#5WomenArtists: From a #Hashtag to a Movement

Last month, NMWA’s #5WomenArtists social media campaign launched for a fourth year of raising awareness about women artists. Pushing beyond the campaign’s signature question—“Can you name five woman artists?”—the 2019 campaign also challenged cultural organizations and individuals to take action to help right the art world’s gender imbalance. NMWA’s call to action listed ideas to inspire pledges: organizations might survey the ratio of women artists in their collections, acquire a new work by a woman artist, or establish a scholarship for women artists.

#5WomenArtists posts from Instagram

#5WomenArtists posts from Instagram

Inspiring Numbers

Our call this year was answered by over 750 cultural institutions and 8,000 individuals—responses came from across the U.S. as well as 37 other countries on six continents. We welcomed new participating organizations from Armenia, Colombia, Honduras, Liberia, Morocco, New Zealand, Romania, Sweden, Ukraine, and the United Arab Emirates, among others. The campaign garnered 5,500 Instagram posts, 17,000 tweets, and countless inspiring pledges:

  • The Detroit Institute of Arts pledged to seek more opportunities to collaborate with local women artists on enriching programs and events.
  • The Seattle Art Museum pledged to feature an installation by a woman artist in its Olympic Sculpture Park.
  • The Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires (Malba) pledged to increase the representation of Latin American women in its collection until works by female artists account for at least 50% of acquisitions.
  • The National Portrait Gallery pledged to feature the stories of American women in its exhibitions, programs, and social media as part of the Smithsonian American Women’s History Initiative.

Individual participants pledged to:

  • “Buy work from living female artists and continue to legitimize the female perspective in the art world.”
  • “Integrate women artists into my lessons and curriculum.”
  • “Expose my son to art created by women.”
  • “Create a space for young women in the arts to feel comfortable sharing their work.”
  • “Create more opportunities for women artists to show, sell, and talk about their work.”

Screenshots of various #5WomenArtists pledges and answers

The campaign also expanded the practice of social media “takeovers” this year. In addition to NMWA taking over Tate’s Instagram account on International Women’s Day to share selections from our collection, this year the @womeninthearts Instagram account was taken over by 22 other museums that highlighted #5WomenArtists from their collections or programs. Check out the @womeninthearts story highlights to watch!

Tate x NMWA Collaboration

Additionally, this year NMWA teamed up with Tate to expand the reach of #5WomenArtists. Tate has an ongoing commitment to increasing the representation of women across the arts sector and within its four galleries across the U.K. Tate’s own public pledge is a major one: to stage five major solo exhibitions featuring women artists in 2020 and 2021. The planned exhibitions will highlight artists Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, Paula Rego, Magdalena Abakanowicz, Maria Bartuszová, and Haegue Yang.

Keep Connected

Explore #5WomenArtists highlights on our website and social media accounts (@womeninthearts). Continue to advocate on behalf of women artists and celebrate their accomplishments all year. Every month is Women’s History Month at the museum!

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

Opening Friday: Ursula von Rydingsvard: The Contour of Feeling

Ursula von Rydingsvard: The Contour of Feeling presents the artist’s monumental cedar wood sculptures alongside newer works for the first time. The poetic and expressive sculptures, which also use leather, linen, and other organic materials, reveal the process by which von Rydingsvard gives outward visual form to her innermost ideas and emotions.

***

On view March 22–July 28, 2019, The Contour of Feeling marks the most ambitious von Rydingsvard exhibition to date in the United States and her first solo exhibition in Washington, D.C. Featuring 26 sculptures, a wall installation, and nine works on paper, the exhibition is guest-curated by Mark Rosenthal, formerly curator of 20th-century art at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., and organized by the Fabric Workshop and Museum in Philadelphia, where it was on view from April 27 to August 26, 2018.

A woman stares up at a large and towering cedar sculpture that features a very tall base, perhaps 12 ft, with an extending smaller piece on the left that seems to hang down slightly, resembling the unevenness/organic makeup of a tree base.

Ursula von Rydingsvard, For Natasha, 2015; Cedar and graphite, 9 ft. 1 in. x 6 ft. 7 in. x 3 ft. 6 in.; © Ursula von Rydingsvard, Courtesy of Galerie Lelong & Co.; Photo by Michael Bodycomb

The daughter of a woodcutter from a long line of peasant farmers, von Rydingsvard spent several of her early years in the wooden barracks of refugee camps in Germany at the end of World War II. While von Rydingsvard resists biographical readings of her works, she speaks of those critical years as woven into her subconscious or instinct, which in turn leaves an imprint on her art.

The Contour of Feeling centers on the creative flourishing of the artist’s recent career, anchored by a number of her early masterpieces. Among these is Untitled (nine cones) (1976), von Rydingsvard’s first major work in cedar and the earliest work on view in this exhibition. Subtle references to her family history are seen in Zakopane (1987), a wall installation of 22 fused vertical units with hollow vessels at the base. The sculpture commands the viewer’s attention with an altar-like presence that simultaneously recalls the tools used for labor by Polish peasants.

Von Rydingsvard’s oeuvre also includes smaller works on handmade linen paper which are infused with surprising materials like knotted silk from a red scarf, tangles of thread, paper pulp, hair, lace, graphite and pigment. The collaged materials extend the boundaries of the paper, giving the delicate two-dimensional works a sculptural presence. The more intimate side of von Rydingsvard’s art is also evident in a wall installation that features her little nothings (2000-15), small objects collected and created by the artist, including strands of her brother’s hair, fragments of cedar, knitting and linen, and personal photographs.

Ursula von Rydingsvard - Zakopane

Ursula von Rydingsvard, Zakopane, 1987; Cedar and paint, 11 ft. 6 in. x 22 ft. x 3 ft.; © Ursula von Rydingsvard, Courtesy of Galerie Lelong & Co.; Photo by Carlos Avendaño

Ursula von Rydingsvard - Scratch II

Ursula von Rydingsvard, SCRATCH II, 2015; Cedar and graphite, 10 ft. 1 in. x 6 ft. 3 in. x 4 ft. 11 in.; © Ursula von Rydingsvard, Courtesy of Galerie Lelong & Co.; Photo by Carlos Avendaño

Ursula von Rydingsvard - thread terror

Ursula von Rydingsvard, thread terror, 2016; Cedar and graphite, 8 ft. 10 in. x 8 ft. 5 in. x 1 ft. 1 in.; © Ursula von Rydingsvard, Courtesy of Galerie Lelong & Co.; Photo by Jerry L. Thompson

Ursula von Rydingsvard - Red Wool

Ursula von Rydingsvard, Untitled, 2016; Thread, wool, and pigment on linen handmade paper, 38 x 22 in.; Produced at Dieu Donné, New York; © Ursula von Rydingsvard, Courtesy of Galerie Lelong & Co.; Photo by Etienne Frossard

Ursula von Rydingsvard - little nothings

Ursula von Rydingsvard, little nothings, 2000–15; Items including cedar objects, drawings on paper, copper wires, photographs, tools, threads, and lace, dimensions variable; © Ursula von Rydingsvard, Courtesy of Galerie Lelong & Co.; Photo by Carlos Avendaño

The Contour of Feeling illuminates the “interior Ursula,” as evidenced by the exhibition’s title, which was inspired by a line from Rainer Maria Rilke’s poem “Fourth Duino Elegy”: “We don’t know the contour of feeling; we only know what molds it from without.” Like Rilke’s poem, von Rydingsvard’s art expresses a persistent search for deeper truths. In her relentless quest to visually render her emotions and feelings, von Rydingsvard states that she makes art to “get answers to questions for which I know there are no answers” and “mostly, to survive.”

#5WomenArtists: From Awareness to Action

A woman stares at a gallery wall of blank white frames, above her head the question "Can you name five women artists?" is written in bold green type. At the bottom of the image the statement "Most people we asked could not." is written in white text, followed by the #5WomenArtists hashtag.

#5WomenArtists is back for a fourth year, this time with a new call for action

Each March since 2016, the National Museum of Women in the Arts has posed a simple question on social media for Women’s History Month: Can you name five women artists? Using the hashtag #5WomenArtists, the campaign spotlights the lives and work of women artists, historical and contemporary. It also calls attention to the fact that women artists remain dramatically underrepresented—and their work undervalued—in galleries, museums, and auction houses around the world.

To date, more than 11,000 individuals and 1,000 organizations from 47 countries and seven continents have participated in the campaign. This year, we move from awareness to action as we invite museums, galleries, and other cultural institutions to take tangible steps toward advancing gender equity in the arts. Whether you are an individual or part of an institution, there are many ways to play a part in supporting women artists throughout March—and beyond.

Share your pledge on Instagram Stories! Download more templates to use on social media

Check out our list of ideas about how to get started, including these highlights:

For individuals:

  • Learn about gender inequity in the arts through some shocking statistics
  • Download and share ready-made #5WomenArtists graphics on your social media feeds
  • When you see an exhibition/museum/gallery that features few or no women artists, tell the institution that you would like to see more women represented
  • Buy a work of art by a woman artist
  • Start a support group or skill share with other women artists

For institutions:

Get inspired by pledges taken by the Tate, the Jewish Museum, the Museo Guggenheim Bilbao, and others. Other ideas for action include:

  • Determine the ratio of women artists in your collection by conducting a survey
  • Establish a program for women artists in your community (like a networking event, workshop, panel discussion, or scholarship)
  • Acquire a new work by a woman artist for your collection in the next year

To kick off the month, learn more about five women artists featured in NMWA’s programs, exhibitions, and collection:

A graphic depicting photos of five different women artists including: Ambreen Butt, Remedios Varo, Patricia Piccinini, Nikki S. Lee, and Jaune Quick-to-See Smith.

Learn more about women artists through NMWA’s artist profiles

Ambreen Butt (b. 1969, Lahore, Pakistan) reimagines traditional Indian and Persian miniature painting to feature contemporary female protagonists and political subject matter.

A refugee two times over, Remedios Varo (b. 1908, Anglès, Spain, d. 1963, Mexico City) settled in Mexico, where she painted fantastical Surrealist works that explored magic, alchemy, and analytical psychology.

Patricia Piccinini (b. 1965, Freetown, Sierra Leone) creates sculptures of hybrid creatures that question the implications of biotechnologies and humanity’s encroachment into “natural” processes.

Nikki S. Lee (b. 1970, Kye-Chang, South Korea) interrogates identity in her photographic works, exploring whether it is possible to move fluidly between cultures.

Jaune Quick-to-See Smith (b. 1940, St. Ignatius, Montana) works with paint, collage, and appropriated imagery to comment on the destruction of the environment, governmental oppression of native cultures, and the myths of Euro-American cultural hegemony.

Starting March 1, take the challenge and post about #5WomenArtists on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook, and tag us @WomenInTheArts. Follow along with the month’s highlights.

—Alicia Gregory is the 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

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

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

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

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

Gallery Reboot – December 2018

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.

Meddling with Metal: “Heavy Metal—Women to Watch 2018”

As a medium for artistic production, metal goes back to early human history. Some of the oldest surviving pieces of art include functional and decorative metal objects from cultures around the world. The use of metal has even defined eras of history (such as the Bronze Age and the Iron Age). The 20 artists featured in NMWA’s exhibition Heavy MetalWomen to Watch 2018 employ metal in a myriad of ways to highlight the material’s brilliance, texture, and color.

Cheryl Eve Acosta, Ericius, 2012; Cuff with copper, enamel, and glass, 5 1/4 x 5 1/4 x 1 1/2 in.; Courtesy of the artist; © Cheryl Eve Acosta; Photo by Gene Starr

The fifth installment of NMWA’s Women to Watch series, Heavy Metal showcases the ways that women artists have creatively carried this medium into the contemporary era, and how their works belie the traditionally masculine reputation of metalwork. Presented by the museum and participating national and international outreach committees, the exhibition showcases contemporary artists working in metal, including those who create sculpture, jewelry, and conceptual forms.

Metals can be strong enough to hold up a bridge or a skyscraper, while at the same time intricate enough for fine jewelry. Some catch the eye with gilt and polish, while others are heavy and weathered, speaking to their source—the earth. Featured works by Heavy Metal artists showcase these qualities. Cheryl Eve Acosta’s lightweight cuff bracelets echo the organic shapes of barnacles and coral, but they are made from copper, a malleable metal. In contrast, Summer House (2015) by Leila Khoury contains steel and concrete, traditional metals used in heavy construction. These different uses of metal speak to the innovative methods of artists today.

Alice Hope, Untitled, 2016; Used Budweiser tabs, 6 ft. diameter; Private collection; Photo by Jenny Gorman

Although the word “metal” often conjures images of gray or bronze-colored works, some artists in Heavy Metal use striking colors in their sculptures. Blanca Muñoz’s Bujía (2013) is an iridescent stainless steel work that incorporates jewel-toned metal mesh planes. An intricate untitled work from 2016 by Alice Hope appears made out of a metal rope, but is actually made of thousands of used beer can tabs, and shines in a vivid vermillion. Lola Brooks’s sacredheartknot (2015) combines steel and gold with bright, smooth Mediterranean coral in a striking textural and color contrast.

Each work in the exhibition  explores the transformable, tactile, and expressive qualities of metal. The largest Women to Watch show to date, Heavy Metal proves the continuing dynamism of this age-old material, and the surprising ways that today’s women artists give it life.

Visit the museum to see Heavy Metal, on view through September 16, 2018. Hear from some of the featured artists through the online Heavy Metal Audio Guide.

—Nana Gongadze is the 2018 summer publications and communications/marketing intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

On View: Maria Helena Vieira da Silva

The Embassy of Portugal in Washington, D.C., invited NMWA to participate in the “Month of Portugal in the United States” for June 2018. This initiative celebrates ongoing cultural, educational, and research exchanges between the two countries. NMWA is partnering with Museu Calouste Gulbenkian in Lisbon to present a group of works by Portuguese-born artist Maria Helena Vieira da Silva (1908–1992).

If you are able to visit NMWA’s collection galleries this June, you will enjoy seeing three works on loan from the celebrated Gulbenkian Museum—two oil paintings and a tapestry—alongside two works by Vieira da Silva from NMWA’s collection.

Installation view of Maria Helena Vieira da Silva’s works at NMWA

Vieira da Silva helped to shape the field of expressive abstraction after World War II in Paris, where she lived and worked for nearly 60 years. She instinctually built line, shape, and color into atmospheric, web-like compositions. In L’aire du vent (1966), she interlaced heavy, roughly drawn lines and restricted her palette to grays and blues, evoking a sense of force that contrasts with the ethereal quality of her canvas titled L’oranger (1954), the artist’s interpretation of an orange orchard on a sunny day.

Maria Helena Vieira da Silva, L’aire du vent, 1966; Oil on canvas, 39 x 52 x 1 1/2 in.; Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, Lisbon; Installation Photo: NMWA

Vieira da Silva designed the wool tapestry titled Janela (Window) on the occasion of the opening of the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation’s headquarters in Lisbon in 1969. This finely woven textile was created at Portugal’s esteemed Manufactura de Tapeçarias de Portalegre. Although she was best known as a painter, Vieira da Silva’s career also included public art commissions and works in tapestry, scenography, stained glass, and illustration.

Visitors may also view works by the artist from NMWA’s collection—The Town, a dazzling oil from 1955, and an untitled gouache (1962) in shades of red and yellow, an unusually bright palette for the artist. A gift to NMWA from Dian Woodner, the gouache will be exhibited at the museum for the first time in this installation of Vieira da Silva’s art.

Visit the museum during June 2018 to see Vieira da Silva’s works and celebrate “Month of Portugal in the United States.”

Adapted from text by Kathryn Wat, chief curator at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Director’s Desk: Amy Sherald Inspires

A few weeks ago at the National Portrait Gallery, a two-year-old girl stood captivated in front of Michelle Obama’s new portrait by Amy Sherald, the artist who also won the gallery’s 2016 Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition. A snapshot of the girl enthralled by the painting circulated on Facebook, where it quickly went viral—as did so many of the photographs of the portrait of the former first lady.

Amy Sherald, They call me Redbone but I’d rather be Strawberry Shortcake, 2009; Oil on canvas, 54 x 43 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Steven Scott, Baltimore, in honor of the artist and the 25th Anniversary of NMWA; © Amy Sherald

Amy Sherald, They call me Redbone but I’d rather be Strawberry Shortcake, 2009; Oil on canvas, 54 x 43 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Steven Scott, Baltimore, in honor of the artist and the 25th Anniversary of NMWA; © Amy Sherald

The little girl’s mother told CNN, “As a female and as a girl of color, it’s really important that I show her people who look like her that are doing amazing things and are making history so that she knows she can do it.”

This statement echoed the former first lady’s remarks at the painting’s unveiling, “[Girls, and especially girls of color,] will see an image of someone who looks like them hanging on the walls of this great American institution. And I know the kind of impact that will have on their lives because I was one of those girls.”

It is extremely exciting for me to see the public interact with Sherald’s work in person and on social media. While the painting of Obama evoked a mixed reception from some who were unfamiliar with her stylized practice, it won high praise from many for its insightful take on a strong woman, inspiring people of all ages. In 2012—before Sherald’s name was widely known—the National Museum of Women in the Arts (NMWA) took notice of her work. You can see two paintings, They Call Me Redbone but I’d Rather Be Strawberry Shortcake and It Made Sense…Mostly In Her Mind, in our galleries.

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

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

The museum’s exterior; Photo: Traci Christensen, NMWA

Our Chief Curator Kathryn Wat says, “Sherald’s flamboyant palette and the gray-scale skin tones of her figures are part of what makes her work so engaging. The way she positions figures in her portraits—usually aimed straight forward and looking out with a neutral expression—is also arresting. I think she rejects the romantic idea that portraits ought to capture not just a likeness but the essence of a sitter’s character. Her work offers a much livelier take on portraiture—it suggests that people are never of a singular personality and much more complex than we might ever imagine.” Sherald explained that the way she portrays skin color is “a way of deconstructing race and asking that question about what race means to us as a people.”

In the wake of the Obama portrait’s unveiling, Sherald’s work is receiving widespread attention. She was recently awarded the 2018 David C. Driskell Prize from the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, which is presented to a person who has made a significant contribution to the conversation about the work of black artists.

In honor of Women’s History Month, our museum hung a banner featuring Sherald and the word “inspire” on the building. When a woman artist deserves praise, we don’t hesitate to shout it out.

—Susan Fisher Sterling is the Alice West Director of the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Can You Name #5WomenArtists?

Can you name five women artists? Did your response include any women artists of color? Women artists, especially women of color, remain dramatically underrepresented and undervalued in museums, galleries, and auction houses. This March, for Women’s History Month, the National Museum of Women in the Arts is relaunching our award-winning social media campaign asking, “Can you name five women artists?”

NMWA began the #5WomenArtists campaign in March 2016. It elicited shock, provided a challenge, and sparked conversation about gender parity in the arts. During March 2017, more than 520 national and international cultural institutions and nearly 11,000 individuals joined the campaign to promote women artists in all 50 states and on seven continents.

NMWA Director Susan Fisher Sterling says, “There is no better time than now to raise awareness that the art world also disadvantages women’s opportunities and advancement, with women artists of color experiencing a double disadvantage in an already challenging field.”

Join NMWA and other institutions, including the National Gallery of Art, Tate, and Smithsonian Museum of African American History and Culture to share stories of women artists using the hashtag #5WomenArtists.

Here’s how you can get started:

Learn more about women artists through NMWA’s artist profiles

To kick off the month, learn more about five women artists featured in the museum’s programs, exhibitions, and collection:

For more than eight decades, Maria Martinez (1887–1980, San Ildefonso Pueblo, New Mexico) continued and extended the centuries-old pottery traditions of San Ildefonso Pueblo.

Georgia Mills Jessup (1926–2016, Washington, D.C.) demonstrated diverse talent as a painter, sculptor, ceramicist, muralist, and collage artist.

Contemporary painter Li Shurui (b. 1981, Chongqing, China) uses an airbrush to add vibrant color to canvas to approximate the appearance of LED lighting popular in nightclubs and city settings.

Tanya Habjouqa (b. 1975, Amman, Jordan) is one of the founding members of the Rawiya photography collective and documents everyday life and social issues in the Middle East.

Graciela Iturbide’s (b. 1942, Mexico City, Mexico) photographs reveal the daily lives, customs, and rituals of Mexico’s underrepresented native cultures.

Want to help advocate for women artists? Starting March 1, take the challenge and post about #5WomenArtists on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook, and tag us @WomenInTheArts. Follow along with the month’s highlights on NMWA’s Women’s History Month webpage.

Emily Haight is the digital editorial associate at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

American Abstraction—Expanded

Mildred Thompson, Magnetic Fields, 1991; Oil on canvas, 70 1/2 x 150 in.; Courtesy of the Mildred Thompson Estate, Atlanta, Georgia; art and photo © The Mildred Thompson Estate, Atlanta, Georgia

NMWA hosts the exhibition Magnetic Fields: Expanding American Abstraction, 1960s to Today, opening to the public on Friday, October 13, 2017.

Mildred Thompson, Untitled (Wood Picture), ca. 1966; Found wood and acrylic, 39 3/8 x 27 1/8 x 2 3/8 in.; New Orleans Museum of Art, Museum Purchase, Leah Chase Fund, 2016.51; Courtesy and copyright of the Mildred Thompson Estate, Atlanta, Georgia; Photo courtesy of New Orleans Museum of Art, New Orleans, Louisiana

Organized by the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art in Kansas City, Missouri, Magnetic Fields is the first U.S. exhibition to place abstract works by multiple generations of black women artists in context with one another.

Taking its title from a vibrant painting by Mildred Thompson, Magnetic Fields features work by 21 visionary women artists born between the years 1891 and 1981. The exhibition presents abstract art in a variety of artistic mediums, including printmaking, painting, sculpture, and drawing. These works—often incorporating unconventional materials or monumental scale—reveal the artists as under-recognized leaders in abstraction.

Thompson describes her work in the visual arts as “A continuous search for understanding. It is an expression of purpose and reflects a personal interpretation of the universe.” Similarly, artworks on view in Magnetic Fields celebrate each artist’s view of the universe through choices related to form, color, composition, and material exploration. Magnetic Fields re-contextualizes these works within the history of American abstraction.

Candida Alvarez, Puerto Rico, 25796, 2008; Watercolor, pencil, and marker on vellum, 12 x 9 in.; Courtesy of the artist, Chicago, Illinois; © Candida Alvarez; Photo by Tom van Eynde

Thompson’s works are featured alongside art by Candida Alvarez, Betty Blayton, Chakaia Booker, Lilian Thomas Burwell, Nanette Carter, Barbara Chase-Riboud, Deborah Dancy, Abigail DeVille, Maren Hassinger, Jennie C. Jones, Evangeline “EJ” Montgomery, Mary Lovelace O’Neal,  Howardena Pindell, Mavis Pusey, Shinique Smith, Gilda Snowden, Sylvia Snowden, Kianja Strobert, Alma Woodsey Thomas, and Brenna Youngblood. Together with the display of dynamic works by an inter-generational group of artists, an exhibition catalogue helps spark conversation about these artists and their place in history. Magnetic Fields represents a long-awaited milestone in honoring and recognizing the practitioners of abstraction.

Reserve your spot today for a first look at the exhibition during the opening party on October 12, from 7:30–9:30 p.m. Magnetic Fields is on view October 13, 2017–January 21, 2018. 

—Katie Benz is the fall 2017 digital engagement intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

4 Questions with Amy Sherald

Baltimore-based artist Amy Sherald (b. 1973) spoke with attendees at NMWA’s eighth Artists in Conversation program earlier this year. Designed as an intimate in-gallery discussion, Artists in Conversation offer visitors the opportunity to explore the museum and engage with artists and their works in the galleries. Sherald discussed her background, artistic process, and works featured in the museum, eliciting questions from program participants.

Amy Sherald in front of her work at NMWA; Photo: Emily Haight, NMWA

Amy Sherald in front of her work at NMWA; Photo: Emily Haight, NMWA

How did you first develop your signature backgrounds?

“I was trying to work my way through some ideas, and I actually tried to destroy a painting. I poured turpentine all over it and I just left it on the floor. I came back the next day and there were parts of it that had this speckling effect that I really liked. It’s important that these figures don’t exist in a space or time. I feel like the backgrounds work for that—they exist in a liminal space.”

Can you talk about the way you portray skin color?

“In graduate school I was creating self-portraits. . . . I painted people in different colors. One was black, one was a raw sienna, and one was a yellow ochre. It was a way of deconstructing race and asking that question about what race means to us as a people. The gray was an under color and I decided to leave it. Mars black and Naples yellow make these beautiful skin tones. . . . Each [figure] is a different color because each background is a different color. Green comes through, blue comes through, pink comes through. It just worked.”

What was it like studying with Grace Hartigan?

“She was a great role model—especially the stories she would tell about what her life was like as a woman trying to be an artist, working with [Jackson] Pollock and [Willem] de Kooning, and the tension that was there…the way they would put her down sometimes. All those things were learning experiences.”

Amy Sherald speaks to Artists in Conversation program attendees; Photo: Emily Haight, NMWA

Amy Sherald speaks to program attendees; Photo: Emily Haight, NMWA

Would you ever consider making smaller works?

“I really love drawing with charcoal…so, yes, I have. But then when I think about the work being in a museum. For me, the bigger the better because I want to take up that space and…I don’t want anyone visiting the museum and wondering if there was an Amy Sherald in there. I want them to know it was an Amy Sherald.”

Visit the museum to see Sherald’s paintings in person. Stay tuned about future programs through the online calendar and by signing up for e-news.

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