Art Fix Friday: May 22, 2020

The Nevada Museum of Art (NMA) has acquired Judy Chicago’s archive of materials related to her site-specific Atmospheres works, performances staged with dry ice and fireworks. A sampling of the archive will be featured in the exhibition On Fire: Judy Chicago’s Atmospheres Archive, which will be on view at NMA from October 16, 2021, through April 17, 2022.

Judy Chicago, Immolation from Women and Smoke, 1972; Photo courtesy of Through the Flower Archives, Judy Chicago, Salon 94, and Jessica Silverman Gallery; © Judy Chicago/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

The archive includes thousands of photographs, films, preparatory works, and maps that date back to 1967, when Chicago began the series. By adding the colorful, smoke-based works to their collection, the NMA hopes to challenge the predominantly straight, white, and male art historical recollection of Land Art.

Front-Page Femmes:

Five renowned women artists died this week: painter Emma Amos at age 83; photographer Astrid Kirchherr at age 81; dancer Nancy Stark Smith at age 68; designer and architect Nanda Vigo at age 83; and painter Susan Rothenberg at age 75.

The New Yorker and Artsy revisit the importance of photographers Anne Brigman and Germaine Krull.

Artforum interviews Patrisse Cullors, artist and co-founder of Black Lives Matter.

ARTnews spotlights Louise Bourgeois’s spider sculptures and the lesser-known works in Yayoi Kusama’s oeuvre.

Artnet profiles Elsa Peretti, the designer of Tiffany & Co.’s famous bone cuff.

The Guardian highlights Corie Mattie, who helped launch a campaign to create 1,000 murals across the U.S. to promote hope during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Women painters past and present turn their brushes to the walls of their homes during periods of isolation.

Every inch of the walls, floors, and ceilings of artist Afia Zecharia’s Palestinian home is covered in painted Yemenite embroidery patterns; Photo by Asia Dublin

Artsy interviews Kylie Ying, a Shanghai-based art collector who primarily supports emerging female artists.

Forbes features Abiola Ogunbiyi, a coach for young women artists who works to help them change the way they approach creativity.

Praxis Gallery will interview Colombian artist Cristina Camacho on Instagram Live on Friday, May 22 at 4 p.m. Eastern time.

Hyperallergic interviews Emily Barker, an artist and advocate who is designing thoughtful, beautiful living spaces for disabled people.

The Women’s Center for Creative Work will host an online zine workshop on Tuesday, May 26 at 6 p.m. Pacific time.

ArtActivistBarbie—a feminist icon—is taking to Twitter to challenge gender gaps in art collections around the world.

Hyperallergic and the New York Times review The Equivalents by Maggie Doherty.

The Conversation publishes new findings that may rectify years of prejudiced art historical judgment against Marthe Bonnard, the wife of Pierre Bonnard and subject of hundreds of paintings and drawings.

Shows We Want to See—Online Edition

Naomi Safran-Hon’s fourth solo show ALL MY LOVERS is viewable online at Slag Gallery. The New York Times discusses the importance of her new works, which feature combinations of photography, cement, and textile.

Naomi Safran-Hon’s Mirror Ceiling: A Room with a Mattress and a Chair (2017–2020) suggests that constructing a home is an act of excavation; Photo credit: Naomi Safran-Hon and Slag Gallery

Ozla Art, a virtual Saudi Arabian gallery showing artists’ takes on the theme of isolation, displays the work of Fatimah Al Nemer. AboutHer discusses the artist’s intricately patterned, mixed-media portraits of Arab women.

The Far is Always Here, curated by Rachel Monosov & Catinca Tabacaru, comprises five short video works by artists reflecting on the pandemic. Hyperallergic highlights the video Abandoned by artist Sanja Latinović.

—Emma Weiss is the summer 2020 publications and communications/marketing intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

5 Fast Facts: Graciela Iturbide

One of the most influential contemporary photographers of Latin America, Graciela Iturbide (b. 1942) has produced majestic and powerful images of her native Mexico for the past 50 years. Graciela Iturbide’s Mexico is the artist’s most extensive U.S. exhibition in more than two decades, comprising 140 black-and-white prints that reveal the artist’s own journey to understand her homeland and the world.

Impress your friends with five fast facts about Iturbide, revealing how her process and pictures shed new light on other photographs on view in the museum’s collection.

A black and white self portrait of Graciela Iturbide who sits facing the camera, unsmiling with her hair wore down and parted in the middle. Her face is painted in traditional Seri marks, consisting of little white and colored dots horizontally across her cheeks and nose, and three triangle shapes on each of her cheeks.

Graciela Iturbide, Autorretrato como Seri (Self-Portrait as Seri), Sonoran Desert, 1979; Gelatin silver print, 6 ¾ x 6 ¾ in.; Courtesy of the artist; © Graciela Iturbide; Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

1. Picturing Self

While Iturbide typically photographs others, she occasionally captures her own likeness. Graciela Iturbide’s Mexico includes four autorretratos, or self-portraits, that reveal and conceal the artist. Consider how her contemporaries Kirsten Justesen (b. 1943), Cindy Sherman (b. 1954), and Gillian Wearing (b. 1963) obfuscate their faces to redefine traditions of self-portraiture.

2. Getting to Know You

Iturbide immerses herself in the communities she photographs to gain trust and respect. She spends extended time on location, participates in cultural traditions, and even works alongside her subjects. Similarly, Esther Bubley (1921—1998) and Nikki S. Lee (b. 1970) embedded themselves in rural America for their own respective series—LadiesHome Journal’s “How America Lives” (1948—1960) and The Ohio Project (1999).

3. Recording Tradition

Iturbide’s extensive catalogue of images of the Seri, Zapotec, and Mixteca peoples show her deep respect for and desire to record indigenous Mexican cultures. This work extends a tradition practiced by Lola Álvarez Bravo (1907—1993), who simultaneously captured distinctive Mexican customs and universal human emotions.

4. Investigating Nature

Iturbide observes and pictures aspects of the natural world that typically go unseen—like a bird’s skeleton or a cactus receiving IV fluids. Similarly, Maggie Foskett (1919—2014) created cliché verres to enlarge and make transparent nature’s underlying structures. Amy Lamb (b. 1944) employs carefully controlled studio conditions, unparalleled patience, and a watchful eye to capture the fleeting moment flowers bloom or seedpods burst.

5. Celebrating Authenticity

Juchitán’s egalitarian culture embraces a third gender known as muxes, or individuals assigned male at birth who dress and behave as women. Iturbide photographed a muxe named Magnolia at her request. South African artist and visual activist Zanele Muholi (b. 1972) also pictures individuals from the LGBTQIA+ community in her native country.

—Adrienne L. Gayoso is the senior educator at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Iturbide and Kahlo: A Conversation

One of the most influential contemporary photographers of Latin America, Graciela Iturbide has produced majestic and powerful images of her native Mexico for the past 50 years. Graciela Iturbide’s Mexico is the artist’s most extensive U.S. exhibition in more than two decades, comprising 140 black-and-white prints that reveal the artist’s own journey to understand her homeland and the world.

A black and white photo of a back brace hung on a wall.

Graciela Iturbide, El Baño de Frida (Frida’s Bathroom), Coyoacán, Ciudad de México, 2005; Gelatin silver print, 14 ⅜ x 14 ¼ in.; Courtesy of the artist; © Graciela Iturbide

In 2005, just over 50 years after Frida Kahlo’s death, Graciela Iturbide (b. 1942) was commissioned to photograph the contents of the artist’s bathroom at her home, Casa Azul, open to the public as the Frida Kahlo Museum. The room had been locked for decades after Kahlo’s mourning husband, Diego Rivera, entombed 300 of her personal belongings there and ordered the space sealed for 15 years following his own death. Iturbide’s photographs construct an intimate portrait of Kahlo’s personal life through her belongings. Stark images of corsets, crutches, painkillers, and prosthetics convey a venerated life of suffering, resilience, and determination. Yet the photographs are more than documentary. In one intimate image, Iturbide responds—and pays homage—to Kahlo’s cultural legacy, creating an artistic dialogue between the two women.

Of all the images in Iturbide’s “Frida’s Bathroom” series, there is just one self-portrait; it evokes Kahlo’s famous painting What the Water Gave Me (Lo que el agua me dio) (1938). In this photograph, Iturbide rests her feet against the side of the artist’s bathtub. This placement mimics Kahlo’s painting of her own feet partially submerged in a tub, her right foot bleeding, a collage of surreal images floating in the bathwater. By recalling the painting, Iturbide acknowledges Kahlo’s art historical precedence and the importance of this private space. Iturbide portrays her own suffering in the self-portrait by revealing, in her signature photographic style, her pained feet after a recent operation. The profound image conveys the experiences of both Kahlo and Iturbide, connected across 50 years.

Other objects in Kahlo’s bathroom included sunglasses, nail polish, shoes, political imagery, and clothing—however, Iturbide primarily focused her series on those objects that related to the artist’s pain. This choice echoes themes that have surfaced in Iturbide’s own work: death on both personal and cultural levels; illness, including a focus on ailing cacti; and ritual, including animal slaughter. Iturbide does not turn away from pain, but instead looks unflinchingly at it. In one of Iturbide’s photographs, Kahlo’s hospital gown hangs against the bathroom’s tiled wall, marked in many dark stains. In black and white, it is impossible to tell if the stains are blood, evidence of her suffering, or paint, evidence of her salvation.

Iturbide_Frida_Feet

Graciela Iturbide, El Baño de Frida (Frida’s Bathroom), Coyoacán, Ciudad de México, 2005; Gelatin silver print, 14 ½ x 14 in.; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Museum purchase with funds donated by John and Cynthia Reed, Charles H. Bayley Picture and Painting Fund, Barbara M. Marshall Fund, Lucy Dalbiac Luard Fund, Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation Fund for Photography, Francis Welch Fund, and Jane M. Rabb Fund for Film and Photography; © Graciela Iturbide; Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Kahlo_What the Water

Frida Kahlo, Lo Que el Agua Me Dio (What the Water Gave Me), 1938; Daniel Filipacchi Collection, Paris, France

As Kahlo’s life, work, and legacy have grown to mythic status over the years, Iturbide has said that she is not a “Frida-maniac.” However, the intense experience of photographing the artist’s intimate, long-shuttered bathroom helped Iturbide learn that Kahlo “was a marvelous woman who contended with a lot of pain…I feel like I got to know her better.”

*Unless otherwise noted, information is adapted from Graciela Iturbide’s Mexico: Photographs, by Kristen Gresh, with an essay by Guillermo Sheridan.

—Hannah Southern was the fall 2019 publications and communications/marketing intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts; Alicia Gregory is the assistant editor at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Art Fix Friday: May 15, 2020

Marabar, a million-pound granite sculpture by artist Elyn Zimmerman that has been installed in the courtyard of National Geographic Society headquarters in Washington, D.C., for almost 40 years, is scheduled for removal in favor of a new entrance pavilion.

Granite elements of the Marabar installation are seamlessly integrated into the courtyard of the National Geographic Society in Washington, D.C.; Courtesy Elyn Zimmerman; © Elyn Zimmerman

The plan has met with strong protest from industry and community members. Penny Balkin Bach, executive director of the Association for Public Art, calls Zimmerman “a pioneer and one of the earliest contemporary female artists to work at such a monumental scale.”

Front-Page Femmes:

Latela Curatorial founder Marta Staudinger has launched the GLB Memorial Fund, which will support woman-identifying artists and curators who reside in Washington D.C., Maryland, or Virginia to further advance women-led contemporary art initiatives.

The Creative Review interviews Lisa Sorgini, who is photographing mothers and children in isolation for her new series “Behind Glass.”

Carolyn Reidy, President and CEO of Simon & Schuster, has died at age 71.

Alexandra Bell and Joiri Minaya have won the 2020 New York Artadia Awards; Bell featured in Fresh Talk: Art, Power, and the Vote in November 2019.

Hyperallergic reviews Concordance, a new poetry collection by artist and writer Susan Howe, which confronts the plight of the female writer in a masculine literary culture.

For the first time ever, four black female solo artists top the Billboard Hot 100.

The New York Public Library has acquired the archive of dancer and choreographer Martha Graham.

Art in America profiles Lenore Tawney, an artist who created dynamic multi-format weavings throughout the 20th century.

Lenore Tawney, Cloud Labyrinth (detail), 1983; Courtesy Lenore G. Tawney Foundation; © Lenore Tawney

Hyperallergic reviews Inappropriate Bodies: Art, Design, and Maternity, an essay collection exploring labor and motherhood.

An oil painting of birds and other wildlife by 17th-century nun Orsola Maddalena Caccia was a surprise hit at a recent Sotheby’s auction, far exceeding the previous auction record for the artist’s work.

NPR reviews Funny Weather: Art in an Emergency, a new collection of essays by Olivia Laing that consider the purpose of art in times of crisis.

Artnet speaks to Zanele Muholi about their mobile studio and influential portraits of the LGBTI community in South Africa.

The Los Angeles Review of Books examines the influence of female artists on Céline Sciamma’s 2019 film Portrait of a Lady on Fire.

Gagosian sold Cecily Brown’s painting Figures in a Landscape for $5.5 million via its online viewing platform.

ARTnews highlights Swiss Neoclassical painter Angelica Kauffman.

Writer Mieko Kawakami, whose influential novel Breast and Eggs was recently translated into English, shares her current playlist.

Shows We Want to See—Online Edition

Varsity interviews the curator of WE ARE HERE, an exhibition at the University of Cambridge’s Heong Gallery examining the presence of women artists in colleges. Exhibition images, interviews, and activities are available at the Heong Gallery’s blog.

Emilia Galotti’s Colouring Book of Feelings, a work comprising two garments that take on meaning only when worn by the performer, is performed by artist Sophie Seita; Courtesy Heong Gallery; © Sophie Seita

Hollis Taggart gallery in New York City opens Michael West: We Come Alive and Dream, viewable online until May 23. The exhibition features West’s abstract expressionist paintings, writings, and poems. Artsy profiles West, who until recently has been overlooked in art history.

She Marches On, an exhibition recently opened online at Massachusetts’s Falmouth Art Center, displays the work of four artists reflecting on the women’s suffrage movement.

—Emma Weiss is the summer 2020 publications and communications/marketing intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Director’s Desk: Illuminating Frida Kahlo

We are fortunate to have an important Frida Kahlo (b. 1907) painting in our collection, Self-Portrait Dedicated to Leon Trotsky (1937). It is the only Kahlo in a public collection in Washington, D.C. One of the most fascinating artists of the 20th century, Kahlo created intense and revealing self-portraits that chronicle her challenging relationship with her husband Diego Rivera, leader of the Mexican Muralists; her struggles with her broken body; her identity as a bisexual person; her devotion to Mexicanidad; and her involvement with the worldwide Communist Revolution.

Frida Kahlo, Self-Portrait Dedicated to Leon Trotsky, 1937; Oil on Masonite, 30 x 24 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of the Honorable Clare Boothe Luce; © 2012 Banco de México Diego Rivera Frida Kahlo Museums Trust, Mexico, D.F. / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Frida Kahlo, Self-Portrait Dedicated to Leon Trotsky, 1937; Oil on Masonite, 30 x 24 in.; NMWA, Gift of the Honorable Clare Boothe Luce; © 2012 Banco de México Diego Rivera Frida Kahlo Museums Trust, Mexico, D.F. / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

In Self-Portrait Dedicated to Leon Trotsky, Kahlo is framed between two curtains—a new Madonna of the people—wearing traditional Tehuana attire. She holds a letter that is both a declaration of political allegiance and personal affection for the exiled Russian Communist leader Leon Trotsky, with whom she had developed a close friendship and had a brief affair. You can explore the painting in detail on Google Arts & Culture.

Upon arriving in Mexico in January 1937, and under Rivera’s protection, Trotsky and his wife Natalia Sedova lived in Casa Azul, Frida’s family home, for two years. Frida enshrined their relationship in this portrait, which she gave to Trotsky on his 60th birthday. It hung in his private study in Casa Azul until the Trotskys moved to a new safe house in 1939.

While much has been written about Kahlo since the groundbreaking 1983 biography by art historian Hayden Herrera, my favorite book featuring the artist—Barbara Kingsolver’s novel The Lacuna (2009)—covers this particular period. My favorite chapters follow the book’s protagonist as he begins working for Rivera as a mural plasterer; becomes the family cook, friend, and confidant to Kahlo; and serves as Trotsky’s personal secretary just prior to his assassination. It is thrilling to me that NMWA’s painting figures into the story.

Embed from Getty Images

As Kingsolver said, “I didn’t initially plan to write about Kahlo….But she grew on me. I read all the biographies, then went to Mexico City to see artworks, archives, and the Rivera and Trotsky homes….Frida was everywhere: her doodles even cover the margins of Diego’s financial ledgers. I felt her poking at my shoulder, saying, ‘Muchacha, you’re ignoring me.’ I began to understand her not as a martyred icon but as a roguish, complicated person. She was a natural for drawing out my reclusive protagonist, they had excellent chemistry.”

At NMWA, you can explore primary source material on Kahlo in the Nix-Huber archive, which includes letters between Kahlo and her mother, exchanged during Kahlo’s travels in the United States in the 1930s. These letters are quoted extensively in Celia Stahr’s new book, Frida in America: The Creative Awakening of a Great Artist (2020). Now that I have a bit more time to read about Kahlo, it’s on my list. I hope that you and yours stay well and find new ways to immerse yourself in the stories of great women artists.

—Susan Fisher Sterling is the Alice West Director of the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

NMWA @ Home: Creative Coping with Christina Knowles and Lori Brubaker Morales

As NMWA remains temporarily closed due to COVID-19, along with other museums and cultural institutions around the world, we’ve been diligently working to bring the museum to you at home. In this series, we’ll check in with NMWA staff in their own homes for a personal look at the creative ways they’re staying connected, inspired, and grounded.

Do you have recommendations? Let us know in the comments below or share on social media @WomenInTheArts!

Christina Knowles, director of development, annual giving, and membership

Renewing: Time seems to be standing still, yet the view from my window tells me otherwise. Nature is generously reminding me that a new season is just ahead. The green nubs along my front walk have unfurled into buoyant Hostas, tempting the deer that call our street home. My favorite blended Camellia tree has almost run its cycle with chipmunks gathering up the pink petals and feasting on them like cotton candy.

Camellia flower; Photo by Christina Knowles

Observing: The season unfolding is a daily meditation in seeing. Taking inspiration from Maria Sibylla Merian, I strive to hone the discipline of an observant eye and share her reverence for the magnificent architecture of the natural world. I strongly recommend her book Chrysalis: Maria Sibylla Merian and the Secrets of Metamorphosis.

Reading: As someone who appreciates a hand-written letter, I enjoy absorbing history through the intimate lens of individuals who put pen to paper. Letters of the Century: America 1900–1999 includes letters from inspiring women like Elaine de Kooning, Amelia Earhart, and Georgia O’Keeffe. O’Keeffe writes to art critic and friend Henry McBride, “The daylight is coming Henry McBride—I am going up on the roof and watch it come—we do such things here without being thought crazy—it is nice—isn’t it.”

*

Lori Brubaker Morales, director of special events

Reflecting: For the first time in ages, I am in tune with spring. I recall being a young girl skipping home from school with the warm sun on my face, the birds chirping in the trees, the smell of the earth waking from winter. I was a child without a care in the world. Creation is speaking to me again. These memories remind me of a favorite poem by Emily Dickinson, “I have a Bird in spring.” I have rediscovered the beauty in her words.

Learning: Artist Rosa Bonheur’s powerful work is a favorite. Over the last weeks, I have read about her life. Like us, she was social distancing. At ten years old, she endured the cholera epidemic that swept through France—with no technology or modern conveniences. Surely, the struggle was great.

Rosa Bonheur, Sheep by the Sea, 1865; Oil on cradled panel, 12 3/4 x 18 in.; NMWA, Gift of Wallace and Wilhelmina Holladay

Creating: Recently, I decided to bring out favorite dishes made by my mom and grandmothers. From my mom’s recipe file, I made her refreshing mandarin salad with sesame dressing, and from Grandma Brubakers’s catalog, I cooked up her famous Pennsylvania Dutch spare ribs with sauerkraut.

Energizing: Having loaded up on enough comfort foods and television for a lifetime, I designed my own dance-based exercise routine. If anyone saw me they’d laugh, but I am having fun dancing to Ella Fitzgerald, David Bowie, Aretha Franklin, Blondie, and Heart, just to name a few! As David Bowie sings, “Let’s dance!”

Art Fix Friday: May 8, 2020

The Spanish documentary Mallorca, previously labeled in the archives of the Filmoteca Española as a 1926 male-directed silent film, was re-attributed this week to female director María Forteza. Dated between 1932 and 1934, Mallorca is now likely the first female-directed film in Spain.

Credits of the film Mallorca now list the director as María Forteza; Courtesy Filmoteca Española

Inspired by the music of Isaac Albeñiz, Forteza captures life on the Spanish island in eight brief minutes. Mallorca has resided in the collection of the Filmoteca, misidentified, since 1982. The film can be viewed online through May 8.

Front-Page Femmes

The New York Times reports on Howardena Pindell’s lawsuit against gallerist George N’Namdi, which touches on “issues of race, loyalty, and a lack of transparency in the art world.”

Millie Small, the Jamaican singer of the 1964 global hit “My Boy Lollipop,” has passed away at age 73.

Hyperallergic reviews The Women of Atelier 17: Modernist Printmaking in Midcentury New York.

Artnet’s podcast, The Art Angle, explores how Marina Abramović became the center of a satanic conspiracy theory.

The New Yorker profiles playwright Lorraine Hansberry’s life’s work.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art has published a Virginia Woolf reading list that accompanies their upcoming exhibition About Time: Fashion and Duration.

Artnet interviews Cybele Maylone, director of the Aldrich Museum, about working from home.

Aliza Nisenbaum, known for her colorful and intimate portraits of Mexican and Central American immigrants, features in the Hirshhorn’s video series “Artist Diaries,” which captures artists’ responses to COVID-19.

Aliza Nisenbaum, My Yoga, 2019; Oil on linen, 24 x 22 in; Courtesy Anton Kern Gallery; © Aliza Nisenbaum

Artnet features an excerpt on Lee Krasner from the new book More Than a Muse: Creative Partnerships that Sold Talented Women Short.

“The Bathroom Sessions,” a concert series performed and streamed by artists in the smallest rooms of their homes, launched on May 7 with an all-female lineup.

Hyperallergic reviews Marilyn Chase’s new biography on Ruth Asawa, Everything She Touched: The Life of Ruth Asawa.

Zebra shares how Alexandria, VA-based artist Kathryn Coneway has transformed her intricate exhibition works into public art.

Forbes spotlights women artists in Bangladesh who are forming campaigns to support themselves both financially and creatively.

Liza Lou meets with other artists over Instagram Live for virtual studio visits during quarantine; On Saturday, May 9, at 4 p.m. EDT, Lou will enter the studio of Carrie Mae Weems.

Reese Witherspoon, a woman of many talents, has turned to watercolor painting during quarantine.

Shows We Want to See—Online Edition

Sean Kelly Gallery in New York presents Shahzia Sikander’s short film Parallax as part of its #FilmFridays series. It is viewable on their Vimeo channel for 24 hours, beginning today, Friday, May 8, at 9 a.m. EDT. The gallery also recently featured a tour of Janaina Tschäpe’s studio in Brazil.

A still from Shahzia Sikander’s film Parallax; Courtesy Sean Kelly Gallery; © Shahzia Sikander

Revisit Kara Walker’s groundbreaking 2014 installation, A Subtlety, at Brooklyn’s historic Domino Sugar Factory. The Google Arts & Culture exhibition includes Walker’s studies and in-process documentation.

Sous Les Etoiles Gallery in New York presents Sophie Delaporte: Fragile Landscapes. Informed by her background in fashion and practice in cutouts, Delaporte’s work combines graceful surrealism and playful abstraction. Viewable online until June 5, 2020.

—Emma Weiss is the summer 2020 publications and communications/marketing intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Director’s Desk: Celebrating Mother’s Day Through Distinct Artistic Visions

I recently learned that Anna Maria Jarvis (1864–1948), the social activist who led the U.S. movement to commemorate Mother’s Day, did so in honor of her mother, but she was not a mother herself. Given Jarvis’s progressive views, I believe she would be proud to see how Mother’s Day has come to embody a broader, richer definition of motherhood—one that embraces all women who offer unconditional love and support.

NMWA’s collection features many depictions of women and their families by artists, expressing varied perspectives and inspirations. Here are five I selected to share with you today.

Mary Cassatt, The Bath, 1891; Soft-ground etching with aquatint and drypoint on paper, 12 3/8 x 9 5/8 in.; NMWA, Gift of Wallace and Wilhelmina Holladay; Photo by Lee Stalsworth

Most famous are intimate images of mothers and children by Mary Cassatt (1844–1926). Cassatt’s approach to her subject reflected the renewed cultural interest in motherhood and childcare in the 19th century. Breaking from idealized and stoic family portraits, Cassatt represented contemporary mothers engaged in tender moments with their lively, playful children. Her sensitive portrayals of adolescents reference her deep affection toward her nieces and nephews as a loving aunt.

Imagery by Elizabeth Catlett (1915–2012) drew upon her experience as an African American woman raised in an era of widespread segregation. Her mothers, like all the women she depicts, are strong, self-possessed figures. Two Generations (1987), a lithograph in NMWA’s collection, celebrates the important roles of grandmothers. An expert draftswoman, Catlett uses dramatic light and shadow to evoke the nurturing psychological connection between the woman and her grandchild.

In photographs of 20th-century Mexican life by Lola Álvarez Bravo (1907–1993), moments of human interaction often feel iconic. In De generación en generación (ca. 1950), a woman’s back is turned as she holds a young child who gazes intensely at the viewer from the safety of her mother’s arms. It is hard to imagine a more beautiful and down-to-earth interpretation of the classic Madonna and Child than this carefully composed photograph.

Lola Álvarez Bravo, De Generación en Generación, ca. 1950; Gelatin silver print, 18 3/4 x 14 in.; NMWA, Gift of the artist; © 1995 Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona Foundation

For Louise Bourgeois (1911–2010), motherhood was a topic fraught with themes of childhood memory, trauma, and personal loss. Bourgeois adopted the spider as the symbolic embodiment of her mother, who ran the family tapestry restoration workshop. As Bourgeois said, “My mother would sit out in the sun and repair a tapestry or petit point. She really loved it. This sense of reparation is very deep within me.” For Bourgeois, the spider is a multi-dimensional maternal figure: fierce, protective, intelligent, patient, and industrious. Each of her now-iconic bronze spiders has its own personality and command, but they also feel vulnerable and, at times, fragile.

In our collection of artists’ books, the “women’s work” of weaving is once again taken up in a mother-daughter collaboration between artist Baila Goldenthal (1925–2011) and poet Maurya Simon (b. 1950). In Weavers, Simon composed 16 poems in response to Goldenthal’s paintings that use Gothic- and Romanesque-style imagery, techniques, and formats as she imagines the inner lives of women.

When I consider these images among others in the collection, I can truly visualize the search for and value of family connection with which we honor caregivers each Mother’s Day.

—Susan Fisher Sterling is the Alice West Director of the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Graciela Iturbide’s Mexico: Capturing Death

One of the most influential contemporary photographers of Latin America, Graciela Iturbide has produced majestic and powerful images of her native Mexico for the past 50 years. Graciela Iturbide’s Mexico is the artist’s most extensive U.S. exhibition in more than two decades, comprising 140 black-and-white prints that reveal the artist’s own journey to understand her homeland and the world.

A black and white photo of a funerary procession in which everyone is wearing some sort of mask or disguise. Masked figures surround and support a man dressed as a skeleton. In the background, there is a baby in white.

Graciela Iturbide, Peregrinación (Procession), Chalma, 1984; Gelatin silver print, 5 ¾ x 4 ¾ in.; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Museum purchase with funds donated by John and Cynthia Reed, Charles H. Bayley Picture and Painting Fund, Barbara M. Marshall Fund, Lucy Dalbiac Luard Fund, Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation Fund for Photography, Francis Welch Fund, and Jane M. Rabb Fund for Film and Photography; Courtesy of the artist; © Graciela Iturbide

In The Labyrinth of Solitude (1950), renowned Mexican writer Octavio Paz reflected on Mexico’s national attitude toward death. “The Mexican frequents it, jokes about it, caresses it, sleeps with it, celebrates it…he confronts it face to face with patience, disdain, or irony.” True to this sentiment, in her photographs, Graciela Iturbide (b. 1942) steadily confronts what she calls “Mexico’s death fantasy” as it appears in the street, at festivals, and in the cemetery.

Iturbide’s photographs of death’s imagery connect to her own search for ritual and meaning, as well as to her faith in the power of photography as therapy. Her images are symbolic explorations of loss and mourning that represent and relieve her own grappling with death.

Disguises, worn by the living, are a traditional part of some funerary processions in Chalma. In Peregrinación (Procession) (1984), masked figures surround and support a man dressed as a skeleton. In the background, a baby in white may represent an angel—an indication of life and hope amid the chaos of the procession. The photograph represents the somewhat comic, performative ambiance of the festivities.

In Novia Muerte (Death Bride) (1990), a man dressed as a bride wears a wig, a death mask, and holds a bouquet of flowers. This costume may also be viewed as comedic, but deeper layers of meaning proliferate. His pose, with one arm out to the side, may be an invitation or a reminder of the presence, absence, or death of a marital partner. A dark shadow covers part of the translucent veil that falls from the “bride’s” arm to the ground.

Iturbide herself is no stranger to death; she tragically lost her six-year-old daughter and subsequently became obsessed with photographing the funerals of other deceased children. While photographing one funeral in 1978, Iturbide came across a decomposing corpse on a cemetery walkway. In an interview with the Guardian, she explained, “I felt as if death had appeared and said, ‘That’s enough! Don’t keep living your suffering in this way. Stop it!’”

Iturbide_Death Bride

Graciela Iturbide, Novia Muerte (Death Bride), Chalma, 1990; Gelatin silver print, 8 ½ x 5 ¾ in.; Courtesy of the artist; © Graciela Iturbide

Iturbide_Birds on the Post

Graciela Iturbide, Pájaros en el poste, Carretera (Birds on the Post, Highway), Guanajuato, 1990; Gelatin silver print, 11 ⅝ x 17 ½ in.; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Museum purchase with funds donated by John and Cynthia Reed, Charles H. Bayley Picture and Painting Fund, Barbara M. Marshall Fund, Lucy Dalbiac Luard Fund, Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation Fund for Photography, Francis Welch Fund, and Jane M. Rabb Fund for Film and Photography; © Graciela Iturbide; Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

That day, Iturbide also photographed Pájaros (Birds) (1978), in which birds appear to emerge from an ominous cloud above the cemetery. To Iturbide, birds represent solitude, freedom, and independence. In Pájaros en el poste, Carretera (Birds on the Post, Highway) (1990), she captures a large flock surrounding a telephone pole in the form of a cross; this photograph poetically communicates the fusion of the sacred and secular. In ¿Ojos para volar? (Eyes to Fly With?) (1991), she portrays herself holding one dead bird and one live bird. She places them with their heads in front of her eyes as a metaphor for the abilities to see, to know, to make known, to photograph, and to fly.

*Unless otherwise noted, information is adapted from Graciela Iturbide’s Mexico: Photographs, by Kristen Gresh, with an essay by Guillermo Sheridan.

—Alicia Gregory is the assistant editor at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Art Fix Friday: May 1, 2020

The Art Newspaper reports on how COVID-19 threatens the indigenous Yanomami community that Brazilian photographer Claudia Andujar has devoted her career to protecting.

Claudia Andujar, Journey by pirogue, Catrimani, Roraima, 1974; © Claudia Andujar; Courtesy Instituto Moreira Salles and Fondation Cartier pour l’Art Contemporain

Andujar uses her photography to raise awareness of the Yanomami plight as industry and urban development encroach on their territory and the spread of disease worsens due to contact with industrialized society. The 88-year-old artist’s retrospective, Claudia Andujar: The Yanomami Struggle, at Fondation Cartier pour l’art Contemporain in Paris, is now viewable online.

Front-Page Femmes

Zarina has died at 83; the artist’s prints explored the traumas of forced displacement and the concept of home.

Gillian Wise has died of coronavirus-related causes at 84; the abstract artist was a key member of the British constructivists group.

The New York Times reflects on the life and work of Alice Trumbull Mason ahead of the publication of the first monograph on the artist—nearly a half-century after her death.

The National Gallery of Art celebrates Sally Mann’s May 1 birthday, revisiting their 2018 exhibition and a slideshow, documentary, and symposium about history, photography, and race in the South.

Joy Harjo, the nation’s first Native American poet laureate, has been appointed for a second term; Kojo Nnamdi recently interviewed Harjo.

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Artnet profiles Meriem Bennani, whose popular videos about two artist-reptiles in lockdown underscore her longstanding interest in social borders and virtuality.

The New Yorker interviews Kim Gordon on her visual art and music, politics, ambition, and more.

The Guardian reports on a forthcoming novel by Simone de Beauvoir, which was deemed “too intimate” to release in her lifetime.

The New York Times profiles director Alice Wu and describes her influence on a generation of Asian American actresses and directors.

The Modern Art Notes podcast features a conversation between museum directors Sabine Eckmann (Kemper Art Museum, Saint Louis) and Rebecca Rabinow (Menil Collection, Houston).

The Guardian profiles pioneering designer Eileen Gray on the occasion of a new exhibition at the Bard Graduate Center Gallery, which is now viewable online.

A watercolor by Hilma af Klint not publicly seen since 1988 is now for sale.

Shows We Want to See—Online Edition

Jordan Casteel’s exhibition Within Reach, which was on view at the New Museum, is now viewable online via a virtual tour narrated by the artist. The New York Times reviewed the show, writing, “the [COVID-19] situation is somewhat paradoxical, given that the show’s most prominent theme is closeness…Yet that also makes it a good time to look at Ms. Casteel’s work however we can…and think about the vision of community it offers.” BOMB magazine recently interviewed the artist.

Jordan Casteel: Within Reach, 2020; Exhibition view: New Museum, New York; Photo by Dario Lasagni

The new online exhibition Women in Comics: Looking Forward and Back celebrates the work of 50 women cartoonists and illustrators from the late 19th century to the present day. Organized by the Society of Illustrators, the exhibition features plus-size superheroes, queer graphic novels, wartime romances, and flapper-era cartoons, all of which break out of the conventional superhero format. The Guardian profiles the show and its artists.

—Alicia Gregory is the assistant editor at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.