Sunday, June 26, 2016

National Museum of Women in the Arts

While in Washington DC this past April, I visited the National Museum of Women in the Arts.  What a beautiful venue! Private groups often rent space in the building to hold special events. This museum is the only one in the world devoted exclusively to art made by women.

Here is the text from one of the panels placed near the entrance:

Art and Feminism
Visual art in the 1970s reflected dramatic political and cultural shifts occurring globally. In the U.S., the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights and Women's Movements challenged mainstream values. Feminist artists and activists protested the unequal representation of women in museums, galleries, and publications. Colleges and universities responded by introducing women's studies curricula and feminist art history classes.
Seeking imagery that could form the core of feminist art, some artists created abstracted symbols that reference the female sexual body. Feminist artists worked in traditional fine art media such as painting and sculpture, but they also pioneered experimental art forms such as performance and video. They attained critical recognition for weaving, sewing and assemblage - processes that had previously been classified as handicrafts. Feminist art put strong emphasis on subjective experience. Content often reflects artists' direct experiences within both the domestic and professional spheres as well as critiques of popular culture. Much feminist art is also representational. This sets it apart from the abstract minimalist style prevalent in the 1960s, which was praised by critics and associated almost exclusively with male artists.
I'd like to share here some of my "finds". Of course my photos do not do justice to the experience of seeing these works in their museum setting.

Louise Nevelson, Reflections of a Waterfall II, painted wood, 1982

Louise Nevelson, always one of my favourite sculptors, was 83 years old when she made this work.
"When she was in her sixties, Nevelson became known for her wood sculpture installations comprising columns and walls filled with objects such a newel posts, baseball bats, picture frames, and driftwood. Waterfall is more allusive, with simpler shapes that suggest running water, rocks and bridges. The large scale and dramatic play of light and shadow within Nevelson's sculptures prompted one critic in the 1960s to describe her works as 'appalling and marvelous, utterly shocking in the way they violate our received ideas on the limits of sculpture.'"

Helen Frankenthaler, Spiritualist, acrylic on canvas, 1973

"Rather than apply paint with a brush Frankenthaler poured paint onto unprimed canvas and allowed the pigment to soak directly into the fabric. Her innovative stain technique emphasizes the essential flatness of a painted surface, while the broad swathes of pigment envelop the viewer in an environment of colour. Frankenthaler's work formed a bridge between gestural abstract expressionist painting of the 1950s and colour field painting of the 1960s."
Susan Swartz, Gentle Morning, Acrylic on linen, 2007

There was no explanatory label for the Susan Swartz painting, but I thought it was lovely: atmospheric and painterly.

Maria Elena Vieira da Silva, The Town, oil on canvas, 1955
"Vieira da Silva was a key figure within the field of expressive abstraction in post-war Paris, where she lived and worked for nearly 60 years. Her paintings explore how space can be simultaneously suggested and collapsed or flattened on the two-dimensional surface of a canvas. The grid of black linesand short brushstrokes in this work creates an abstract pattern that seems to shimmer and pulsate like blinking lights and fast-moving traffic."
Here's a short video that will introduce you to the National Museum of Women in the Arts:

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