lisa Le Feuvre, Head of Sculpture Studies at the Henry Moore Institute, to hear about the exhibition and its flora and fauna theme as well as their curatorial process. Stay tuned for more information about this inventive exhibition in the coming months.

What is the role of women artists in your community?
Reto Thüring:
Cleveland has a small, but very active and diverse, art scene with many women at the forefront of artistic innovation and community engagement.

Lisa Le Feuvre: The UK has so many strong female artists whose work is shown across museums, galleries, and project spaces. Stunning exhibitions in the U.K. of work by women right now include Phyllida Barlow at Tate Britain, Marine Hugonnier at the Baltic, Nasreen Mohamedi at Tate Liverpool, and at the Henry Moore Institute Gego and Lygia Clark.

How did your selection process work for Women to Watch?

Lisa Le Feuvre

Lisa Le Feuvre

LLF: We discussed many artists’ work. It was a real reflection of how many strong women artists there are in the U.K. We carefully thought through how each artist addressed the theme of flora and fauna and also how being selected for the award might stimulate new connections for the artists.

RT: I worked with Rose Bouthillier, the curator at MOCA Cleveland who has an extraordinary knowledge of the regional art scene. We first assembled a list of women artists from the region whose work we liked and that had something to do with the theme of this year’s exhibition. We then shortened the list down to six artists whose work we found particularly noteworthy and interesting. This process was very exciting. The discussions were enriching, having two perspectives and four eyes turned out to be a huge advantage for the selection process. I hope the discursive nature of our selection process is reflected in the diversity of the artists that we selected.

How did you work with the flora and fauna theme?
We tried to interpret the theme of flora and fauna as openly as possible but without becoming arbitrary. We agreed from the start that it was more important to nominate artists whose work we believe in than to match the theme in a too literal way.

LLF: The theme is one that is enduring. It was a very exciting prospect to think about how artists have addressed rather than represented this topic. I think our shortlist really shows this.

Installation of High Fiber—Women to Watch 2012

Installation of High Fiber—Women to Watch 2012

Do you have any final thoughts on the exhibition?
I enjoyed looking at Cleveland’s art scene from a specific angle, and through that I discovered artists whose work I did not know before. The theme provided a productive angle as it was neither too limiting nor too open. Given the richness and quality of artists and works that we discovered in our region alone, I imagine that the exhibition in Washington will be a great success and a wonderful opportunity to discover new artists.

LLF: Very simply, I can’t wait to see it!

—Ginny DeLacey is the development associate at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

The Art of Change: New Trends in Activist Art

“Contemporary art has within itself the possibility to effect powerful change.”

Earlier this fall, National Museum of Women in the Arts Director Susan Fisher Sterling traveled to Tianjin, People’s Republic of China, to present at the World Economic Forum’s eighth Annual Meeting of the New Champions. The Forum’s goal is to improve the state of the world by bringing together industry leaders to discuss and implement societal change. Sterling’s talk focused on five contemporary artists who are advancing innovative ideas and helping to drive solutions to some of society’s most pressing issues. She believes that artists have the potential to be agents for social change.

Sterling described similarities between contemporary artists and social activists Mel Chin, Natalie Jeremijenko, Theaster Gates, Caledonia Curry (Swoon), and the Documentary Group. She presented dynamic activist art as the art of the future.

“For many of you their works may not seem like art, but that is precisely the point. Their work, which is called the art of social practice, fits between art and life,” said Sterling. “They are today’s art world innovators in the real world.”

From collaborating with children around the country—children created “fundred” dollar bills to assist in the eradication of lead poisoning in New Orleans—to turning dilapidated buildings into places of beauty and respite, NMWA’s director showed how these artists use their practices to empower change.

“This is a direction that my museum is going in. This is a movement, the art of social practice…there is a need for new champions for this movement. My hope is that the National Museum of Women in the Arts, through its programming, will help it along its way.”

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

Miriam Schapiro: Feminist and “Femmagist”

While the weather outside is cooling down, take a look at an artist born in November whose work is known for bright colors, exuberant patterns, and play on texture and form.

Miriam Schapiro has dedicated her life and career to bringing women artists to prominence in art and academia. Miriam Schapiro, born November 15, 1923, is a painter, sculptor, teacher, writer, and self-defined “femmagist.” She is often cited alongside Judy Chicago as a founder of the Feminist Art Program at the California Institute of the Arts. In 1972 the two artists co-created Womanhouse with twenty-one art students—this landmark collaborative art project explored feminist concerns about women’s place in the professional and art worlds. The transformation of a Hollywood house, previously scheduled to be demolished, allowed the artists to make traditionally female spaces, such as kitchens, into feminist works of art.

Miriam Schapiro, Mechano/Flower Fan, 1979; Gift of MaryRoss Taylor in honor of her mother, Betty S. Abbott

Miriam Schapiro, Mechano/Flower Fan, 1979; Gift of MaryRoss Taylor in honor of her mother, Betty S. Abbott

As her career progressed, Schapiro became interested in art and techniques that had been considered “female” or women’s work. These techniques included quilting and embroidery, and have often been ignored in canonical “high” art. Schapiro invented the term “femmage” to explain her process for creating art, in which she began to combine painting, textiles, and paper into collages. She transformed the collage, first brought into the realm of canonical art by male heavyweights Picasso and Braque, into a feminine exploration of pattern and texture, coupled with traditional artisanal elements such as lace, fabric, and needlework. Through this work, she calls for techniques once deemed mere “craft” to be brought into the realm of fine art. Her brightly colorful and busy compositions ushered in a new art form at a time when the art world and market was focused on Minimalist and Conceptual art.

The National Museum of Women in the Arts owns one such work, created in 1979. Mechano/Flower Fan draws upon the fan as an item traditionally created by, and used by, women. Schapiro’s bright colors and geometric planes, created from fields of paint and collaged fabric, refer to artists such as Picasso, who used the collage to explore symbols and the creation of signs in culture. With this history in mind, Schapiro argues against the fan as a traditional symbol of shy, demure women.

Schapiro’s legacy and artworks continue to inspire other artists. Her groundbreaking inclusion of items such as textiles in painted works advanced the realm of “craft” to a new, true art form.

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

Popping Up with Colette Fu

Award-winning pop-up book artist Colette Fu was invited to speak at the 25th Anniversary Library Fellows Meeting (now renamed the Book Arts Fellows). Based in Philadelphia, Fu creates books that, when opened, unfold to reveal springing, stunning sculptural presentations of her photographs. The books on display at the meeting were part of the series We are Tiger Dragon People, based on photographs taken when she traveled through China’s south-western Yunnan province, where her mother was born.

The group purchased Stone Mountain for the museum’s collection.

Stone Mountain (The Song of our Ethics), Part of the We are Tiger Dragon People project, Purchased by the Book Arts Fellows as a gift to NMWA; Photograph: Laura Hoffman

Stone Mountain (The Song of our Ethics), Part of the We are Tiger Dragon People project, Purchased by the Book Arts Fellows as a gift to NMWA; Photograph: Laura Hoffman

Fu received an MFA in Fine Art Photography from the Rochester Institute of Technology and has received many full-funded artist residency grants, including a Fulbright Research Fellowship to China. She taught herself pop-up techniques by deconstructing books that she found on Ebay ad in stores, and artist-in-residence programs gave her the opportunity to develop projects such as Balls: Sara City Workout Mania, Spaghetti: Skinner Macaroni Factory, and many others. Her skills with pop-up books are a testament to her talent, dedication, and patience.

Colette Fu showing her book Axi Fire Festival; Photograph: Laura Hoffman

Colette Fu showing her book Axi Fire Festival; Photograph: Laura Hoffman

In an interview, Fu stated, “My pop-ups are a way for me to speak, mediate, express, delight and inform. Constructing pop-ups allows me to combine intuitive design and technical acuity with my love of traveling as I try to understand the world around me.” Fu has also crafted commissioned pop-ups for General Electric, Vogue China, Canon Asia and Louis Vuitton. “With pop-up books I want to eliminate the boundaries between book, installation, photography, craft and sculpture.”

Find more photos of the meeting and Colette Fu’s work on the Library’s Flickr page and Fu’s website.

—Jennifer Page is the Library Assistant in the Betty Boyd Dettre Library and Research Center at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Graphic Novels to Watch Out For: “Marbles” by Ellen Forney

Alongside the Betty Boyd Dettre Library and Research Center’s current exhibition, The First Woman Graphic Novelist: Helena Bochořáková-Dittrichová, the library’s display shelves currently feature fantastic contemporary graphic novels by women. Last month on NMWA’s blog, we recommended Fun Home by Alison Bechdel and now we’re back to highlight another great graphic novel and the woman author responsible for its creation.

MarblesMarbles, by cartoonist Ellen Forney, is a memoir of her diagnosis with bipolar disorder right before her 30th birthday. Forney depicts the years that follow, highlighting her struggle to find a balance between mental stability and her creativity. Throughout the novel Forney explores the concept of “the crazy artist” and finds inspiration from the lives of other artists such as Georgia O’Keeffe and Vincent van Gogh, who also suffered from mood disorders. The questions Forney ultimately wants to answer are: is there is a correlation between an artist’s creativity and mood disorder, and what are the strengths and limitations of medication on her passion and work?

In addition to being New York Times Bestseller, Marbles was named Best Graphic Novel of 2012 by the Washington Post, Time Magazine, and Entertainment Weekly. Forney was also the recipient of the National Association for the Advancement of Psychoanalysis 2013 Gradiva Award.

Forney uses the graphic form to create a deeply personal and dynamic memoir. The combination of the panel-style comics, realistic drawings of photographs, and scans from her personal sketchbook lend an insight into how Forney’s mood disorder affects her creative process as well as the differing artistic styles produced during her periods of mental stability on and off medication. Marbles is an intimate exploration of the effects of a mood disorder and the personal struggle of therapy and medication. Forney is able to make the reader feel in the moment when reading her recounts of manic episodes as they follow her journey of ultimately coming to terms with her own identity of the “crazy artist.”

Ellen Forney’s website

Ellen Forney’s website

Ellen Forney’s Marbles and many other excellent graphic novels are waiting on the shelves for visitors’ viewing and reading pleasure in the library! Visit the museum, view the works on display, and stop by the library to learn more about Helena Bochořáková-Dittrichová and the work of female graphic novelists.

—Molly Krost is an intern in the Betty Boyd Dettre Library and Research Center at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Lynda Benglis & Maya Lin: Spookily Impressive Artists

Two artists born in October are not often discussed together. However, both created early-career work that elicited strong reactions from the American public and art world, later cementing their places in the history of art.

Born October 25, 1941, Lynda Benglis first gained renown for her poured-latex sculptures. The bright splashes of color departed from—but also engaged with—the restrained minimalist art popular with critics and art galleries.

Lynda Benglis, Eridanus, 1984. Bronze, zinc, copper, aluminum, wire, 58 x 48 x 27 in.; © Lynda Benglis; Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY

Lynda Benglis, Eridanus, 1984. Bronze, zinc, copper, aluminum, wire, 58 x 48 x 27 in.; © Lynda Benglis; Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY

Although she has exhibited primarily as a painter and sculptor, Benglis is well known for a controversial ad that ran in a 1974 issue of Artforum. The ad featured Benglis, naked except for a pair of sunglasses, holding a plastic dildo between her legs. The aggressive object and pose, and the overt, in-your-face sexuality of the ad, created a firestorm in the art world. Critics and artists either loved it or hated it; Artforum editors even left the magazine to protest its inclusion. Though the art world called the image everything from pornography to a centerfold, today the image can be found in art history books as a remarkable statement about feminism and gender in art. A sculpture by Benglis in NMWA’s collection exemplifies another phase of her work, in which metal appears to fold and curl like fabric.

Another October-born artist, Maya Lin, has by turns provoked controversy and praise.

Lin, born October 5, 1959, has designed major works such as the Civil Rights memorial in Montgomery, Alabama, and the museum of African art in New York. Her Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial—a subtle, powerful memorial like no one had created before—is a major tourist destination in D.C. Its construction caused a furor of discussion among about public spaces, monuments, and memorials.

Maya Lin's Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial, Washington, D.C.

Maya Lin’s Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial, Washington, D.C.

Lin’s design won a 1981 contest and was selected for the memorial. Instead of glorifying the war, her design for the memorial was envisioned as a testament to loss. What Lin described as a black wound in the grass, symbolizing the impact of war on the nation, was at first seen by some as unpatriotic, and stylistically unbecoming of an American monument. Despite the initial backlash, Lin’s memorial is praised today for its careful consideration of the grief of war, and for the quiet solemnity of the space. It has ushered in new modes of memorial architecture.

Lin’s recent work has addressed environmental issues, particularly through a multisite work called What is Missing that tracks extinctions due to habitat degradation and loss. Just two days after her birthday earlier this month, it was announced that she is the recipient of the $300,000 Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize, to be awarded November 12.

Maybe there’s something in the air in October—whether quietly or loudly, these two artists have wrestled their way into art’s history.

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

Meet Mary through MapHook

NMWA visitors don’t have to wait to for glimpses of the museum’s next big exhibition! Though Picturing Mary: Woman, Mother, Idea is still a few weeks away, NMWA has begun unveiling an online preview of the artworks featured. MapHook, a location-based journal and social networking application, is an interactive map that invites viewers to get a first look at the artworks making their way to NMWA from all over the world. Each week, a new set of images is being released, corresponding to one of the six key themes from the exhibition.

There are a number of ways to use this new program. Clicking “animation” leads you on a tour around the countries the art is coming from; clicking a flagged pin location on the map, or the artwork itself, will also lead to a screen highlighting that work. When an image is selected, it reveals key details: creator’s name, the date, and the medium. It even displays the lending institution and other artworks from the same institution when applicable.

When selecting an artwork from the map, you may notice the “learn more” tab under each thumbnail. Clicking this leads to a full, larger view of the image with more factual tidbits, such as cultural symbols or legends that appear in the pieces. These illuminate the facets of Mary represented in the exhibition. This feature also reveals the last time the artwork was seen in the U.S. For example, over half of the artworks in the first week’s section, which focused on Madonna and Child images, have never been seen before in the U.S.

MapHook-2The map is a visual demonstration of relationships created between artworks: several are housed in the same museums or are coming from the same cities. The map also shows the far reach of the image of Mary and NMWA’s exhibition. While several artworks are clustered in Florence, some are as close to home as D.C. itself. The interactive map anticipates the exhibition, which explores the prevalence and popularity of Marian images throughout the Renaissance and Baroque periods, spread across countries, cities, and time.

Picturing Mary: Woman, Mother, Idea will be on view December 5, 2014–April 12, 2015. Check every week for MapHook updates, and follow our #MeetMary tag on Twitter and Facebook!

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