5 Fast Facts: Robin Kahn

Impress your friends with five fast facts about artist Robin Kahn (b. 1961, New York City), whose work Victoria’s Secret (1995) is on display in the third-floor galleries.

1. Art at the Start

Raised in New York City, Kahn was exposed to art from a young age. Her father often took her to museums and galleries. Her grandmother was also an artist. Kahn said, “We were kindred spirits, and in that way I had a bit of a role model.”

Robin Kahn, Victoria’s Secret, 1995; Mixed media on canvas, 68 1/8 x 38 1/8 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Maxine Kahn; © Robin Kahn

2. Many Mediums, One Focus

Kahn expresses herself as a painter, sculptor, curator, author, activist, and blogger. She says, “All of my work deals with women’s issues, empowering women, making their work visible, working with women across boundaries, and barriers, and race, and culture.”

3. Curating for a Cause

Kahn uses her platform to advocate for causes she is passionate about. In 2016 she co-curated an exhibition with her husband titled The Value of Food: Sustaining a Green Planet. The show featured artwork that tackled issues of food sustainability, safety, and accessibility.

4. Copy Rights

Kahn does not believe in copyrighting art. “To claim an artwork as original is a disingenuous idea. Art is about sharing,” she says. “So my books, for example, have no copyright. If you want to take it and copy it, that’s fine with me because it won’t be the same thing. It will become something else.”

5. Refuge in Art

Kahn’s installation at dOCUMENTA (13) re-created the lifestyle of women living in Sahrawi refugee camps. Kahn, and eight women who were born in the camps, created a “home-in-exile” installation “as a symbol of peaceful refuge and see how it can interact with the environment.”

Visit the museum see Kahn’s Victoria’s Secret (1995) in person.

Madeline Barnes was the spring 2017 digital engagement intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

5 Fast Facts: Julie Roberts

Impress your friends with five fast facts about artist Julie Roberts (b. 1963, Flint, Wales), whose work is in NMWA’s collection.

1. Change It Up

Roberts initially wished to pursue a career in design. She applied to Glasgow School of Art’s MFA course in the Drawing and Painting Department after a one-year postgraduate course in Art and Design at Central Saint Martin’s School of Art and Design.

2. Absent Presence

In the 1990s, Roberts alluded to a human presence in her work without rendering the body specifically. Roberts’s precise portrayal of the garment in Floating Nightgown (1996), together with her handling of line and shadow, evokes the movement and shape of the human form. It was not until later in her career that she began portraying the human body.

3. Drawing Inspiration

Roberts created her earliest sketches of medical objects during visits to the Glasgow Royal infirmary while she was pursuing her MFA. Though Roberts spent time sketching medical objects, she created her final images by working from photographs.

4About the Kids

In more recent paintings, Roberts turned her attention to mid-20th-century children. Dormitory (2011) is part of a series that reflects upon the experience of displaced children in Europe. While Roberts conducted extensive research about the post-war period, she also acknowledged that the subject is somewhat autobiographical because she and her siblings spent part of their childhood in foster care and children’s homes.

5. Up The Wall

Roberts created a wallpaper featuring sculptor Barbara Hepworth (1903–1975) at work for the group exhibition Painting not Painting at Tate St. Ives in 2003.

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

5 Fast Facts: Tanja Rector

Impress your friends with five fast facts about artist Tanja Rector (b. 1966), whose work is on view in NMWA’s collection galleries.

1. Road Trip

Tanja Rector, born in Amsterdam, currently lives and works in Los Angeles. Fascinated by the topography of her adopted home, the artist created a series of abstracted landscape paintings that reflect the hills, valleys, highways, and waterways of the western United States.

Tanja Rector, Girl with a Pearl Earring (Vermeer Series), 1998; Oil and wax on panel, 15 x 13 1/4 x 2 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of The Heather and Tony Podesta Collection; © Tanja Rector

2. Thinly Veiled Shout Outs

Eleven mixed-media works in NMWA’s collection by Rector feature reproductions of paintings by 15th and 16th century European artists Giovanni Bellini, Dieric Bouts, Robert Campin, Petrus Christus, and Johannes Vermeer. Rector obscured the works of these male artists through her artistic process of coating them with cloudy layers of wax.

3. Paper Cut

In 2007, Rector created Chair-Table-Wall Composition, a large cascading sculpture made from white paper, cut into organic shapes, and joined by thread and paperclips. When finished, the work measured 168 by 60 by 120 inches. Rector made this work in search for silence through “women’s work” and “slow work.”

Tanja Rector, Preserve, 1988; Mixed media, 10 3/4 x 6 1/2 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of the Tony Podesta Collection; © Tanja Rector

4. Perfectly Preserved

In Preserve (1988), Rector encases translucent photographs of a demure woman—wearing a 1950s-style housedress, clasping her hands, gazing downward toward bare feet—inside sealed glass jars. Through associations like canning to slow food spoilage and capturing creatures for personal enjoyment, Preserve challenges humans’ desire to control time and nature.

5. Cameo Appearances

Rector founded Spot Orange Design, which creates art for the film and television industry. Her work decorates the sets of movies including White Oleander and The Hangover and the television shows CSI and House.

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

5 Fast Facts: Faith Ringgold

Impress your friends with five fast facts about Faith Ringgold (b. 1930), whose work is on view in NMWA’s collection galleries.

Faith Ringgold discusses her work on view at NMWA in the 2013 exhibition American People, Black Light: Faith Ringgold’s Paintings of the 1960s; Photo: Laura Hoffman, NMWA

1. Get Real

Faith Ringgold considers her “American People” series, begun in the summer of 1963, the start of her mature artistic work. Using a style she called “Super Realism,” Ringgold explored what was happening to black people in the United States and commented upon the Civil Rights movement from a woman’s point of view.

2. Let Me Demonstrate

In 1968, when the Whitney Museum of American Art neglected to include any African American artists in its exhibition of 1930s sculpture, Ringgold helped organize demonstrations. She later co-founded the Ad Hoc Women’s Art Committee, agitating for equal inclusion of women artists in the Whitney Biennial. In 1971 she co-founded the Where We At Black Women Artists collective, a socially conscious group seeking more exhibition opportunities for black women.

3. Tell Me a Story

Ringgold’s famed story quilts were inspired by her fashion-designer mother and Tibetan thangkas (paintings on cloth framed with brocade). She draws on traditions of quilt-making to tell stories about herself and the African American experience more broadly. Her quilts pay tribute to a range of historical time periods and noted cultural figures such as Jacob Lawrence, Josephine Baker, and Zora Neale Hurston.

Faith Ringgold, American Collection #4: Jo Baker’s Bananas, 1997; Acrylic on canvas with pieced fabric border, 80 1/2 x 76 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Purchased with funds donated by the Estate of Barbara Bingham Moore, Olga V. Hargis Family Trusts, and the Members’ Acquisition Fund; Photo by Lee Stalsworth

4. The Write Stuff

Ringgold is also an award-winning author. She has written and illustrated numerous children’s books, including Tar Beach (1991) and Harlem Renaissance Party (2015), as well as an autobiography titled We Flew over the Bridge (1995).

5. There’s an App for That

A huge fan of the Japanese number puzzle Sudoku, Ringgold created a visual art variation of the game in the form of an app called Quiltuduko. It uses blocks of color and pattern, inspired partly by her own art. Solve the puzzle and you’ve created not an uninspiring grid of numbers but a work of art! It rolled out on iTunes in 2014, when Ringgold was 84 years old.

Visit NMWA and see Ringgold’s work American Collection #4: Jo Baker’s Bananas (1997) on view in the museum’s third floor galleries.

—Deborah Gaston is the director of education and digital engagement at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

5 Fast Facts: Janet Forrester Ngala

Impress your friends with five fast facts about artist Janet Forrester Ngala (b. 1936), whose work is on view in NMWA’s collection galleries.

Janet Forrester Ngala, Milky Way Dreaming, 1998; Acrylic on canvas, 50 x 34 1/2 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Ann Shumelda Okerson and James J. O’Donnell; Photo by Lee Stalsworth

1. Australia Dreamin’

Janet Forrester Ngala, like many other Australian Aboriginal artists, depicts Dreamings, or creation stories. As these tales are inherited and considered sacred, artists protect specifics by working in an abstract style.

2. Humble Beginnings

Australian Indigenous art dates back more than 30,000 years. Early forms of expression included rock, bark, and body painting and ephemeral ground drawing. In the 1970s, Aboriginal men started using modern art materials to record ancient stories in tangible, saleable forms. Many women, including Ngala, began painting in the 1980s.

3. In the Stars

Ngala frequently represents the Milky Way in her paintings. Australian Aboriginal people believe that the galaxy is home to ancestral spirits and that each star within it represents a deceased person or animal.

Detail image of the center of Janet Forrester Ngala’s Milky Way Dreaming (1998) in NMWA’s galleries

4. Perspective Shifts

Ngala’s Milky Way Dreaming (1998) invites viewers to imagine gazing up at the stars. In Yam Story ’96 (1996), Emily Kame Kngwarreye (ca. 1910–1996) leads viewers deep underground, where we see intertwined, infinite, root bundles. Pansy Napangati (b. ca. 1948) provides audiences with aerial views of the land.

5. Methods to Motifs

In addition to the Milky Way, Ngala’s repeating symbols include serpents, honey ants, bush bananas, goannas (carnivorous lizards that are close relatives of Komodo Dragons), and witchetty-mades (large white larvae of moths historically consumed by Indigenous Australians due to their high protein content).

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

5 Fast Facts: Jiha Moon

Impress your friends with five fast facts about artist Jiha Moon (b. 1973), whose work is on view in NMWA’s collection galleries.

1. Family Dynamics

Growing up as the middle child in her family, Moon had to fight for attention and concentrated on developing her painting and drawing skills to attract notice. Moon’s parents supported her growing talent and continuing artistic education.

2. Citizen of the World

Born in Daegu, South Korea, Moon earned her BFA and her first MFA in Seoul. Although she currently lives and works in Atlanta, Moon has worked and studied all over the U.S., including Washington, D.C., where she began her professional career.

Jiha Moon, Cascade Crinoline, 2008; Ink and acrylic on hanji paper, 41 x 59 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of the Georgia State Committee of NMWA; © Jiha Moon

3. Paper Preparedness

Moon often works on hanji—handmade Korean mulberry paper. She buys a year’s supply when she visits Korea. Her use of hanji is significant as one way in which she combines artistic traditions from different cultures. Cascade Crinoline (2008), an ink and acrylic work on hanji paper, references classical Asian painting and reflects her interest in animation and cartoons.

4. Mixing Medium

Before she explored abstraction at the University of Iowa, Moon’s early works focused on figures. Moon worked primarily with paint until she started incorporating more collage elements after a residency at the Fabric Workshop and Museum from 2009 to 2010, and began working with ceramics in late 2012.

Jiha Moon, Leia, 2013; Ceramic and glaze, 13 x 8 x 8 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of the Georgia Committee of the National Museum of Women in the Arts; © Jiha Moon; Photo courtesy of the artist

5. Title Matters

When Moon titles her artwork, she considers information that would help an individual examining the image. Her titles allow viewers to “get into [her] world.” Moon’s ceramic work in NMWA’s collection, titled Leia (2013), references the character of Princess Leia in Star Wars—and her iconic two-bun hairstyle.

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

5 Fast Facts: Anne Truitt

Impress your friends with five fast facts about artist Anne Truitt (1921–2004), whose work is on view in NMWA’s collection galleries.

Anne Truitt, Summer Dryad, 1971; Acrylic on wood; 76 x 13 x 8 inches; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of the Holladay Foundation; © Anne Truitt

Anne Truitt, Summer Dryad, 1971; Acrylic on wood; 76 x 13 x 8 inches; NMWA, Gift of the Holladay Foundation; © Anne Truitt

Anne Truitt (1921–2004)

1. Unlikely Union

Truitt straddled the line between post-World War II wild child Abstract Expressionism, known for the emotional use and gestural application of color, and its austere successor Minimalism, notable for geometric, manufactured forms. She simultaneously evokes Joan Mitchell’s expressive use of color and John McCracken’s perfect planks.

2. Minimal Representation

Truitt was one of only three women included in the groundbreaking Minimalism exhibition Primary Structures: Younger American and British Sculptors at the Jewish Museum in 1966. Judy Chicago (then known as Judy Gerowitz) and Tina Spiro (Matkovic) also presented works in the exhibition, making the gender representation ratio one woman for every 13 men.

3. Tricky Truitt

Truitt unabashedly employed trompe l’oeil techniques to trick viewers’ eyes. Recessed bases give the impression that her works hover ever so slightly off the floor. Truitt’s subtle shifts in color create the illusion of three-dimensionality on the flat sides of her sculptures.

4. Collaborative Creation

Beginning in 1961, Truitt stopped constructing her own sculptures, focusing her time and energy instead on painting their surfaces. This begs viewers to consider the concept of authorship in relation to artworks made in collaboration.

5. Directions

In preparatory drawings for Summer Dryad (1971) Truitt assigned a cardinal direction to each side of the sculpture, suggesting the current display of the work at NMWA is how she wished for it to be installed and seen.

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

5 Fast Facts: Amy Sherald

Impress your friends with five fast facts about painter Amy Sherald (b. 1973), whose work is on view in NMWA’s collection galleries.

NMWA visitors study Amy Sherald’s Amy Sherald’s It Made Sense…Mostly In Her Mind, 2011 (left) and They call me Redbone but I’d rather be Strawberry Shortcake, 2009 (right); Photo: Emily Haight, NMWA

NMWA visitors study Amy Sherald’s It Made Sense…Mostly In Her Mind, 2011 (left) and They call me Redbone but I’d rather be Strawberry Shortcake, 2009 (right); Photo: Emily Haight, NMWA

1. Figure It Out

Sherald’s fascination with portraiture began at a young age when she explored art history through encyclopedias. Enthralled by the illustrations, she came to the conclusion that a great artist has the ability to expertly render the human form.

2. Make It Big

Sherald first visited a museum on a sixth grade field trip, and she still remembers the impact of seeing Bo Bartlett’s 10-by-14-foot Object Permanence (1986). This work sparked her desire to create large-scale figurative paintings.

3. Do What You Love

The daughter of a dentist, Sherald entered Clark-Atlanta University as a pre-med student, but her passion for painting was too strong to ignore. She switched majors in the middle of her junior year and began to focus on her art in earnest.

4. Model Behavior

The model featured in They Call Me Redbone but I’d Rather Be Strawberry Shortcake (2009), in NMWA’s collection, also appears in another of work by Sherald, Well Prepared and Maladjusted (2008). According to the artist, “[The model] was tall and different looking, and she had this really awesome Afro bouff.”

5. Herstory

In 2016, Sherald became the first woman to win the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery’s Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition for her work Miss Everything (Unsuppressed Deliverance) (2013).

Want to meet the artist? Join us on May 9, 2017 for a special Artists in Conversation program featuring Amy Sherald. Reserve your spot online!

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

5 Fast Facts: Sonya Clark

Impress your friends with five fast facts about textile artist Sonya Clark (b. 1967), whose work is on view in NMWA’s collection galleries.

Sonya Clark (b. 1967)

1. Hair’s to You!

Clark’s fascination with hair began at an early age, when neighborhood teenagers plaited her locks. She often uses human hair in her textile works because it’s a material loaded with meaning. Hair can serves as a portrait of an individual, a record of one’s ancestry, and an arena through which society negotiates race.

2. Picturing Pride

The artist alters a variety of familiar objects, like currency and combs, to create powerful portraits of prominent figures from American history. Her representations celebrate Abraham Lincoln for his role as an early civil rights leader, Barack Obama as the first black president, and Madame C.J. Walker as a civil rights activist and self-made millionaire.

3. “Bad” Hair Day

Prevailing social constructs have stigmatized black hair as “bad.” Clark addresses race-based valuations of hair in works like NAP (2011). By reclaiming and embracing a word that has traditionally held negative connotations, she calls into question assumptions that silky, straight, smooth hair is the only “good” hair out there.

4. Salon Style

The exhibition Follicular: The Hair Stories of Sonya Clark, currently on view at the Taubman Museum of Art, includes works by Clark as well as a collaborative project. Richmond-area hairdressers contributed textiles inspired by black hairstyles to Clark’s The Hair Craft Project. “Hairdressers are my heroes,” says Clark.

5. Unraveling Racism

In Unraveling and Unraveled (2015), Clark painstakingly deconstructed, thread by thread, a Confederate flag. For many Americans, this symbol represents bigotry and oppression. With three quarters of the flag left intact Clark leaves the process unfinished, suggesting that the hard work of defeating racism is not done.

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

5 Fast Facts: Loïs Mailou Jones

Impress your friends with five fast facts about Loïs Mailou Jones (1905–1998), whose work is on view in NMWA’s collection galleries.

1. Designing Woman

Loïs Mailou Jones began her career as a textile artist, designing drapery and upholstery fabrics for prestigious firms in Boston and New York. She incorporated traditional motifs, such as flowers and leaves, as well as more unusual Caribbean- and African-inspired imagery, in her designs.

Detail of Jones’s signature in Ode to Kinshasa

Detail of Jones’s signature in Ode to Kinshasa

2. What’s in a Name?

Jones lamented that the design world was mostly anonymous:[O]nly the name of the design printed on the borders of the fabric was known, never the name of the artist who created it. That bothered me because I was doing all this work, but not getting any recognition.” Consequently, she shifted her focus to painting—and signed every work.

3. Educator and Mentor

As a member of the art department at Howard University in Washington, D.C., from 1930 until 1977, Jones influenced several generations of African American artists, including Elizabeth Catlett, David Driskell, and Sylvia Snowden.

4. Out of Africa

Inspired by the Black Arts Movement, Jones documented contemporary African Diaspora art of Haiti, Africa, and the United States. She traveled to 11 African countries between 1970 and 1972, visiting studios and workshops, interviewing artists, and making thousands of slides of their work. These experiences also directly influenced the subjects and style of her future paintings.

5. Best of Friends

On her first trip to Paris in 1937, Jones began her lifelong friendship with French-born artist Céline Tabary (1908–1993). Tabary spent part of World War II living in Washington, D.C. During that time, she delivered Jones’s entry to the Society of Washington Artists exhibition at the Corcoran Gallery of Art because African American artists were forbidden to participate.

­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­—Deborah Gaston is the director of education and digital engagement at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.