Summer’s heat and rain have descended upon the District. Luckily, NMWA’s summer exhibition, Total Art: Contemporary Video, can help you beat the heat with an immersive journey into the world of video art. The exhibition features the work of ten women artists who specialize in the genre of video (a term used to describe artworks that use a range of moving-image technologies). While Total Art opens in early June, you can get a sneak peak today of the exhibition’s artists and artworks. Simply visit NMWA’s Total Art online video page or connect with NMWA on YouTube to view related clips and interviews.
Unlike other gender-biased artistic traditions, women artists were leaders in the video medium from its origins in the 1960s and 1970s. Total Art features a diverse range of artists—Dara Birnbaum, Mwangi Hutter, Pipilotti Rist, Michal Rovner, Janaina Tschäpe, and others—and the videos include recently acquired works from NMWA’s collection as well as loans from private and public collections. This latest exhibition from NMWA considers women artists’ pioneering role in the medium but also emphasizes the new, inventive processes that sustain their position at the forefront of art’s merger with moving imagery.
The exhibition’s name stems from the nineteenth-century German concept of gesamtkunstwerk or “total artwork.” Developed by composer Richard Wagner, gesamtkunstwerk called for the merging of multiple art forms to create one “total art.” Similarly, the work featured in this exhibition integrates advanced technology, cinematic tools, and other art forms and processes to create cohesive works of art that speak to a modern interpretation of Wagner’s vision.
In addition to the exhibition’s online video page, NMWA will also present other technology- and digital-based programing. NMWA Nights: Total Art, an after-hours event held in tandem with the exhibition’s opening on June 6, will feature social media-based video tours in the galleries led by the museum’s digital media team. Visitors will be invited to participate in tutorials to create their own video works in NMWA’s galleries and share them online.
For Total Art—NMWA’s first fully video-based survey exhibition—the museum’s second-floor galleries will be transformed into new, intimate viewing spaces that accentuate the meditative, surreal, and dream-like imagery often featured in the exhibition’s works. Whether you access videos online or visit the museum in person to view Total Art, the power of moving images offers a dramatic departure from traditional museum experiences, as well as a welcome break from the premature dog days of summer.
—J. Rachel Gustafson is a curatorial fellow at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.