5 Fast Facts: Laure Tixier

Impress your friends with five fast facts about artist Laure Tixier (b. 1972). Tixier’s Plaid Houses (Maquettes) (2005–11), currently on view in NMWA’s collection galleries, explore a range of architectural styles in a rainbow of colors, referencing the variety, beauty, and complexities of the built environment.

1. Earliest Green Architecture

White Hut and Brown Usha Hut recall modest, vernacular architecture from around the world. Historically, huts were constructed of natural materials like animal skin, wool, grass, earth, and wood. Yurts or gers, a type of portable hut, have been common dwellings for nomadic Central Asians for centuries.

A row of multi-colored felt houses of different styles.

Laure Tixier, Plaid Houses (Maquettes): Blue Japan House, Blue Art Deco House, Red Deconstructivist House, White Hut, Acid Green Dome House, Brown Usha Hut, Pink Tower, Turquoise Blue Colonial House (Barbados), Orange Breton House, 2005–11; Wool, felt, and thread, dimensions variable; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Les Amis du NMWA, Paris, France; © Laure Tixier

2. Sunny Side

Orange Breton House is a nod to chaumières (thatched cottages) in Brittany, France’s northwest coastal region. Characteristics of these traditional dwellings include walls of local stone like granite, schist, or sandstone; steep gabled roofs covered with dry vegetation; and siting facing south to make the most of daily sunlight.

3. Streamlined Structure

Blue Art Deco House celebrates the first truly international architectural movement. Born in Europe in the early 20th century and introduced worldwide at the 1925 Paris International Exhibition, Art Deco is a simple, symmetrical style that boasts clean lines and the innovative use of manufactured materials like plastic and concrete.

4. Disjointed Diva

Tixier’s red asymmetrical house reflects Deconstructivism, a postmodern architectural style that emerged in the 1980s. It often incorporates organic shapes, acute and obtuse angles, and irregular surface areas to impart a sense of chaos. Practitioners include Zaha Hadid (1950–2016), the first woman to win the Pritzker Architecture Prize (2004).

 A young girl with her blond hair in a ponytail, wearing a purple shirt, and holding a NMA visitor's guide, looks excitedly at Laure Tixier's Plaid Houses (Maquettes). Her mother stands behind her also enjoying the work.

A young NMWA visitor experiences Laure Tixier’s Plaid Houses (Maquettes) (2005–11) during the 2019 Women’s March on Washington Free Community Day; Photo by Kevin Allen

5. Imperialist Edifice

Turquois Blue Colonial House (Barbados) reminds viewers of colonialism’s long-term impact on culture, community members’ self-determination, and commodities. A British colony from 1625 to 1966, Barbados reflects prevailing architectural styles from England. This form resembles the Jacobean St. Nicholas Abbey, built as a sugarcane plantation house in 1658.

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

Art Fix Friday: February 15, 2019

A portrait of curator Helen Molesworth, who wears a silk bomber jacket and holds her black and white pug in her arms, both staring straight at the camera.

Helen Molesworth and Phoebe, her terrier, 2019; Photo by Catherine Opie

Curator Helen Molesworth speaks about her firing from MOCA LA last year and her current work: a series of podcasts about postwar women artists for the Getty Research Institute, as well as a memoir.

In the piece, author Sarah Thornton describes Molesworth’s history of “curating ambitious shows that disrupted the grand narratives of art history.” Since the early 2000s, Molesworth has tackled forgotten women artists, race, and AIDS.

Front-Page Femmes

Vulture speaks with filmmaker Nikyatu Jusu about “why the future of horror is black and female.”

Time interviews artists—poets Elizabeth Alexander and Kinsale Hueston, visual artist Jenny Holzer, designer Aurora James, and others—about what keeps their creative spirits alive.

Virgin compiled a list of the must-watch emerging black women artists in the UK.

For more than 25 years, architect Zena Howard has addressed “decades of community marginalization, posing design as a collaborative tool for change.”

British-Iranian artist Sarah Maple’s first U.S. solo show, Thoughts and Prayers, presented her “unapologetically feminist work” on religion, politics, immigration, and gender.

Three works by Sarah Maples, one is a white woman standing in front of a pink background holding a sign that says "The opposite of feminist is arsehole." The middle image is a portrait of a woman in a white hijab smoking a cigarette, and the third is a portrait of a woman wearing a black burqa with only her eyes exposed and the words "Read My Lips" in white font over the burqa.

Sarah Maple, The Opposite to a Feminist, Fighting Fire with Fire, and Read My Lips; Photo courtesy of the Untitled Space, New York

Playwright Krista Knight asked for equal pay from the New York Film Academy—then she was fired. The incident highlights “a culture in which artists are made to feel grateful for any opportunities that come their way.”

Washington, D.C., neighborhood blog Bygone Brookland profiles former resident Loïs Mailou Jones and the historic building at 1220 Quincy Street that served as her studio and home.

HowlRound reviews La Ruta, a powerful new play at Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theater that grapples with the ongoing femicide in Mexico’s Ciudad Juarez.

The University of Cambridge Library will exhibit a collection of women’s suffrage posters that have not been on view in 100 years. The one-of-a-kind works showcase “the role of graphic design in early activist art.”

Hyperallergic reviews cartoonist Julie Delporte’s This Woman’s Work, a forthcoming autobiographical comic that explores womanhood and the assumptions we make about gender.

Shows We Want to See

Zilia Sánchez, Lunar con Tatuaje (Moon with Tattoo); Photograph: collection of the artist, courtesy Galerie Lelong & Co, New York

Opening February 16 at the Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C., Zilia Sánchez’s Soy Isla (I Am an Island) is the 92-year-old Cuban artist’s first museum retrospective. The exhibition spans 70 years and features more than 60 works including paintings, works on paper, sculpture, design sketches, and ephemera. A trailblazer of erotic art in the 1960s and ’70s, Sánchez created works depicting lunar shapes, erotic topologies, and tattoo drawings, as well as female warriors and heroines from ancient mythology. “The perseverance and inner strength of a woman is the core message of this work,” says curator Vesela Sretenović.

diane arbus: in the beginning is on view at London’s Hayward Gallery. The exhibition is an “in-depth look at the formative first half of Arbus’s career, during which the photographer developed [her] direct, psychologically acute style.” It features 100 of her photographs of eccentrics, children, couples, circus performers, strippers, and more; the images are “among the most intimate, surprising, and haunting works of art of the 20th century.” On view through May 6.

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

Modern Makers: Homie House Press

Interview with Adriana Monsalve, co-founder of Homie House Press and co-creator of Sammys, a chapbook exploring culture and identity through food, which is now available in NMWA’s Museum Shop.

Join us for the Sammys Book Launch/Palentines Party on February 14, from 5 to 8 p.m. in the Museum Shop. Celebrate your pals, enjoy live music and poetry performances, try sandwiches featured in the book, and support Homie House Press. Free and open to the public.

 Two hands frame the cover of a book that is titled "Sammys" and the cover is sandwich paper wrapping.

Sammys, edited by Adriana Monsalve and Caterina Ragg; Photo courtesy of Homie House Press

How did Homie House Press begin?

Homie House Press (HHP) is a collaborative project that my partner, Caterina Ragg, and I developed in response to our experiences in the field of photojournalism. Our in-depth, long-term storytelling is both personal and political and was not well received by traditional institutions. Additionally, we faced the problems that arise from a lack of ethnic, racial, and gender diversity in those spaces. Thus, HHP was born as an alternative photojournalism platform that focuses on the experiences of marginalized communities—told on our own terms, though our own lens.

Tell us about the Sammys publication.

Sammys is a project that exists at the intersection of food and identity. We have been investigating and documenting the sandwich consumption of many people from diverse backgrounds, careers, and identities. The purpose of this project is to show a parallel representation of who we are by what we eat.

Food is—and has always been—a vehicle to unite people, to overcome differences, and to share cultures and customs. We hope to intersect identities that may have nothing in common if not for a favorite sandwich.

Two hands frame the Sammys book opened to a photo spread of a deconstructed sandwich including wheat bread, tomato slices, lettuce, and tuna fish.

Sammys, edited by Adriana Monsalve and Caterina Ragg; Photo courtesy of Homie House Press

How does your community influence your work?

Because we are a collective that works within social engagement and community artivism, we have been able to work with many individuals on a broad range of themes and experiences. We also host events and organize workshops and exhibitions related to our publications. We are passionate about design because we want to enhance the reader’s experience by cultivating empathy with the personal, political, and poetic narratives found in our books.

What are your goals for HHP?

To grow our community. To have our own school of thought under Homie House Press that continues to revise what storytelling is and can ultimately be. To continue to foster mentorships and be a courageous safe space for photographers of the future.

5 Fast Facts: Camille Claudel

Impress your friends with five fast facts about artist Camille Claudel (1864–1943), whose work is part of NMWA’s collection.

1. Barring the Opportunity

The talented French sculptor received training at Paris’s progressive Académie Colarossi, in part because the preeminent Ecole des Beaux-Arts barred women from attending until 1897. Other NMWA artists, including Lilla Cabot Perry (1848–1933) and Ellen Day Hale (1855–1940), also attended Académie Colarossi.

2. A Museum of One’s Own

Claudel’s artwork is often regarded in the shadow of the sculpture of Auguste Rodin—the well-known artist with whom she had both a professional and romantic relationship. In 2017, nearly 75 years after her death, the Musée Camille Claudel opened in France, recognizing her important artistic contributions. This treasure trove features approximately half of Claudel’s extant works.

Camille Claudel's bronze sculpture depicting a naked young girl sitting on a rock with her right hand resting on her chest as she looks down toward the left.

Camille Claudel, Young Girl with a Sheaf, ca. 1890; Bronze, 14 1/8 x 7 x 7 1/2 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Wallace and Wilhelmina Holladay; Photo by Lee Stalsworth

3. Hand it to Her 

Claudel modeled the hands and feet of the figures in Rodin’s Burghers of Calais (1884–9). One of the twelve casts of this sculpture can be seen at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. Check out the expressive extremities of the six men who sacrificed themselves to save their town.

4. It’s Complicated

Claudel isn’t the only artist to have a tumultuous affair with a male peer. Curious about complicated art-world relationships? Read about the blue ride of Gabriele Münter (1877–1962) with Wassily Kandinsky, the on-again off-again matrimonio of Frida Kahlo (1907–1954) and Diego Rivera, and the messy marriage of Lee Krasner (1908–1984) and Jackson Pollock.

5. The Price is Right

During a 2017 auction, 20 works by Claudel—including sculptures made of bronze, terra-cotta, plaster, and clay—sold for a record-shattering $4.1 million, more than three times the high estimate.

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

Art Fix Friday: February 8, 2019

The Washington Post profiles Ambreen Butt and Shahzia Sikander, two Pakistani American women artists “reinvent[ing] traditional art with unconventional subjects.”

Ambreen Butt's etching depicts a dragon hovering above a woman wearing a hijab with her head arched back, chest up to the sky. The pale yellow background is patterned with the sketches of hand guns.

Ambreen Butt, Untitled (Woman/Dragon) (from the series “Daughters of the East”) (detail), 2008; Etching, aquatint, spit bite aquatint, drypoint, and hand coloring on paper, 25 x 19 in.; Courtesy of the artist; Photo by Stephen Petegorsky

NMWA hosts Butt’s first solo exhibition in D.C, Ambreen Butt—Mark My Words, in which she uses her training in classical Indo-Persian miniature painting to explore contemporary political narratives. Similarly, Sikander’s work is highlighted at the National Portrait Gallery, where she is the first artist from Pakistan to have her work acquired and displayed by the museum. “As these remarkable artists prove, making one’s mark sometimes means rewriting the rules.”

Front-Page Femmes

Metropolitan Museum of Art curator Carmen Bambach wins the inaugural Vilcek Prize to Support Immigrant Achievement.

Vogue spotlights three female directors who did not receive Oscar nominations this year, but whose work is “on the frontier of changing the face of Hollywood.”

Ivanka Vacuuming, a new performance piece from Jennifer Rubell, opened at Washington D.C.’s Flashpoint Gallery this week to much debate.

A portrait of United States Artists CEO Deana Haggag wearing a hot pink suit and jeweled, chunky soled Gucci sneakers.

Deana Haggag, CEO of United States Artists, in a Rachel Comey suit and Gucci sneakers; Photo by Gabriela Herman

The Cut profiles Deana Haggag, CEO of United States Artists, tireless arts advocate, cancer survivor, and owner of some very fly shoes.

Mexican American writer Sandra Cisneros has won the 2019 PEN/Nabokov Award for Achievement in International Literature. Cisneros’s celebrated body of work is credited with “inspiring a new era of Latinx writers we see emerging today.”

Artsy takes a look at the pioneering work of the women who designed car interiors at General Motors in the 1950s.

The Museum of Modern Art has announced plans to close in the Summer/Fall of 2019 for renovations, a collection rehang, and a renewed focus on women artists, Latin American, and African American art—their exhibition on reopening will feature Betye Saar.

Five female artists talk about the way Los Angeles has influenced their art.

After Sotheby’s Masters Week, artnet asks: Are female old masters an untapped market, or a marketing ploy?

Vice interviews eight black women artists and entrepreneurs about their representation in pop culture and how they are changing the narrative.

Marina Abramović’s new piece, The Life, will be the first large-scale performance presented in the Mixed Reality form, a new technology that merges real and virtual worlds.

Shows We Want to See

A charcoal and colored pencil self portrait sketch by Frida Kahlo titled Appearances Can Be Deceiving. The artist is depicted with her signature braids piled atop her head, the dress she wears is transparant so the viewer can see under she wears her corrective corset. Her sprin is depicted as a steel rod and there are blue butterfly tattoos on her right leg.

Frida Kahlo, Appearances Can Be Deceiving, n.d.; Charcoal and colored pencil on paper; Collection of Museo Frida Kahlo; © Banco de Mexico Diego Rivera Frida Kahlo Museums Trust, Mexico, D.F. / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Frida Kahlo: Appearances Can Be Deceiving opens today at the Brooklyn Museum—the largest U.S. exhibition of the artist’s work in a decade. The show is the first to include many personal items from Casa Azul, her home-turned-museum in Mexico City, that were rediscovered in 2004. “The objects shed new light on how Kahlo crafted her appearance and shaped her personal and public identity to reflect her cultural heritage and political beliefs, while also addressing and incorporating her physical disabilities.”

Tracy Emin’s new exhibition, A Fortnight of Tears, opened at London’s White Cube gallery this week. An expansive show that includes sculpture, neon, painting, film, photography, and drawing, her works “cover the whole spectrum from loss and pathos to anger, and love.” Emin talked candidly to the Art Newspaper Weekly podcast about the difficult events that inspired the material. “I’ve never been so honest,” she said.

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

Connecting the Threads: Amy Lamb and Rodarte

NMWA’s exhibition Rodarte celebrates the innovative American fashion house, founded by sisters Kate and Laura Mulleavy. The show—open until February 10, 2019—is a survey of the designers’ visionary concepts, impeccable craftsmanship, and impact on the fashion industry. The dresses on view share visual appeal and many common threads with works in NMWA’s collection. From technique to theme, dive into five innovative works by artists at NMWA in this series, “Connecting the Threads.”

In Wonder of the Natural World

Molecular biologist-turned-photographer Amy Lamb (b. 1944) has always loved plants. She spent her childhood collecting and preserving flora, and built a successful career studying biological structures and their processes. Lamb now uses the camera to create striking large-scale portraits of fruits and flowers. She attributes her shift to photography to a desire to “communicate the beauty I was seeing [as a biologist] and the sense of wonder it was evoking.” Lamb’s imagery doesn’t just begin with the camera—she grows most of her subject matter in her own extensive garden and greenhouse.

A colorful portrait of a lush arrangement of flowers including poppies, peonies, roses, carnations, and more. Some flowers have small water drpolets on them and a butterfly and bee are perched on others. The image is a still life photograph, though it looks like a painting.

Amy Lamb, Vase of Flowers I, 1999 (printed 2011); pigment print, 35 x 35 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of the artist and Steven Scott Gallery, Baltimore, in honor of the 25th Anniversary of the National Museum of Women in the Arts; © 1999 Amy Lamb, all rights reserved

In Vase of Flowers I (1999, printed 2011), currently on view at NMWA, Lamb’s lavish bouquet deliberately echoes flower paintings by artists such as Rachel Ruysch (1664–1750). Like Ruysch, Lamb portrays real flowers and insects, but the resulting composition is not “natural.” Lamb carefully balanced the flowers to achieve the illusion of an overflowing vase, although the pictured vase did not actually have the capacity to contain them all. She also used cold temperatures to ensure that the insects remained still long enough to be photographed. The lush, painterly result demonstrates Lamb’s extensive process along with her emphasis on color, texture, and imagination.

***

For Rodarte, the garden is a reoccurring theme throughout their collections, from 2006 dresses with self-fabric floral appliqués to the recent Spring/Summer 2018 collection. In the Mulleavys’ work a garden is a symbol of a specific memory, touch, or scent. Laura says, “Nature inspires our choice of colors and the way that we build garments—with a layering of fabrics that reference growth patterns of flowers, and our use of textural materials reminiscent of the details found in nature.”

For the Spring/Summer 2017 collection, inspired by the poetic Spanish film El espíritu de la colmena (The Spirit of the Beehive) (1973), models were sent down the runway in yellow, white, and black-hued layers of ruffled lace and dotted tulle reminiscent of a honeycomb. Yet, a subject as seemingly serene as a flower garden has deeper implications; that same spring, the North American rusty patched bumblebee was added to the endangered species list for the first time.

Connecting the Threads: Amy Lamb and Rodarte

Rodarte exhibition installation view at the National Museum of Women in the Arts, D.C.; Photo: Floto+Warner

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Rodarte exhibition installation view at the National Museum of Women in the Arts, D.C.; Photo: Lee Stalsworth

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Rodarte exhibition installation view at the National Museum of Women in the Arts, D.C.; Photo: Floto+Warner

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Rodarte exhibition installation view at the National Museum of Women in the Arts, D.C.; Photo: Floto+Warner

In the garden, the Mulleavys present a fully romanticized femininity, manipulating tiny seed pearls, caviar beads, floral appliqués, and lace nets into creations as delicate as flower petals. It is also the ideal setting for Rodarte to explore a wide color palette, from scarlet reds and brilliant yellows to soft pinks and airy whites. In the garden—with texture, meticulous planning, and imagination—Rodarte’s painterly sensibilities flourish.

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

Art Fix Friday: February 1, 2019

At 98 years old, Venezuelan-born artist Luchita Hurtado is finally getting her due with her first major retrospective and a string of solo exhibitions this year and in 2020.

Luchita Hurtado stands in her home studio, surrounded by her paintings, many depicting scenes of nature.

Luchita Hurtado in her Los Angeles home studio; Photo by Laure Joliet for the New York Times

The pioneering artist has been “at the forefront of not just spiritual surrealism, but also the environmental and feminist art movements.” Hans Ulrich Obrist, organizer of Hurtado’s upcoming retrospective in London, notes that “she navigated a century of different contexts and played an important role in all of those.”

Front-Page Femmes:

The 2014 recipient of NMWA’s Mellor Prize for distinguished scholarship on women artists, Carole Blumenfeld, has published her book on the 18th- and 19th-century French painter Marguerite Gérard.

Artist Naima Green seeks to update Catherine Opie’s “Dyke Deck,” a set of playing cards that “represented a 1990s West Coast corner of the lesbian scene.” Green wants to include a wider spectrum of queerness.

Patricia McBride Lousada, a founding member of the New York City Ballet and noted cookbook author, has died at the age of 89.

Élisabeth Louise Vigée-LeBrun’s painting Portrait of Muhammad Dervish Khan has sold for $7.2 million at Sotheby’s “The Female Triumphant” sale.

Victoria Beckham stands in a white jumpsuit with a red belt, in front of Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun's Portrait of Muhammad Dervish Khan. Khan holds a sword, wears white, and looks powefully off into the distance.Beckham mimicks his pose.

Victoria Beckham with Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun’s Portrait of Muhammad Dervish Khan at the exhibition for “The Female Triumphant” at Sotheby’s New York; Photo courtesy of Tom Newton

Artsy explores how nuns have shaped the course of art history.

Starting February 24, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago will offer discounted admission for visitors who believe the gender pay gap has negatively affected their earnings. The move coincides with a Laurie Simmons retrospective.

The Mellon Foundation has released the second iteration of their 2015 survey on museum diversity, finding that more people of color were hired in 2018, and more women stepped into leadership positions.

Heather Harmon has been named deputy director of the forthcoming Las Vegas branch of the Nevada Art Museum.

Influential artist and designer Florence Knoll Bassett has died at age 101.

Hyperallergic reviews Yes, and the body has memory, a group show of women photographers who explore trauma, family, ancestry, and the female body.

At the recent Talking Galleries symposium, economist Clare McAndrew reported her findings that the more established a woman artist becomes, the less likely she is to find gallery representation.

The Guardian reports on the upsurge in exhibitions of work by women artists, but asks: will they stay on the walls once the trend for representation has passed?

Polish art collector Grażyna Kulczyk has created a haven for women artists in a tiny Swiss village, Muzeum Susch.

Shows We Want to See:

At the Art Gallery of Ontario, Mickalene Thomas: Femmes Noires is on view until March 24. The expansive exhibition—Thomas’s first solo showing in Canada—includes her vibrant paintings, silkscreens, photographs, time-based media, and site-specific installations—all exploring how Black women are represented in art and pop culture.

Mickalene Thomas's piece Diahann Carroll #2, a closeup of a black woman's face in grey-scale.

Mickalene Thomas, Diahann Carroll #2, 2018, Silkscreen ink on acrylic on mirrored mounted on wood panel; Courtesy of the artist and Galerie Nathalie Obadia, Paris/Brussels; © Mickalene Thomas / SOCAN (2018)

Annabeth Rosen: Fired, Broken, Gathered, Heaped, the first major museum survey of the critically acclaimed ceramicist, is on view until March 10 at the Cranbrook Art Museum in Michigan. The exhibition includes more than 20 years of her work and demonstrates Rosen’s ability to “push the medium beyond spectacle and into dialogues about feminist thought, labor, and endurance.”

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

Director’s Desk: Women Museum Directors Conquer D.C.

Mark the date: March 11, 2019. It’s the day Kaywin Feldman becomes the fifth director of the National Gallery of Art. No woman has held the post before. In fact, she is only the second woman currently directing of one of our nation’s top encyclopedic art museums. Paving the way was Anne Pasternak, who was appointed director of the Brooklyn Museum in 2015. Now women directors will lead two of our nation’s largest museums.

Kaywin Feldman gestures and speaks in front of a large painting of a nude woman in the galleries of the Minneapolis Institute of Art, while a group of attendees looks on with interest.

Kaywin Feldman discusses a painting at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts; Photo credit: Minneapolis Institute of Art

With this move, Feldman, who is currently the director and president of the Minneapolis Institute of Art (Mia), will oversee one of America’s great collections. I don’t know her well, but I believe that she is a rock star and an inspired and deserving choice. In addition to all Feldman has done for the museums where she has worked, she also has been a leader in the field as past president of the American Association of Museum Directors and past chair of the American Alliance of Museums. With her proven track record—she doubled attendance at Mia during her tenure—I am excited to see how she will transform the National Gallery of Art.

Feldman has spoken openly about the challenges of being a woman in the upper echelons of museums, and we anticipate she will be a strong ally for the National Museum of Women in the Arts. I look forward to congratulating her in person and welcoming her to Washington, D.C.

A graphic detailing statistics of the ongoing gender gap in art museum directorships, published by the Association of Art Museum Directors, which shows that men hold most of the positions in contemporary, encyclopedic, and single artist museums, while women hold the majority of positions in college/university and culturally specific museums.

Graphic: “The Ongoing Gender Gap in Art Museum Directorships” published in 2017 by the Association of Art Museum Directors

On the heels of this announcement comes the news that Anthea M. Hartig has been named as the new director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. Women directors already in place at D.C. cultural institutions include Carla Hayden at the Library of Congress; Deborah Rutter at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts; Melissa Chiu at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden; Ellen Stofan at the National Air and Space Museum; Dorothy Kosinski at The Phillips Collection; Kim Sajet at the National Portrait Gallery; and Stephanie Stebich at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, among others.

With such a strong cadre of women directors, there is at last an opportunity for women to truly help shape the art and culture agenda of our nation’s capital—and the nation itself—for the betterment of all. Here’s a round of applause for all the women museum directors in Washington, D.C. And may 2019 be a year of continued growth for women in art and culture at all levels.

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

Connecting the Threads: Lynda Benglis and Rodarte

NMWA’s exhibition Rodarte celebrates the innovative American fashion house, founded by sisters Kate and Laura Mulleavy. The show—open until February 10, 2019—is a survey of the designers’ visionary concepts, impeccable craftsmanship, and impact on the fashion industry. The dresses on view share visual appeal and many common threads with works in NMWA’s collection. From technique to theme, dive into five innovative works by artists at NMWA in this series, “Connecting the Threads.”

Material Metamorphosis 

Lynda Benglis's sculpture is a shining knot mounted on the wall made out of bronze, zinc, copper, aluminum, wire that has been manipulated to appear light as a bow.

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 (b. 1941) has always been interested in the idea of transformation. She reinvented art forms as a pioneer creating sculptures out of paint, melted wax, and latex, thus blurring the boundaries between painting and sculpture. She took on the rules of the art world with her infamous 1974 Artforum ad, which interrogated the lack of attention paid to work by women artists. And she “bedazzled Minimalism,” imbuing the staid, masculine genre with color and shine. Her work Eridanus (1984), currently on view at NMWA, continues this interest in completely transforming material. In the wall-mounted sculpture, bronze, zinc, copper, aluminum, and wire are manipulated to appear light as knotted fabric, a bow floating on the wall. Thus, in the hands of Benglis, tough industrial material becomes delicate and decorative.

Eridanus is often read in a feminist context, as a piece working to redefine mainstream perceptions of femininity through craft and material. Her choice to rework a typically masculine material into a shining bow of feminine associations can’t be overlooked. But Benglis has stated, “I am a permissive artist. I allow things to happen. I believe the viewer is half the work.” This sentiment allows the piece itself to continually transform—to intrigue and challenge each set of eyes that come upon it.

***

For Rodarte, the Mulleavys transform simple fabrics to evoke emotion and ideas. For example, inspired by a trip to Death Valley, their California Condor Spring/Summer 2010 collection underscored their use of narrative and nontraditional techniques to convey complex ideas. To evoke a futuristic desert landscape for this line, the Mulleavys distressed their materials—dyed cheesecloth, leather, crystals, macramé, and plastic—by painting, burning, shredding, and sandpapering them. These transformed materials encase the figure in a loosely plaited network of pattern and texture.

Photo © Tony Powell. 2018 NMWA Rodarte Opening. November 8_ 2018-27

Selections from Rodarte's Spring/Summer 2010 Collection on view at NMWA; Photo by Tony Powell

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Close up of selections from Rodarte's Spring/Summer 2010 Collection on view at NMWA; Photo by Alicia Gregory

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Close up of selections from Rodarte's Spring/Summer 2010 Collection on view at NMWA; Photo by Alicia Gregory

Connecting the Threads: Lynda Benglis and Rodarte

Close up of selections from Rodarte's Spring/Summer 2010 Collection on view at NMWA; Photo by Alicia Gregory

Connecting the Threads: Lynda Benglis and Rodarte

Rodarte exhibition installation view at NMWA; Photo by Floto+Warner

In 2010, the Mulleavys designed and created the ballet costumes for the Academy Award–winning film Black Swan. Natalie Portman, the film’s star, recommended them to director Darren Aronofsky, recognizing the synergy between the psychological horror film and the elegant yet visceral balletic designs of Rodarte’s Fall/Winter 2008 collection. The Mulleavys conducted extensive research into the history of ballet and sociopolitical developments surrounding ballet and the female body. As Kate explains, “The dark and extremely beautiful transformation in ‘Swan Lake’ mirrors the physical transformation that the ballerina goes through in order to perform.”

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

5 Fast Facts: Louise Bourgeois

Impress your friends with five fast facts about artist Louise Bourgeois (1911–2010), whose work is on view in NMWA’s collection galleries.

1. Legacy

The second daughter of Joséphine and Louis Bourgeois, Louise was named after her father. Though Bourgeois did have a younger brother, she ensured the family’s legacy by giving her three sons her last name rather than that of her husband, Robert Goldwater.

2. It Figures

Bourgeois initially studied mathematics, and it wasn’t until after her mother’s death in 1932 that she decided to pursue art in earnest.

Louise Bourgeois, The Song of the Blacks and the Blues, 1996; Lithograph, woodcut, with hand-coloring on paper, 21 5/16 x 96 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Museum purchase: Members' Acquisition Fund; Art © Louise Bourgeois Trust/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY

Louise Bourgeois, The Song of the Blacks and the Blues, 1996; Lithograph, woodcut, with hand-coloring on paper, 21 5/16 x 96 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Museum purchase: Members’ Acquisition Fund; Art © Louise Bourgeois Trust/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY

3. Itsy Bitsy?

Although spiders provoke fear for some people, Bourgeois recognized their positive qualities and saw their protectiveness reflected in her mother, who was also a weaver. Bourgeois rendered arachnids throughout her long career, including seven sculptures titled Maman (1999) which stand over 30 feet high. These eight-legged giants grace collections around the world.

Louise Bourgeois, Spider III, 1995; Bronze, 19 x 33 x 33 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Wilhelmina Cole Holladay; Art © The Easton Foundation/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY; Photo by Emily Haight

Louise Bourgeois, Spider III, 1995; Bronze, 19 x 33 x 33 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Wilhelmina Cole Holladay; Art © The Easton Foundation/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY; Photo by Emily Haight

4. Déjà Vu

Another theme Bourgeois returned to throughout her career was the relationship of a woman to her home. She combined human and architectural forms in the works titled Femme Maison, which translates to “woman house” or “housewife.” These paintings and sculptures appear in her oeuvre from 1945 to 2004.

5. In the Neighborhood

Bourgeois is a subject—as well as an artist—in NMWA’s collection. In SoHo Women Artists (1978), May Stevens represented members of her community based on photographs, including Bourgeois in one of her wearable sculptures.

—Ashley Harris is the associate educator at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.