Go Global with Mary

Did you know that NMWA launched its first-ever online exhibition, A Global Icon: Mary in Context, in conjunction with Picturing Mary: Woman, Mother, Idea?

NMWA’s digital engagement and curatorial teams collaborated with the Google Cultural Institute to present an online collection of images of Mary from around the world. The museum has been working with Google since joining the Google Art Project in March and being a pilot partner in Chromecast Backdrop since October.

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Take a tour of Mary in Context—the online exhibition is divided into six thematic sections that mirror Picturing Mary: Madonna and Child, Woman and Mother, Mother of the Crucified, Mary as Idea, A Singular Life, and Mary in the Life of Believers. Within each section, a short educational video introduces the theme, followed by a closer look into 3–4 artworks. Online visitors can examine these artworks in great detail and learn about Mary’s impact and significance to various cultures.

Left: Unknown artist, Virgin of the Immaculate Conception, 18th century; Wood, ivory, pigment, gilding, gessoed cloth, and silver, 25 7/8 x 27 x 10 1/4 in.; Brooklyn Museum, Frank L. Babbott Fund; inv. 42.384; Right: Unknown artist, Chapter 19 of Qur'an (Surat Maryam), 15th century; Ink and pigments on thin laid paper, 15 3/4 x 12 3/16 in.; Walters Art Museum; inv. W.563.274B

Left: Unknown artist, Virgin of the Immaculate Conception, 18th century; Wood, ivory, pigment, gilding, gessoed cloth, and silver, 25 7/8 x 27 x 10 1/4 in.; Brooklyn Museum, Frank L. Babbott Fund; inv. 42.384; Right: Unknown artist, Chapter 19 of Qur’an (Surat Maryam), 15th century; Ink and pigments on thin laid paper, 15 3/4 x 12 3/16 in.; Walters Art Museum; inv. W.563.274B

Echoing Picturing Mary, the online exhibition provides a historical context of the Virgin Mary, highlighting artwork spanning the 12th–19th centuries. These images represent a wide array of artwork about Mary, including the Black Madonna and Our Lady of Guadalupe. The online exhibition was curated to include a diverse range of mediums—from Chinese porcelain to Indian manuscripts to African pendants.

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Explore near or far! Check out the online exhibition and NMWA’s other online features, including an interactive preview of Picturing Mary and a YouTube playlist of related videos about Mary from Khan Academy’s Smarthistory, from the comfort of your home or at NMWA. These digital offerings are now available in the museum’s galleries for the first time.

—Laura Hoffman is the Manager of Digital Engagement 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?
RT:
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?
RT:
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.

Meet Mary through MapHook

NMWA visitors don’t have to wait to for glimpses of the museum’s next big exhibition! Though Picturing Mary: Woman, Mother, Idea is still a few weeks away, NMWA has begun unveiling an online preview of the artworks featured. MapHook, a location-based journal and social networking application, is an interactive map that invites viewers to get a first look at the artworks making their way to NMWA from all over the world. Each week, a new set of images is being released, corresponding to one of the six key themes from the exhibition.

There are a number of ways to use this new program. Clicking “animation” leads you on a tour around the countries the art is coming from; clicking a flagged pin location on the map, or the artwork itself, will also lead to a screen highlighting that work. When an image is selected, it reveals key details: creator’s name, the date, and the medium. It even displays the lending institution and other artworks from the same institution when applicable.

When selecting an artwork from the map, you may notice the “learn more” tab under each thumbnail. Clicking this leads to a full, larger view of the image with more factual tidbits, such as cultural symbols or legends that appear in the pieces. These illuminate the facets of Mary represented in the exhibition. This feature also reveals the last time the artwork was seen in the U.S. For example, over half of the artworks in the first week’s section, which focused on Madonna and Child images, have never been seen before in the U.S.

MapHook-2The map is a visual demonstration of relationships created between artworks: several are housed in the same museums or are coming from the same cities. The map also shows the far reach of the image of Mary and NMWA’s exhibition. While several artworks are clustered in Florence, some are as close to home as D.C. itself. The interactive map anticipates the exhibition, which explores the prevalence and popularity of Marian images throughout the Renaissance and Baroque periods, spread across countries, cities, and time.

Picturing Mary: Woman, Mother, Idea will be on view December 5, 2014–April 12, 2015. Check every week for MapHook updates, and follow our #MeetMary tag on Twitter and Facebook!

—Caitlin Hoerr is the publications and marketing/communications intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Behind the Scenes in the Registrar’s Office: Crates, Notes, and Dust Motes

Visitors to the National Museum of Women in the Arts have no doubt seen Anne Vallayer-Coster’s majestic portrait of Madame de Saint-Huberty in the Role of Dido, which currently hangs on the east wall of the mezzanine level. However, many do not understand the behind-the-scenes work involved in the preservation of this grand painting. While interning in the office of the registrar this summer, I learned about the various ways in which the office safeguards and organizes nearly 5,000 works in the collection.

Cleaning-Madame-de-Saint-Huberty_webBelieve it or not, dusting is one of the most important preventive measures undertaken by the registrars. Dust hardens like cement, so these pesky particles can actually damage objects if ignored for too long. On one afternoon, I learned how to gently remove the dust that had accumulated within the intricate floral frame surrounding Madame de Saint-Huberty in the Role of Dido. With slow and careful strokes, I brushed the dust of the small crevices, guiding it into the hose of a special low-suction HEPA vacuum positioned a safe distance from the surface of the painting. My brush never actually touched the surface of the paint, though. You may notice that many works are framed with a layer of glass in front, which shields the art from damaging debris. Even small measures like these can ensure a work’s long-term safety.

The registrars also carefully control the environment of the museum, for changes in temperature and humidity can have harmful effects on art. While we removed Madame de Saint-Huberty and other works for routine cleaning, the museum’s chief preparator improved the insulation inside the walls of the gallery space, guaranteeing that the paintings would be in a more protective environment. In fact, a temperature-controlled storage vault houses the majority of the museum’s collection inside massive crates, ceiling-high filing systems, and cocoons of bubble wrap. Only three percent of the collection’s 4,800 works are actually on display!

After routine care, Anne Vallayer-Coster's painting was returned to its place on the gallery wall for visitors to enjoy; Photo Daniel Schwartz

After routine care, Anne Vallayer-Coster’s painting was returned to its place on the gallery wall for visitors to enjoy; Photo Daniel Schwartz

While working within the maze of art storage, I began to realize that keeping accurate records is equally as important as ensuring the physical safety of the collection. After all, how could we study a sculpture without knowing the basic information about it, or even where to locate it? For the past year, the office of the registrar has been working on a collections inventory to ensure the intellectual safety of the objects. Throughout the summer, I helped photograph, measure, and document hundreds of works on paper, knowing that all of this information would allow future scholars to better understand them.

Working behind the scenes these past few months has given me a greater appreciation for the importance of safeguarding the physical and intellectual well-being of the art. After all, without preservation, education would not be possible. Visitors walk through NMWA’s gallery spaces because they want to learn about the groundbreaking accomplishments of women artists. The dedicated efforts of registrars and collections managers ensure that this experience may happen.

—Amy Root was a summer 2014 intern in the registrar’s office at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Click here to learn more about interning at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Art, Books, and Creativity! The 2014 ABC Teacher Institute

After a long school year, how do teachers recharge their batteries and fill their minds with exciting new project ideas for the year to come? For a select group from as far away as Cleveland, Ohio, and as near as Cleveland Park, D.C., NMWA’s annual weeklong Art, Books, and Creativity (ABC) Teacher Institute is just the ticket. From July 14–18, 2014, 23 teachers ranging in subject areas from science to French, grades Pre-K through 12, spent the week with NMWA’s educators and institute instructors learning arts-integration techniques centered on the ABC curriculum.

During the ABC Teacher Institute, teachers created fantastic portfolios of artists' book samples to use in the classroom

During the ABC Teacher Institute, teachers created fantastic portfolios of artists’ book samples to use in the classroom; Photo credit: Laura Hoffman

Developed by NMWA through a grant from the U.S. Department of Education, the ABC curriculum unites visual and language arts through the creation of artists’ books. In addition to developing students’ visual literacy, critical thinking, and writing skills, ABC also focuses on the cultural contributions of women artists. The ABC Teacher Institute introduces teachers of all ages, abilities, and disciplines to the curriculum and provides them with resources to successfully integrate visual arts into their classrooms. During the institute, participants created a portfolio of artists’ books and writing samples as models for classroom lessons; learned the basics of Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS), a method for facilitating discussions about art; and brainstormed numerous creative ideas for how to adapt the ABC curriculum for their own classrooms and subject areas.

While they are serious about their teaching, this year’s participants were not afraid to have fun and let the creative juices flow! Highlights of the week included creating “bug books” inspired by the work of Maria Sibylla Merian; learning landscape and pop-up book techniques from paper engineer Carol Barton, whose mind-boggling paper creations left everyone in awe; writing poems based on the Fibonacci sequence; collectively creating “exquisite corpse” sketches; and transforming newspaper into sculptural hats that any fashionable avant-gardist would love.

Photo credit: Laura Hoffman

Participants capped off the Institute by presenting the lesson concepts that they developed throughout the week. These incorporated key aspects of the ABC curriculum while addressing the unique curricula, objectives, and standards of learning of the teachers who created them. Ideas included landscape books used to teach scales in music class, pop-up books to expand the vocabulary of ESL (English as a Second Language) students, flag books for a unit on quadrilateral polygons in math class, among others. The lesson concepts clearly demonstrated the myriad cross-curricular applications of the ABC curriculum and left everyone feeling inspired and impassioned.

As one participant reflected, “the energy and ideas were flying right up ’til the last minute! I think the enthusiasm of all of the presenters rubbed off on the participants and spurred us on. I feel refreshed as a teacher going into the summer vacation, and when has that ever happened before?”

To access the free ABC curriculum, visit artbookscreativity.org. To learn more about the annual ABC Teacher Institute, check out NMWA’s Teacher Institute page.

—Olivia Mendelson is an education intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Artist Spotlight: Behind the Scenes with Eve Sussman, the Rufus Corporation, and the Old Masters

When first exhibited at the 2004 Whitney Biennial, 89 Seconds at Alcázar (2004) was a runaway success. Eve Sussman and the Rufus Corporation, a collaborative of actors, choreographers, technicians, and artisans of all kinds, created the enthralling video installation that was called “the only obvious smashing work on view.”¹ The 10-minute video is a reimagined, moving meditation on Las Meninas (ca. 1656), by Spanish court painter Diego Velázquez (1599–1660). It envisions the moments leading up to and following the painting’s iconic, transient scene.

Installation view of Eve Sussman | Rufus Corporation, 89 Seconds at Alcázar, 2004; High-definition video installation

Installation view of Eve Sussman | Rufus Corporation, 89 Seconds at Alcázar, 2004; High-definition video installation

Velázquez’s enigmatic painting has garnered a cult-fandom among the art-obsessed. The slice-of-life, monumental scene in Las Meninas offers a very modern viewpoint, similar to a photographic snapshot but created more than 200 years before the camera. Velázquez’s composition is clever, even revolutionary. The painting shifts the traditional viewing perspective to focus on the creator of the image rather than the image the creator is representing.

Diego Velázquez, Las Meninas, 1656

Diego Velázquez, Las Meninas, 1656

At the foreground of Las Meninas, Velázquez depicts himself before of a massive canvas with brush and palette in hand; next to him are members of the Royal Spanish court. However, the most prominent element for art historians is the indistinct mirror that can be seen at the very center background of the painting. Velázquez’s inclusion of the mirror, depicting a bust-length view of the King and Queen of Spain, allows the viewer to see beyond the canvas. His perspective suggests that the viewer is standing in the space occupied by the King and Queen. For the centuries of art leading up to this work, representational painting was rendered as though the surface of a canvas might be substituted for a window into another world, where the spectator looked in. Instead, Velázquez presents a painting that looks out at the viewing looking in. It is a complex, behind-the-scenes glimpse at the process of art-making itself.

So what can account for this drastic change in perspective?

At the same time Las Meninas was developed, the Arnolfini Portrait (1434), by Jan van Eyck, was hanging in the halls of the Spanish palace, or alcázar, that Velázquez walked every day. It is likely that Velázquez was very familiar with this work—as a result, many historians see Las Meninas as a direct reference to the mirror-motif originally used in Van Eyck’s work.

The plot thickens, bringing us back to Sussman and the Rufus Corporation.

Eve Sussman | Rufus Corporation, Erin as María, production still from 89 Seconds at Alcázar, 2004; High-definition video installation; Image courtesy of Eve Sussman | Rufus Corporation, photo by Benedikt Partenheimer for the Rufus Corporation

Eve Sussman | Rufus Corporation, Erin as María, production still from 89 Seconds at Alcázar, 2004; High-definition video installation; Image courtesy of Eve Sussman | Rufus Corporation, photo by Benedikt Partenheimer for the Rufus Corporation

When Eve Sussman saw Velázquez’s Las Meninas at the Museo Nacional del Prado, she too was prompted to reimagine a painting that itself reimagined Van Eyck’s earlier work.

However, Sussman and the Rufus Corporation approached their journey into shifting spectatorship with a new medium and a new dynamic viewing perspective. And while the subject matter appropriates content from Velázquez’s work, Sussman describes 89 Seconds as “. . . about activating the viewpoint of the camera, so you see it’s not Las Meninas—it’s something different.”²

To learn more, visit NMWA on Wednesday, August 3, at noon for our weekly staff-led gallery talks. Associate Curator Virginia Treanor will facilitate a 30-minute conversation about 89 Seconds at Alcázar—join us during your lunch break, and return each Wednesday for up-close views of the other works in Total Art: Contemporary Video, on view at NMWA through October 12.

—J. Rachel Gustafson is a curatorial fellow at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Notes:
1. Blake Gopnik, “Shifting Through the Whitney: Eve Sussman,” in the Washington Post, March 14, 2004. (http://www.rufuscorporation.com/wapost.jpg)
2. Eve Sussman as quoted in Carol Kino, “In the Studio: Eve Sussman,” in Art + Auction, July 2006. (http://www.rufuscorporation.com/anauc.html)

Virtuoso Volunteers, Dedicated Docents

Walk through the doors of the National Museum of Women in the Arts, and chances are the first thing you will see is the smiling face of a volunteer. Here to serve as welcoming representatives and knowledgeable sources of information, NMWA’s dedicated volunteer corps is essential to the daily operations of the institution.

Volunteers have a variety of reasons for devoting their time and skills to supporting NMWA, though one shared motivation is a commitment to the museum’s mission of redefining traditional histories of art. As Josephine Cabatu, current visitor experience volunteer and docent-in-training, says, “NMWA’s mission to bring recognition to the achievements of women artists said it all for me. I wanted to be a part of this mission.” Others cite the opportunity to draw on their experiences as a motivating factor in their decision to volunteer. Erin Garland, another visitor experience volunteer and docent-in-training, says that in addition to loving the museum’s mission, she is excited to use her background in teaching. Volunteering as a docent, she says, “combines my love of art and teaching.”

Volunteers have the opportunity to learn in-depth information about NMWA's collection and exhibitions

Volunteers have the opportunity to learn in-depth information about NMWA’s collection and exhibitions

Volunteers have the opportunity to become well acquainted with NMWA’s collection, and many gravitate toward specific works over time. Erin is partial to Lady in an Evening Dress by Lilla Cabot Perry, as it served as her inspiration for a project as a costume design major in college, while docent Marilyn Cohen favors Portrait of a Noblewoman by Lavinia Fontana because of its rich details, which she enjoys sharing with visitors during tours. Josephine, who is currently taking part in the eight-month docent training program, says that “because of the NMWA docent training I am undergoing, works now strike me in such different ways and for different reasons that I don’t know how to consider a ‘favorite’ at the moment.”

NMWA’s volunteer corps builds camaraderie while supporting the museum’s mission

NMWA’s volunteer corps builds friendships and camaraderie while supporting the museum’s mission

What’s the best part of being a NMWA volunteer? That depends on whom you ask. Ed Williams, who has been a docent for 18 years, says that for him, “the best part of being a docent is meeting people from all over the world and introducing them to our marvelous collection.” Erin also finds that her interactions with visitors are what make her time at NMWA so meaningful: “Our visitors are wonderful! I’ve had so many interesting conversations about artists, works in the collection, and their experiences. I haven’t experienced this level of conversation at other museums where I’ve volunteered. I think it speaks to the connection and value our visitors place on the museum.” For Marilyn, the highlight of her ten years as a docent is the camaraderie and friendships forged between the volunteers. Sarah Cosgrove Gaumond began as a visitor experience volunteer in January 2014 and says of her experience at NMWA, “I love every part of it.”

Learn more about volunteering at NMWA!

—Olivia Mendelson is the education intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Membership, Mission, and Masterpieces

From NMWA’s founding in 1981 to the public opening of the museum in 1987, to the exhibitions and programs that have kept NMWA’s audiences educated and entertained throughout the years, the success of the National Museum of Women in the Arts depends on the loyal support of members. With thousands of members around the U.S. and abroad, NWMA’s membership is large, enthusiastic, and connected to the museum’s mission.

Members with Elena Brockmann's painting "Philip II Receiving the News of the Loss of the Invincible Armada," 1895; Members' Acquisition Fund

Members with Elena Brockmann’s painting Philip II Receiving the News of the Loss of the Invincible Armada, 1895; Members’ Acquisition Fund

In addition to supporting the museum’s special exhibitions, valued NMWA members have helped the museum to add numerous works to the collection—by distinguished artists such as Elena Brockmann, Chakaia Booker, Lesley Dill, and Judy Chicago. Works by these artists were acquired in part from the Members’ Acquisition Fund—which is built a few dollars at a time, when members add to their annual donations—and represent a wide range of mediums, time periods, and genres.

While Brockmann’s enormous work, Philip II Receiving the News of the Loss of the Invincible Armada, is an example of large-scale history painting from 19th-century Spain, Judy Chicago’s preparatory drawing for Emily Dickinson’s place setting in her iconic installation The Dinner Party is an emblem of the American feminist movement of the 1970s.

Chakaia Booker, Acid Rain, 2001; Museum purchase: Members’ Acquisition Fund

Chakaia Booker, Acid Rain, 2001; Museum purchase: Members’ Acquisition Fund

Members have also helped NMWA purchase contemporary installation pieces such as Booker’s Acid Rain, which deals with themes including the intersection between domestic femininity and the traditionally masculine realms of construction and technology. Lesley Dill’s I Heard a Voice, another contemporary work, provokes individual reflection through imagery related to nature, the body, literature, and the spirit.

These wonderful additions to the collection are just a few of the many works NMWA members have helped the museum to acquire.

In celebration of the summer season and the subsequent influx of visitors to NMWA, June has been designated as Membership Month. If you’d like to help NMWA celebrate the artistic accomplishments of women, please join today.

In honor of Membership Month, NMWA sends a special thanks to all of the members who have supported the museum over the years! Feel free to use the comments section to tell a story about the museum or let us know about your favorite accomplishment by members.

—Olivia Zvara is the member relations intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Now on View: The Compelling Worlds of “Total Art: Contemporary Video” at NMWA

Why does the moniker “total art” apply to the medium of video? What elements can be incorporated, and how does the genre blur traditional lines between “fine art” and other artistic expressions such as cinema, documentary film, and even internet gifs? Which facets of video have been embraced by women artists?

Alex Prager, La Petite Mort, 2012; Film HD, shot on Red Epic camera with color and sound; Work and image courtesy of the artist, M+B Gallery, Los Angeles, and Lehmann Maupin Gallery, New York and Hong Kong

Alex Prager, La Petite Mort, 2012; Film HD, shot on Red Epic camera with color and sound; Work and image courtesy of the artist, M+B Gallery, Los Angeles, and Lehmann Maupin Gallery, New York and Hong Kong

Total Art: Contemporary Video examines such questions through a selection of video works (a broad term for moving-image artworks), as well as related photography, from 10 female artists. The exhibition, which opens today, will be on view at NMWA through October 12, 2014. It showcases the wide-ranging content explored through this medium, as well as varied installation and production methods.

Total Art called for an impressive reconfiguration of the gallery spaces to create distinct spaces for the work of each artist. All of the second-floor galleries were retrofitted, new walls were constructed, and projectors were installed to create intimate viewing spaces that allow the viewer to experience each video work to the exact installation requirements of the artists—this includes specific wall colors, audio parameters, sound panels, other installed materials, projection angles, and screen selection. Every detail of the spaces was considered and altered to create immersive—total—environments.

Mariko Mori, Miko no Inori, 1996; Color video and sound; Collection of Pérez Art Museum Miami, Courtesy of Dennis and Debra Scholl

Mariko Mori, Miko no Inori, 1996; Color video and sound; Collection of Pérez Art Museum Miami, Courtesy of Dennis and Debra Scholl

These curatorial decisions mark another important element of video art. Either consciously or unconsciously, museum visitors perform certain learned behaviors at art exhibitions that are upended in Total Art. For example, NMWA’s third-floor galleries feature paintings and sculptures from the museum’s collection. Viewers wander, often with companions, while talking about artworks—there is a certain level of interaction and discussion in the traditional exhibition space. However, in the darkened galleries of Total Art those traditional museum behaviors are exchanged with a new inward-directed subjectivity: viewers watch video works quietly, without speaking, and without group interaction.

Left: Margaret Salmon, Ninna Nanna, 2007; 3-screen installation of 16-mm films transferred to DVD; Collection of Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., Museum purchase through the contributions of members of the Contemporary Acquisitions Council and the Joseph H. Hirshhorn Purchase Fund, 2008

Left: Margaret Salmon, Ninna Nanna, 2007; 3-screen installation of 16-mm films transferred to DVD; Collection of Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., Museum purchase through the contributions of members of the Contemporary Acquisitions Council and the Joseph H. Hirshhorn Purchase Fund, 2008

Interestingly, these social norms are related to principles of theater etiquette that were popularized by Richard Wagner, the same German composer whose concept of gesamtkunstwerk, or “total work of art,” influenced the exhibition’s title. Before Wagner’s time, theaters were left illuminated, talking and shouting at performers was the norm, and the orchestra obscured the stage performance. Wagner instilled a quiet decorum, dimmed the house lights, and moved the orchestra into a sunken pit. These efforts created a total, cohesive viewing experience for audience members, in which varied arts were able to merge into one.

The concept of “totality” is likewise an inherent aspect of video, as many art forms coalesce to create the moving images exhibited in Total Art. The featured artists and works fuse performance, theater, music, and dance with a range of digital technologies to create compelling worlds that at once mesmerize and provoke.

Visit the exhibition web page for more on Total Art: Contemporary Video, a related video page, and a full schedule of related programs.

—J. Rachel Gustafson is a curatorial fellow at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.