Confining Moments: Cage Imagery in NMWA’s Collection

In NMWA’s recent collection rotation, there are three works newly on view that reference cages. While the meaning of the cage changes slightly from piece to piece, each tableau offers insight into how artists of different mediums and time periods engage with themes of freedom and confinement.

The earliest work is by Louise Dahl-Wolfe (1895–1989), an American fashion photographer active in the mid-20th century. She worked for the popular magazine Harper’s Bazaar, and is known for the sense of naturalism she brought to the industry.

Louise Dahl-Wolfe, Natalie with Birdcages, 1950; Gelatin silver print 14 x 11 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Helen Cumming Ziegler

Louise Dahl-Wolfe, Natalie with Birdcages, 1950; Gelatin silver print 14 x 11 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Helen Cumming Ziegler

In her photograph Natalie with Birdcages (1950), the belted silhouette of the model echoes that of the two hanging cages, creating a harmonious composition in which the model appears at one with her surroundings. This mimicry emphasizes the naturalism of the model and the “wearability” of the clothing, a technique that Dahl-Wolfe used in other photographs like this one. Contemporary critics have praised the photographer for “replac[ing] the image of the glamorous goddess in the gilded cage with an approachable, active woman with a sense of self”—a sentiment apt for this image of a woman positioned outside of a cage, existing freely and at ease in the world.

In contrast to Dahl-Wolfe’s liberating image, a photographic still by Eve Sussman (b. 1961), Themis in the Bird Cage (2006), explores the power dynamics between men and women. It comes from her dialogue-free film The Rape of the Sabine Women (2007), which is based on an ancient myth narrating the abduction of several women who are forced to repopulate Rome. Rampant with sentiments of twisted patriotism and sacrifice, the narrative has been depicted often by male artists including David, Rubens, Poussin, and Picasso. Sussman offers a new perspective by setting her version in the 1960s, an era of supposed sexual liberation.

Eve Sussman, Themis in the Bird Cage (Photographic still from The Rape of the Sabine Women), 2005; Chromogenic color print, 39 3/8 x 51 1/4 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of The Heather and Tony Podesta Collection; © Eve Sussman/Rufus Corporation

Eve Sussman, Themis in the Bird Cage (Photographic still from The Rape of the Sabine Women), 2005; Chromogenic color print, 39 3/8 x 51 1/4 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of The Heather and Tony Podesta Collection; © Eve Sussman/Rufus Corporation

The scene takes place at a posh pool party, during which we are afforded a glimpse of the now-married abductees in their new lives. This still evokes a sense of female disempowerment by portraying one woman as caged prey—a “trophy wife” in the most literal of senses. The brightly clad woman in the background initially offers a sense of freedom and lightness; though the narrative context makes it clear that she is no freer than her shadowy counterpart, as both are imprisoned in forced marriages.

Elisabetta Gut, Book in a Cage, 1981; Wood, wire, and French-Italian pocket dictionary, 7 1/2 x 4 5/8 x 4 5/8 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of the artist; © Elisabetta Gut

Elisabetta Gut, Book in a Cage, 1981; Wood, wire, and French-Italian pocket dictionary, 7 1/2 x 4 5/8 x 4 5/8 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of the artist; © Elisabetta Gut

Of her film, Sussman once commented that the “linguistic breakdown brings you back to…the core of what it means to communicate on film.” This offers a parallel to a third cage-themed work: Book in a Cage (1981), by Elisabetta Gut (b. 1934). The Italian book artist created this assemblage from of a found wooden cage and an Italian–English pocket dictionary. Not a birdcage but a “wordcage,” the piece comments on the ability of language to be both restrictive and freeing. While we can be hindered by our inability to communicate across language divides, we have freedom in our ability to use language at all. Symbolically, the cage serves to emphasize language’s constraints, while the open door reminds viewers of its endless possibilities.

—Becca Gross was the 2018 fall publications and communications/marketing intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

5 Fast Facts: Hung Liu

Impress your friends with five fast facts about artist Hung Liu (b. 1948), whose work Winter Blossom (2011) is on view in NMWA’s newly reinstalled collection galleries.

1. Child of the Revolution

Hung Liu was born in northeastern China in 1948, two years after the start of the Chinese Communist Revolution. Liu’s father, an officer in the Nationalist army, was arrested when the family crossed into Communist territory looking for food. Liu would not see him again until 1994.

2. Secret Paintings, Secret Freedom

Liu studied painting in the Soviet art tradition of Socialist Realism. Rebelling against the strictness of the style, she began to make small landscape paintings in secret, an act she described as “having a dialogue with the wider world.” Only 30 of her estimated 500 to 600 “secret paintings” have survived.

3. Junkyard Happenings

At the University of California, San Diego, Liu studied under performance artist Allan Kaprow, who once took his students to a junkyard and encouraged them to create with the available materials. Thinking of her strict art education, Liu felt frozen, then realized there were no rules—she could create any art she wished.

Hung Liu, Winter Blossom, 2011; Woodblock print with acrylic ink, 32 1/4 x 29 3/4 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Steven Scott, Baltimore, in honor of the artist and the Twenty-fifth Anniversary of the National Museum of Women in the Arts; © Hung Liu

Hung Liu, Winter Blossom, 2011; Woodblock print with acrylic ink, 32 1/4 x 29 3/4 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Steven Scott, Baltimore, in honor of the artist and the Twenty-fifth Anniversary of the National Museum of Women in the Arts; © Hung Liu

4. Drip, Drip, Drip

Liu’s trademark style of drip-laden, colorful portraits is created by mixing linseed oil with paint. She often incorporates historical photographs, and she has portrayed prostitutes, refugees, street performers, soldiers, laborers, and prisoners in this way. She says the technique is meant to “give the feel of distant memory.”

5. Life as an American

Much of Liu’s newer work explores her identity as an immigrant in America. One large painting represents a “resident alien” identity card on which she has given herself the name “Cookie, Fortune.” Other paintings based on Depression-era photographs by Dorothea Lange capture the universality of struggle and migration.

—Mara Kurlandsky is the digital projects manager at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Connecting the Threads: Audrey Niffenegger 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.”

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

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

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

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

Tragic Figures

Audrey Niffenegger, Black Roses (In Memory of Isabella Blow), 2007; Linocut, Gampi tissue, and thread on Japanese paper, 67 x 25 1/2 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of the artist; © Audrey Niffenegger; Photo by Lee Stalsworth

Audrey Niffenegger, Black Roses (In Memory of Isabella Blow), 2007; Linocut, Gampi tissue, and thread on Japanese paper, 67 x 25 1/2 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of the artist; © Audrey Niffenegger; Photo by Lee Stalsworth

Eccentric British aristocrat and fashion icon Isabella Blow committed suicide in 2007 at age forty-eight. She was famous for her unfiltered wit and visionary fashion sensibilities. Artist Audrey Niffenegger (b. 1963) was a stranger to Blow, but so moved by her life and death that she created a series of works for her. Black Roses (for Isabella Blow) (2007), the largest piece in the series, is part of NMWA’s collection. It features a skeleton adorned in a cascading skirt of black roses and a black rose hat—a nod to Blow’s close friend and acclaimed hat designer Philip Treacy. Of these works, Niffenegger said, “After she died I had dreams about her. I wanted to give her something…. So I made some pictures for her. It isn’t much, but it is in a language she would have understood.”

In 2017, the Mulleavys wrote and directed their first feature film, Woodshock, which starred Kirsten Dunst. The story traces the emotional unraveling of Dunst’s character, Theresa, as she grieves the loss of her mother and considers suicide. Her personal state, intensified by the use of psychotropic substances, is mirrored in her wardrobe, which becomes both increasingly distressed and elaborate.

Wearing Emotion

The themes of mortality and the passage of time are of interest to both Niffenegger and the Mulleavys. Blow was said to have suffered after being unable to find stable footing in an industry that could not “compute her value.” In Woodshock, Theresa is shown in the grips of an existential crisis, questioning her own place in the world after her mother’s death.

In both cases, the artists used delicate materials to convey grief and depression. Niffenegger used Gampi tissue paper, silky and translucent, to form the flowing skirt in her piece—perhaps also referring to the fact that even in her anguish, Blow was always dressed elegantly. The Mulleavys worked with silk crepe, lace, and chiffon to create Theresa’s black-and-white dresses. They colored the white dresses with mauve and beige so that they appear bruised over time, communicating Theresa’s sadness and isolation.

Layers of Meaning

The works of Niffenegger and the Mulleavys also portray deeper facets of their subject’s emotions. Blow openly talked about her desire to commit suicide and approached the subject with candor and humor. Niffenegger captured elements of Blow’s personality in the skeleton, which appears in an almost conversational pose—mid-sentence with hands mid-gesture. In Woodshock’s ending, Theresa reaches destructive depths and the dresses take on new aspect: there is a violence and power in their bruised coloring and the black that cloaks Theresa’s body like a shield.

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

Director’s Desk: Women Artists Address Migration

At first glance, it might be difficult to identify common threads in works by Ingrid Mwangi, Jami Porter Lara, and Betsabeé Romero. Each artist uses vastly different materials—the female body, plastic water bottles, and recycled tires—to address the challenging subject of migration. Through their art, these women are engaging with topical and consequential issues.

Born to a Kenyan father and a German mother, Ingrid Mwangi of the collective Mwangi Hutter describes being seen as white while living in Africa, but seen as black after immigrating to Germany. She used her body to call attention to issues of migration and racism in her 2001 photo diptych Static Drift, featured in NMWA’s collection. Two photographs show her torso as a canvas. She used stencils and sunlight to create her subject: in one, darker skin surrounds the shape of Africa with the words “Bright Dark Continent,” while in the other, lighter skin surrounds the shape of Germany with the words “Burn Out Country.”

Mwangi Hutter, Static Drift, 2001; Two chromogenic prints on aluminum, 29 1/2 x 40 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of The Tony Podesta Collection, Washington, D.C.; Photo by Lee Stalsworth

Mwangi Hutter, Static Drift, 2001; Two chromogenic prints on aluminum, 29 1/2 x 40 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of The Tony Podesta Collection, Washington, D.C.; Photo by Lee Stalsworth

Jami Porter Lara, LDS-MHB-6SBR-0916CE-01, 2016; Pit-fired clay, 10 x 6 ½ in. diameter; Courtesy Central Features Contemporary Art; Photo by Addison Doty

Jami Porter Lara, LDS-MHB-6SBR-0916CE-01, 2016; Pit-fired clay, 10 x 6 ½ in. diameter; Courtesy Central Features Contemporary Art; Photo by Addison Doty

While Porter Lara was exploring a remote stretch of the U.S.–Mexico border, she saw discarded plastic water bottles that had been carried by migrants. She also encountered the remains of similarly discarded items: pot shards from ancient cultures. This juxtaposition inspired Porter Lara, based in Albuquerque, New Mexico, to consider the distinction between artifact and trash. Her thinking about how the plastic bottle might be seen as a “contemporary artifact” led to the creation of her ceramic vessels, which were recently on view in the NMWA exhibition Border Crossing.

Mexico City-based Romero embraces materials and techniques related to popular culture. She frequently transforms automotive components because cars have a broad cultural appeal. Four newly commissioned works are now on view outside the museum in the New York Avenue Sculpture Project, the only public art space in Washington, D.C., featuring rotating installations of contemporary work by women artists. Romero’s carved and painted tires symbolize humankind’s profound connection to cultural traditions, as well as a yearning to keep families safe and thriving. The car-based imagery and themes of migration and movement resonate with the hum of activity at this busy D.C. intersection.

Betsabeé Romero, Huellas y cicatricez (Traces and scars) (detail), 2018; Four tires with engraving and gold leaf and steel support, approx. 192 1/2 x 86 5/8 x 9 3/4 in.; Courtesy Betsabeé Romero Art Studio; Photo by Mara Kurlandsky, NMWA

Betsabeé Romero, Huellas y cicatricez (Traces and scars) (detail), 2018; Four tires with engraving and gold leaf and steel support, approx. 192 1/2 x 86 5/8 x 9 3/4 in.; Courtesy Betsabeé Romero Art Studio; Photo by Mara Kurlandsky, NMWA

Be it body, bottle, or tire, these three artists have found their artistic vehicles and used them to convey an intimate understanding of issues that affect our world. From migration to racism to identity, the symbolic content makes connections for viewers and elevates their work. They see a bigger picture outside themselves, and their powerful ideas implore viewers to ask questions.

—Susan Fisher Sterling is the director of the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Connecting the Threads: Petah Coyne 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.”

Eclectic Experimentation

Contemporary American sculptor and photographer Petah Coyne (b.1953) is critically acclaimed for her use of unconventional materials in her poetic pieces. Coyne renders human hair, scrap metal, wax, taxidermy, mud, chicken-wire, velvet, and more into haunting works with incredible emotional range. “I gather materials everywhere I go,” she has said. “Materials are a language.”

In their early collections, Rodarte drew acclaim for their use of unconventional materials that fused the dressmaking and art-making processes. Layering metallic ribbons, eyelash yarn, wire, chainmail tube, leather, Swarovski crystals, silk tulle, and more, their works upended conventional fashion practices by letting their material choice determine each silhouette.

Petah Coyne, Untitled #781, 1994; Wax, plastic, cloth and steel, 62 x 35 x 44 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Steven Scott, Baltimore, in Honor of the Artist; © Petah Coyne, Courtesy of Galerie Lelong, New York; Photo by Lee Stalsworth

Petah Coyne, Untitled #781, 1994; Wax, plastic, cloth and steel, 62 x 35 x 44 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Steven Scott, Baltimore, in Honor of the Artist; © Petah Coyne, Courtesy of Galerie Lelong, New York; Photo by Lee Stalsworth

Petah Coyne, Untitled #781, 1994; Wax, plastic, cloth and steel, 62 x 35 x 44 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Steven Scott, Baltimore, in Honor of the Artist; © Petah Coyne, Courtesy of Galerie Lelong, New York; Photo by Emily Haight

Petah Coyne, Untitled #781, 1994; Wax, plastic, cloth and steel, 62 x 35 x 44 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Steven Scott, Baltimore, in Honor of the Artist; © Petah Coyne, Courtesy of Galerie Lelong, New York; Photo by Emily Haight

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Masters of Craft

Her complex and layered sculptures require Coyne to do it all: she sews, she waxes and wires flowers, she paints, she manipulates wire, and she learned a Victorian method for making jewelry out of human hair. Coyne even worked with a chemist to “patent an archival wax formula that she uses in melted form, like a pigment. It has become her signature.” This is seen in Coyne’s Untitled #781 (1994), part of NMWA’s collection (not currently on view).

Rodarte’s early works also reveal a rapid command of their craft. Entirely self-taught, the Mulleavys mastered one technique after another, skillfully combining them in subsequent collections. Their approach to design is dictated by the textural qualities of their fabrics and driven by process and materiality.

Embodying Contradictions

At the heart of Coyne’s work is dissonance—an exploration of the fine lines between lushness and decay, beauty and grotesqueness. In Untitled #781, the pink-and-white sculpture alludes to a tutu, a birthday cake, or a party dress—symbols of girlhood and innocence—but it also appears to be curdling before the viewer’s eye. The piece seems to float, but is actually quite heavy, constructed over a wire-and-steel core. Throughout her work, Coyne thumbs these fine lines while also exploring the larger theme of life and loss at the core of her creations.

The Mulleavys are also interested in juxtaposing ideas in their collections. Through a complex layering of techniques that simultaneously build and destroy the materials, they transform their works into hybrid creations—both perfect and ruined. “We are attracted to imperfection and to beauty and chaos,” Kate Mulleavy has said. This dissonance has surfaced in many Rodarte designs, including their work for the costumes in the film Black Swan. “We were inspired by the idea of transformation, specifically the dichotomy between perfection and decay.”

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

Gallery Reboot: Collection Galleries Closed December 17–28

From Monday, December 17, through Friday, December 28, NMWA’s third-floor galleries will be closed to the public for a major reinstallation of art from the collection. The special exhibition Rodarte will be open, as well as Ambreen Butt—Mark My Words, and Full Bleed: A Decade of Photobooks and Photo Zines by Women in the Library and Research Center.

The museum’s collection contains more than 5,000 works of art spanning from the late sixteenth century through today. The reinstallation will continue to emphasize connections between historical and contemporary art, and will be organized around five themes: family, homelands and migration, rebellion, the built environment, enclosures, and nature.

Preview several pieces to look forward to, and visit after December 28 to experience these works—and more—in person:

Kimsooja, The Earth, 1984; Thread, Ink, and Acrylic on Cloth, 75.5 x 117 cm.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Courtesy of Kimsooja Studio; © Soo Ja Kim; Photo by Lee Stalsworth

Kimsooja, The Earth, 1984; Thread, Ink, and Acrylic on Cloth, 75.5 x 117 cm.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Courtesy of Kimsooja Studio; © Soo Ja Kim; Photo by Lee Stalsworth

Helen Frankenthaler, Spiritualist, 1973; Acrylic on canvas, 72 x 60 x 1 1/4 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Wallace and Wilhelmina Holladay; © 2012 Estate of Helen Frankenthaler / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Helen Frankenthaler, Spiritualist, 1973; Acrylic on canvas, 72 x 60 x 1 1/4 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Wallace and Wilhelmina Holladay; © 2012 Estate of Helen Frankenthaler / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Helen Frankenthaler, Spiritualist, 1973; Acrylic on canvas, 72 x 60 x 1 1/4 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Wallace and Wilhelmina Holladay; © 2012 Estate of Helen Frankenthaler / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Jaune Quick-to-See Smith, Indian, Indio, Indigenous, 1992; Oil and collage on canvas, 60 x 100 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Museum purchase: Members' Acquisition Fund; © Jaune Quick-to-See Smith

Helen Frankenthaler, Spiritualist, 1973; Acrylic on canvas, 72 x 60 x 1 1/4 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Wallace and Wilhelmina Holladay; © 2012 Estate of Helen Frankenthaler / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Elizabeth Adela Armstrong Forbes, Will-O'-the-Wisp, ca. 1900; Oil on canvas, 27 x 44 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Wallace and Wilhelmina Holladay; Photo by Lee Stalsworth

Alison Saar, Mirror Mirror: Mulatta Seeking Inner Negress II, 2014; Woodcut on chind colle, 40 1/2 x 23 1/3 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Promised Gift of Steven Scott, Baltimore, in Honor of Dr. Leslie King-Hammond, Dean Emerita of Maryland Institute College of Art, Baltimore; © Alison Saar; Photo by Lee Stalsworth

Alison Saar, Mirror Mirror: Mulatta Seeking Inner Negress II, 2014; Woodcut on chind colle, 40 1/2 x 23 1/3 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Promised Gift of Steven Scott, Baltimore, in Honor of Dr. Leslie King-Hammond, Dean Emerita of Maryland Institute College of Art, Baltimore; © Alison Saar; Photo by Lee Stalsworth

Kimsooja, The Earth, 1984

This large textile collage comprises cloth that Kimsooja gathered from family members, stitched into loose geometric forms, and embellished with thick embroidery and paint. For the artist, sewing transcends ordinary, feminine associations, becoming a conduit for metaphysical experience.

Helen Frankenthaler, Spiritualist, 1973

Part of the Abstract Expressionist movement, Frankenthaler created paintings like Spiritualist by pouring thinned pigment onto an unstretched canvas spread on her studio floor. The paint soaked into the raw fibers of the untreated canvas, staining the fabric. She let her colors flow freely into shapes, manipulating them only minimally with her brush or fingers.

Jaune Quick-to-See Smith, Indian, Indio, Indigenous, 1992

Quick-to-See Smith describes this richly layered painting as a “narrative landscape.” The artist collaged an array of materials to comment on the historical desecration of American Indian lands, as well as continued injustices to native peoples and their culture.

Elizabeth Adela Stanhope Forbes, Will-o’-the-Wisp, 1900

Based on The Fairies by Irish poet William Allingham, Will-o’-the-Wisp depicts the story of Bridget, who was stolen by the “wee folk” and brought into the mountains. Forbes set the narrative in a moody autumnal landscape rendered with precise natural detail. The oak frame imitating the painted tree limbs incorporates lines from Allingham’s poem.

Alison Saar, Mirror, Mirror: Mulatta Seeking Inner Negress II, 2014

Through powerful forms and narrative detail, Saar explores identity, gender, and history. In Mirror, Mirror a light-skinned figure contemplates her dark reflection. Positioning the figure’s back to viewers, the artist denies access to the woman’s face except as a reflection.

5 Fast Facts: Yael Bartana’s “What if Women Ruled the World”

Impress your friends with five fast facts about What if Women Ruled the World (2016) by Yael Bartana (b. 1970, Kfar Yehezkel, Israel), on display in the third-floor galleries.

1. New Neon

NMWA acquired the neon sculpture What if Women Ruled the World (2016) by Israeli artist Yael Bartana in 2017, in celebration of the museum’s 30th anniversary.

Yael Bartana, What if Women Ruled the World, 2016; Neon, 98 1/2 x 38 1/2 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Museum purchase, Belinda de Gaudemar Acquisition Fund, with additional support from the Members’ Acquisition Fund; © Yael Bartana; Photo by Lee Stalsworth

Yael Bartana, What if Women Ruled the World, 2016; Neon, 98 1/2 x 38 1/2 in.; NMWA, Museum purchase, Belinda de Gaudemar Acquisition Fund, with additional support from the Members’ Acquisition Fund; © Yael Bartana; Photo by Lee Stalsworth

2. Multimedia Maven

Bartana is known for her films, installations, and photography. Her complex, multimedia pieces often address and question the ceremonies and rituals that affirm national identity. Her work demands reflection on the ways in which countries develop and sustain dominant narratives.

3. Turning the Tables

Inspired by Stanley Kubrick’s 1964 film Dr. Strangelove, in which a select group of powerful white men assemble to discuss nuclear war and unilaterally determine the fate of the human race, Bartana’s What if Women Ruled the World both proposes and proclaims a peaceful alternative.

4. Women Rule

Approximately 10% of United Nation member countries are led by women. To learn more about trailblazers and current women leaders, check out this Al Jazeera interactive and Pew Research Center 2017 study findings.

5. “Year of the Woman”

The United States House and Senate midterm elections, on November 6, 2018, could bring about a tidal wave of change: 260 women are on the ballot. Inform yourself and vote! Check out this Vice video and the Rutgers Center for American Women and Politics “2018 Summary of Women Candidates” report.

—Adrienne L. Gayoso is the senior 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.

Veils of Color: Hung Liu

Although Hung Liu (b. 1948, Changchun, China) works in a variety of mediums, her portraits are unified by a unique style characterized by richly colored veils of drip marks—an effect that makes her figures appear as if they are melting or obscured. Liu’s portraits are inspired by old Chinese photographs that primarily depict anonymous individuals omitted from the historical narrative. While her works illuminate these forgotten figures, the drip marks echo the effect of time on photographs and memories. “I create or try to portray and preserve images but also destroy or dissolve them,” says Liu. “This is because there is no way we can fully preserve anything.”

Hung Liu, Winter Blossom, 2011; Woodblock print with acrylic ink, 32 1/4 x 29 3/4 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Steven Scott, Baltimore, in honor of the artist and the Twenty-fifth Anniversary of the National Museum of Women in the Arts; © Hung Liu

Trained as a painter in China during the Cultural Revolution, Liu was only permitted to paint government-sanctioned subjects in a hyperrealistic style. While studying art at the University of California, San Diego, she expanded her artistic language and explored other techniques, mediums, and subjects. Today, she simultaneously embraces and overthrows elements of realism. While her detailed figures are rendered realistically, drip marks and additional symbolic imagery destabilize her images and create a mystical atmosphere.

Liu achieves her drip marks in a variety of ways. In her paintings, she heavily dilutes her pigments with linseed oil and allows the mixture to flow freely down the canvas as she paints. To translate this effect into her etchings, she drips acid directly onto the copper plate. Her painting and etching processes include a degree of spontaneity. When dripping paint onto a canvas or acid onto an etching plate, she can never exactly predict how the liquids will fall. She relinquishes control and allows gravity and her materials to take over, a stark contrast to the technical precision of realism.

Left to right: Installation view of Hung Liu’s tapestry Rainmaker (2011) and a detail showing interwoven threads; Photos: Kali Steinberg, NMWA

While creating her tapestries and woodblock prints, Liu has more control over the final outcome. She collaborates with a team of weavers to create large tapestries that at a distance look like paintings. Her team weaves together numerous multicolored threads to imitate the drips of her paintings and etchings. To create a similar effect for a woodblock print, Liu carves jagged lines into the woodblock prior to coating it with ink. While these processes are calculated, the intentional drip marks give the illusion of impulse.

To learn more visit the artist’s website, watch a video of Liu working in her studio, and visit the museum to see the special exhibition Hung Liu In Print. Reserve your spot to meet the artist at NMWA on June 6, 2018.

—Kali Steinberg is the spring 2018 publications intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.