NMWA receives Simone de Beauvoir Prize for Women’s Freedom

On January 9, Director Susan Fisher Sterling accepted the Simone de Beauvoir Prize for Women’s Freedom on behalf of the National Museum of Women in the Arts, during a ceremony at Musée d’Art moderne de la Ville de Paris. As the first U.S. organization to be presented this prestigious award, NMWA joins the company of recipients such as Pakistani education activist Malala Yousafzai and Russian novelist and civil rights activist Lyudmila Ulitskaya, honored for their contributions to women’s rights and free speech.

Left, Fabrice Hergott, director of the Musée d’Art moderne de la Ville de Paris listens to remarks by Josyane Savigneau, chair of the jury prize; Right, Susan Fisher Sterling receives  the award from Sylvie Le Bon de Beauvoir; Photographs Université Paris Diderot, E. Descarpentri

Left, Fabrice Hergott, director of the Musée d’Art moderne de la Ville de Paris listens to remarks by Josyane Savigneau, chair of the jury prize; Right, Susan Fisher Sterling receives the award from Sylvie Le Bon de Beauvoir; Photographs Université Paris Diderot, E. Descarpentri

The prize, which has been awarded since 2008, was created to mark the 100th anniversary of the birth of feminist philosopher Simone de Beauvoir (1908–1986). It honors women, men, and associations who, in the spirit of Simone de Beauvoir, fight to defend women’s rights wherever they are comprised. Chaired by Josyane Savigneau (writer and journalist for Le Monde), with founding president Julia Kristeva (professor at Paris Diderot University, writer, and psychoanalyst) and Sylvie Le Bon de Beauvoir (honorary president), the jury is composed of public figures from the world of arts and literature.

Belinda de Gaudemar, Connie Borde, Susan Fisher Sterling, Sheila Malovany-Chevallier, and Tara Whitbeck, Les Amis du NMWA; Photographs Université Paris Diderot, E. Descarpentri

Belinda de Gaudemar, Connie Borde, Susan Fisher Sterling, Sheila Malovany-Chevallier, and Tara Whitbeck, Les Amis du NMWA; Photograph Université Paris Diderot, E. Descarpentri

During her acceptance remarks, Sterling said, “We recognize the significance of this award and deeply appreciate the jury’s selection of NMWA for its dedication to foregrounding women’s free expression and filling the void in the recognition of women artists, past and present.” She discussed the museum’s mission and its worldwide committee-based network of volunteers and supporters, which had brought it to the attention of the jury. NMWA’s committees, Sterling said, “aid in promoting the museum’s message of equity for women through excellence in the arts. It is thanks to Les Amis du NMWA that I am here before you today and it is my pleasure to share the credit for this award with them today.”

The award ceremony in Paris occurred only two days after the attack on the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo and the same day that its perpetrators were killed in a related hostage incident. Sterling expressed her condolences, saying, “To you, who are active in the French press, cultural, and academic communities, we offer deepest sympathy. This tragedy reminds us that cultural expression has real power. It is one of the most visible and creative aspects of free societies, and must be safeguarded.”

The award was presented at Musée d’Art moderne de la Ville de Paris; Photograph Université Paris Diderot, E. Descarpentri

The award was presented at Musée d’Art moderne de la Ville de Paris; Photograph Université Paris Diderot, E. Descarpentri

These somber events underscored the importance of advocacy for equality and creative expression in the tradition of Simone de Beauvoir. Sterling acknowledged the generations of artists, art historians, critics, and curators whose work continues to provide inspiration for the museum and its mission. She noted, “I don’t believe it is an exaggeration to say that it is thanks to the space created for women’s creative projects by Simone de Beauvoir’s writings that our museum exists today.”

“Say It Enough and It Becomes . . .”

Despite everything we learned in school about sticks and stones, language has an immense impact on the world. Words transform perceptions, and once words are spoken they can continue to inform our thinking whether they are true or not. In her 1989 painting Untitled (141,257), Jane Hammond employs this transformative effect to demonstrate the ways in which words can negatively impact women artists before anyone even sees their actual work.

Jane Hammond, Untitled (141,257), 1989; Oil on linen; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Greg Kucera and Larry Yocum

Jane Hammond, Untitled (141,257), 1989; Oil on linen; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Greg Kucera and Larry Yocum; (c) Jane Hammond

Hammond, a self-described conceptual artist, has demonstrated throughout her career a fascination with the ways in which recognizable images shape our understanding of the world. She culls these images, which include superheroes, celebrities, and miscellaneous household objects, from postcards and pulp literature that she finds at garages sales and flea markets.¹ The center of Untitled (141,257) contains an example of that frequently appearing stock imagery, a familiar silhouette of a Victorian woman painting. However, what makes painting distinct in her oeuvre is the bold inclusion of language. Two words are repeated several times across the picture plane in boldface capital letters: “defensive” and “jitters.” These words form a loose frame around the woman, who is something of a cliché with her easel, brushes, and palette.

However, despite what she holds and what she is doing, viewers cannot solely see this woman as an artist. As a result of the proximity and visual intensity of the printed words that surround her, we cannot help but associate the depicted artist with the jitters and defensiveness. Due to their official-looking font and imposing black and red coloring, the words become like labels, informing the viewer what is before them. Whether we like it or not, these labels state that she is a defensive, jittery artist.

Two questions remain: Is she really defensive and jittery? And what kind of artist is she? Those questions will remain unanswered and her true identity will remain hidden, as the silhouette prevents the viewer from seeing what she or her work really looks like. But perhaps if we could see her face, we could note her calm demeanor. Or if we could just see her work, we could see a groundbreaking moment in the history of art. Unfortunately, there is no legitimate evaluative process that can take place here. All we have is the barrier of words.

As the feminist art collective Pussy Galore have shown us with their recent update of the Guerrilla Girls’ iconic 1986 report card, New York’s blue-chip galleries are far more likely to represent male artists than female artists, despite the fact that women make up the majority of practicing artists today. Untitled (141,257) speaks to the impact that reality has on women artists. If only we could see their work and evaluate it without preconceived labels, perhaps then we could see the full picture.

—Lucas Matheson is a development intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

1. Douglas Dreishpoon, “Interview with Jane Hammond,” in Jane Hammond: Paper Works, exh. cat., ed. Marianne Doezema (University Park: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 2007), 30.

Women in the Arts: [Citation Needed]

The gender gap in the arts is narrowing, yet women continue to only make up around 25% of solo gallery shows, and in 30 years of prizes, a woman has only won the Turner Prize six times.

Editors at work at the Wikipedia Edit-a-thon; Photograph by Kat Brewster

Editors at work at the Wikipedia Edit-a-thon; Photograph by Kat Brewster

Consider Wikipedia: It is often the first resource for any high-school or college research paper, any quibble about who starred in what movie, or, for that matter, any question asked of the internet. With almost 5 million English-language articles and growing (there is even a Wikipedia article that attempts to calculate the size and growing rate of Wikipedia), Wikipedia is a dominant digital source for human knowledge.

Then, consider the fact that Wikipedia reports that only 8.5% of its editors identify as female. With that lack of female voices contributing to the seventh most visited website on the entire internet, there’s going to be a worrying lack of representation. Couple the online gender disparity with the one found in the arts, and we’ve got a problem.

It’s possible that with the historic underrepresentation of women in STEM fields, some women feel that they lack the skills or confidence to contribute online. Recent events and longstanding dynamics—from Gamergate to any YouTube comment thread—may mean that women don’t feel safe creating content. But it doesn’t take a woman to write about a woman, so what explains the lack of female artists on Wikipedia? And if people aren’t writing about women artists, what’s the likelihood they’re learning about women artists? What are the consequences?

On March 8, International Women’s Day, the National Museum of Women in the Arts held a Wikipedia Edit-a-thon to combat the gender disparities on the internet and in Wikipedia arts representation. The aim was to create, edit, and expand Wikipedia entries about female artists, as well as give women the skills to continue to contribute. With my friend Kim, my laptop, a cup of coffee, and a book about women in the arts (thanks, Library and Research Center!) I was more than ready to participate.

Photograph by Laura Hoffman

Photograph by Laura Hoffman

First, Wikipedia’s editing system is a little tricky to learn. I had worked with HTML in the past, but Wikipedia is its own beast. Thankfully, we were given a quick tutorial and a cheat sheet, so once I started with smaller editing commands for an hour or so, I felt confident diving into articles.

Here’s something I hadn’t anticipated: Wikipedia was always my go-to for reading about people (Millennial alert), which meant I couldn’t use it as a reference tool for quick facts. I hadn’t even realized my own dependency on Wikipedia until this moment, and it made it all the more important for me to add some content. So, I opened a book and started editing.

When I resurfaced hours later, I had contributed bits and pieces to articles about Cady Noland, A. L. Steiner, and Sophie Calle. These edits were small—largely adding citations, moving content, or adding to help with flow or cohesiveness—but I was surprisingly gratified to know that I had contributed to someone else’s knowledge of these artists. As a whole, Art+Feminism’s 2015 Wikipedia Edit-a-thon added 334 new articles to Wikipedia about female artists and, more importantly, gave me the confidence to continue contributing to Wikipedia in the future.

—Kat Brewster is a development events intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Looking Forward: Women to Watch 2015—Organic Matters

NMWA is thrilled to host the fourth Women to Watch exhibition, Organic Matters, from June 5 to September 13, 2015. Developed in collaboration with the museum’s national and international outreach committees, the exhibition will feature work by emerging and underrepresented artists from communities across the country and the world. Committees collaborate with curators in their regions to choose a shortlist of artists, and then NMWA curators select one from each region, whose work will be shown at the museum.

Reto Thüring

Reto Thüring

We spoke with the Ohio Committee’s collaborating curator Reto Thüring, Associate Curator of Contemporary Art at the Cleveland Museum of Art, and the United Kingdom’s Lisa Le Feuvre, Head of Sculpture Studies at the Henry Moore Institute, to hear about the exhibition and its flora and fauna theme as well as their curatorial process. Stay tuned for more information about this inventive exhibition in the coming months.

What is the role of women artists in your community?
Reto Thüring:
Cleveland has a small, but very active and diverse, art scene with many women at the forefront of artistic innovation and community engagement.

Lisa Le Feuvre: The UK has so many strong female artists whose work is shown across museums, galleries, and project spaces. Stunning exhibitions in the U.K. of work by women right now include Phyllida Barlow at Tate Britain, Marine Hugonnier at the Baltic, Nasreen Mohamedi at Tate Liverpool, and at the Henry Moore Institute Gego and Lygia Clark.

How did your selection process work for Women to Watch?

Lisa Le Feuvre

Lisa Le Feuvre

LLF: We discussed many artists’ work. It was a real reflection of how many strong women artists there are in the U.K. We carefully thought through how each artist addressed the theme of flora and fauna and also how being selected for the award might stimulate new connections for the artists.

RT: I worked with Rose Bouthillier, the curator at MOCA Cleveland who has an extraordinary knowledge of the regional art scene. We first assembled a list of women artists from the region whose work we liked and that had something to do with the theme of this year’s exhibition. We then shortened the list down to six artists whose work we found particularly noteworthy and interesting. This process was very exciting. The discussions were enriching, having two perspectives and four eyes turned out to be a huge advantage for the selection process. I hope the discursive nature of our selection process is reflected in the diversity of the artists that we selected.

How did you work with the flora and fauna theme?
We tried to interpret the theme of flora and fauna as openly as possible but without becoming arbitrary. We agreed from the start that it was more important to nominate artists whose work we believe in than to match the theme in a too literal way.

LLF: The theme is one that is enduring. It was a very exciting prospect to think about how artists have addressed rather than represented this topic. I think our shortlist really shows this.

Installation of High Fiber—Women to Watch 2012

Installation of High Fiber—Women to Watch 2012

Do you have any final thoughts on the exhibition?
I enjoyed looking at Cleveland’s art scene from a specific angle, and through that I discovered artists whose work I did not know before. The theme provided a productive angle as it was neither too limiting nor too open. Given the richness and quality of artists and works that we discovered in our region alone, I imagine that the exhibition in Washington will be a great success and a wonderful opportunity to discover new artists.

LLF: Very simply, I can’t wait to see it!

—Ginny DeLacey is the development associate at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

The Art of Change: New Trends in Activist Art

“Contemporary art has within itself the possibility to effect powerful change.”

Earlier this fall, National Museum of Women in the Arts Director Susan Fisher Sterling traveled to Tianjin, People’s Republic of China, to present at the World Economic Forum’s eighth Annual Meeting of the New Champions. The Forum’s goal is to improve the state of the world by bringing together industry leaders to discuss and implement societal change. Sterling’s talk focused on five contemporary artists who are advancing innovative ideas and helping to drive solutions to some of society’s most pressing issues. She believes that artists have the potential to be agents for social change.

Sterling described similarities between contemporary artists and social activists Mel Chin, Natalie Jeremijenko, Theaster Gates, Caledonia Curry (Swoon), and the Documentary Group. She presented dynamic activist art as the art of the future.

“For many of you their works may not seem like art, but that is precisely the point. Their work, which is called the art of social practice, fits between art and life,” said Sterling. “They are today’s art world innovators in the real world.”

From collaborating with children around the country—children created “fundred” dollar bills to assist in the eradication of lead poisoning in New Orleans—to turning dilapidated buildings into places of beauty and respite, NMWA’s director showed how these artists use their practices to empower change.

“This is a direction that my museum is going in. This is a movement, the art of social practice…there is a need for new champions for this movement. My hope is that the National Museum of Women in the Arts, through its programming, will help it along its way.”

—Stacy Meteer is the communications and marketing associate at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Spotlight on Twitter: #DegasCassattChat or #CassattDegasChat?

The National Gallery of Art (NGA) recently opened Degas/Cassatt, an exhibition exploring the collaborations and interactions of Edgar Degas and Mary Cassatt. NGA hosted a Twitter chat shortly after the opening to introduce the artists and exhibition to the public. Anyone could take part in this conversation by using the hashtag “#DegasCassattChat” and posing questions or providing insight.

#DegasCassatt Twitter ChatNMWA has 11 Cassatt works in its collection and additional resources online and in the library. Members of NMWA’s social media team were thrilled to be able to join the #DegasCassattChat Twitter conversation to help tell Cassatt’s story.

Research came first: Beginning in NMWA’s Betty Boyd Dettre Library and Research Center, museum staff members examined the life of Cassatt through various publications.

Image of Cassatt books in NMWA's libraryNew facts and interesting pieces of history came to light: artist Childe Hassam venerated her by saying “hers is the most notable name in the history of the graphic arts,” she encouraged her friends in America to purchase works by Degas, and she occasionally posed for Degas when he was in need of a model with an artistic inclination.

Armed with this new information as well as online resources, NMWA was prepared to contribute to the conversation.

#DegasCassattChat Twitter conversationConservation arose as a theme in the Twitter chat. NGA’s postings included imagery that detailed the museum’s treatment and analysis of Cassatt’s Little Girl in the Blue Armchair oil painting, which, they note, is the only documented case of a work painted by both artists.

The exhibition also features pastels and works on paper. Because NMWA’s Cassatt prints are so delicate they are not currently on view, but you can still examine details of Mother’s Kiss, Maternal Caress, and The Bath in high resolution on the Google Art Project.

Additional conversation topics included the influence each artist had on one another, the artistic collaboration between both artists, and the significance of having an entire room in the exhibition dedicated to Degas’s drawings and prints of Cassatt at the Louvre.

To learn more about Cassatt and Degas, check out the entire #DegasCassattChat conversation on Storify. Also, don’t forget to follow @WomenInTheArts on Twitter.

—Stacy Meteer is the communications and marketing associate at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

NMWA: Not just for Women

Does art have a gender? When you visit a gallery, do you wonder whether the artist is male or female? Or does the quality of the creative expression matter most?

Women have been shut out of the art world for most of history. The National Museum of Women in the Arts (NMWA), the only museum in the world dedicated exclusively to recognizing the contributions of women artists, does an excellent job at revealing the hidden past of female art.

But you can visit the museum without being a woman or having an interest in women’s art. NMWA holds unique treasures for anyone interested in painting, photography and sculpture. In its expansive halls, you will find unique works, such as:

Jane Peterson, “London Bridge,” n.d., Oil on canvas, Gift of Alice D. Kaplan
London Bridge, Jane Peterson – If you like Childe Hassam or John Singer Sargent, you will love Peterson and her oil painting of the murky Thames.

Jane Peterson, "London Bridge"

Jane Peterson, “London Bridge,” n.d., Oil on canvas, 17 3/4 x 23 1/2 in., National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Alice D. Kaplan

Self-Portrait Dedicated to Leon Trotsky, Frida Kahlo – A painting that you could write an entire novel about, it depicts an intense Frida expressing her devotion to the Russian Communist, whom she had an affair with.

Frida Kahlo, "Self-Portrait Dedicated to Leon Trotsky"

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 Honorable Clare Booth Luce

Celine Tabary – Another fascinating story, Tabary was a Frenchwoman who championed African-American artists and established an artists’ salon in the 1940s in DC.

Céline Marie Tabary, "Terrasse de café, Paris"

Céline Marie Tabary, “Terrasse de café, Paris,” 1950, Oil on canvas, 31 1/2 x 39 in., National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Corinne Mitchell

Anna Gaskell – Her chromogenic prints have an intriguing air of menace about them, as if we had stumbled into someone else’s bad dream.

Anna Gaskell, "Override #26"

Anna Gaskell, “Override #26,” 1997, Chromogenic print, 19 1/4 x 23 5/8 in., National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Heather and Tony Podesta Collection, Washington, D.C.

A nice thing about visiting museums off the National Mall is the opportunity to examine artworks without vast crowds of tourists. NMWA is a peaceful space just a couple of blocks from Metro Center. The museum is a former Masonic temple and was built in 1908. It’s on the National Register of Historic Places. After extensive renovations to the structure, the museum opened in 1987.

You don’t need to be a woman to visit the National Museum of Women’s Art. You just need an interest in the possibilities of creative expression.

–Joe Flood is a writer from Washington, DC. A frequent contributor to the Pink Line Project, he also has his own Web site at joeflood.com.

A Dozen Fun Facts about NMWA

Chakaia Booker, Acid Rain, 2001; Rubber tires and wood; 120 x 240 x 36 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts; Members’ Acquisition Fund

1. Frida Kahlo’s Self-Portrait Dedicated to Leon Trotsky, 1937, is the only Kahlo on view in Washington, D.C.

2. Chakaia Booker’s Acid Rain is among the largest and heaviest works in the museum’s collection, weighing in at over a ton! The piece is so large it had to be installed in 12 sections that weigh about 200 pounds each!

3. Before Barbara Bush cut the ribbon to open NMWA officially to the public on April 7, 1987, in its current New York Avenue home, the museum initially was housed in living founder Wilhemina Cole Holladay’s home in Georgetown.

4. Built in 1907 by architect Waddy Wood,  NMWA’s New York Avenue landmark building originally served as the National Masonic Temple. Ironically, this secret society, did not and does not accept women members.

5. A tie to the Royal Wedding: Princess Diana visited NMWA when she attended the American Red Cross gala in June of 1997, just a few months before her untimely death.

6. The New York Avenue Sculpture Project is the first and only major outdoor sculpture corridor in our nation’s capital by women. Come and check out the larger-than-life colorful sculptures of the first selected artist, Niki de Saint Phalle, through October 2011!

7. NMWA collection spans from the 16th century to present. Diana Ghisi’s (also Diana Scultori) Christ and the Woman Taken in Adultery (after Giulio Romano), 1575, is NMWA’s earliest work in the collection. The earliest work on view is Lavinia Fontana’s Portrait of a Noblewoman, c. 1580.

8. Got bookworks? NMWA does! With over 1000 artists’ books in our collection, NMWA is a leader in the promotion of artists’ books as an art form. NMWA is one of the only museums that since its inception has collected and exhibited artists’ books.

Clara Peeters, “Still Life of Fish and Cat,” n.d, Oil on panek, 13 1/2 x 18 1/2 in.

9. It was the work of 17th century Flemish artist Clara Peeters in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna that sparked the interest of recognizing women artists for Mr. and Mrs. Holladay.

10. Clara® is NMWA’s unique interactive database containing authoritative information on 18,000 women visual artists of all time periods and nationalities.

11. According to The Washington Post,  before becoming home to NWMA, the building was used by the Town Theatre, which premiered films including “To Kill a Mockingbird,” “La Dolce Vita,” and Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho” and “Topaz.”

12. When, in 1994, South African artist Esther Mahlangu created a mural and unveiled a BMW art car she painted, Maya Angelou spoke at the exhibition’s opening, Nelson Mandela came by for a private tour, and NMWA was featured in AutoWeek magazine!

–Laura Hoffman is the Education Intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts and a graduate student at The George Washington University.