Connecting the Threads: Amy Lamb 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.”

In Wonder of the Natural World

Molecular biologist-turned-photographer Amy Lamb (b. 1944) has always loved plants. She spent her childhood collecting and preserving flora, and built a successful career studying biological structures and their processes. Lamb now uses the camera to create striking large-scale portraits of fruits and flowers. She attributes her shift to photography to a desire to “communicate the beauty I was seeing [as a biologist] and the sense of wonder it was evoking.” Lamb’s imagery doesn’t just begin with the camera—she grows most of her subject matter in her own extensive garden and greenhouse.

A colorful portrait of a lush arrangement of flowers including poppies, peonies, roses, carnations, and more. Some flowers have small water drpolets on them and a butterfly and bee are perched on others. The image is a still life photograph, though it looks like a painting.

Amy Lamb, Vase of Flowers I, 1999 (printed 2011); pigment print, 35 x 35 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of the artist and Steven Scott Gallery, Baltimore, in honor of the 25th Anniversary of the National Museum of Women in the Arts; © 1999 Amy Lamb, all rights reserved

In Vase of Flowers I (1999, printed 2011), currently on view at NMWA, Lamb’s lavish bouquet deliberately echoes flower paintings by artists such as Rachel Ruysch (1664–1750). Like Ruysch, Lamb portrays real flowers and insects, but the resulting composition is not “natural.” Lamb carefully balanced the flowers to achieve the illusion of an overflowing vase, although the pictured vase did not actually have the capacity to contain them all. She also used cold temperatures to ensure that the insects remained still long enough to be photographed. The lush, painterly result demonstrates Lamb’s extensive process along with her emphasis on color, texture, and imagination.

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For Rodarte, the garden is a reoccurring theme throughout their collections, from 2006 dresses with self-fabric floral appliqués to the recent Spring/Summer 2018 collection. In the Mulleavys’ work a garden is a symbol of a specific memory, touch, or scent. Laura says, “Nature inspires our choice of colors and the way that we build garments—with a layering of fabrics that reference growth patterns of flowers, and our use of textural materials reminiscent of the details found in nature.”

For the Spring/Summer 2017 collection, inspired by the poetic Spanish film El espíritu de la colmena (The Spirit of the Beehive) (1973), models were sent down the runway in yellow, white, and black-hued layers of ruffled lace and dotted tulle reminiscent of a honeycomb. Yet, a subject as seemingly serene as a flower garden has deeper implications; that same spring, the North American rusty patched bumblebee was added to the endangered species list for the first time.

Connecting the Threads: Amy Lamb and Rodarte

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

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Rodarte exhibition installation view at the National Museum of Women in the Arts, D.C.; Photo: Lee Stalsworth

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

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

In the garden, the Mulleavys present a fully romanticized femininity, manipulating tiny seed pearls, caviar beads, floral appliqués, and lace nets into creations as delicate as flower petals. It is also the ideal setting for Rodarte to explore a wide color palette, from scarlet reds and brilliant yellows to soft pinks and airy whites. In the garden—with texture, meticulous planning, and imagination—Rodarte’s painterly sensibilities flourish.

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

Connecting the Threads: Lynda Benglis 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.”

Material Metamorphosis 

Lynda Benglis's sculpture is a shining knot mounted on the wall made out of bronze, zinc, copper, aluminum, wire that has been manipulated to appear light as a bow.

Lynda Benglis, Eridanus, 1984. Bronze, zinc, copper, aluminum, wire, 58 x 48 x 27 in.; © Lynda Benglis; Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY

Lynda Benglis (b. 1941) has always been interested in the idea of transformation. She reinvented art forms as a pioneer creating sculptures out of paint, melted wax, and latex, thus blurring the boundaries between painting and sculpture. She took on the rules of the art world with her infamous 1974 Artforum ad, which interrogated the lack of attention paid to work by women artists. And she “bedazzled Minimalism,” imbuing the staid, masculine genre with color and shine. Her work Eridanus (1984), currently on view at NMWA, continues this interest in completely transforming material. In the wall-mounted sculpture, bronze, zinc, copper, aluminum, and wire are manipulated to appear light as knotted fabric, a bow floating on the wall. Thus, in the hands of Benglis, tough industrial material becomes delicate and decorative.

Eridanus is often read in a feminist context, as a piece working to redefine mainstream perceptions of femininity through craft and material. Her choice to rework a typically masculine material into a shining bow of feminine associations can’t be overlooked. But Benglis has stated, “I am a permissive artist. I allow things to happen. I believe the viewer is half the work.” This sentiment allows the piece itself to continually transform—to intrigue and challenge each set of eyes that come upon it.

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For Rodarte, the Mulleavys transform simple fabrics to evoke emotion and ideas. For example, inspired by a trip to Death Valley, their California Condor Spring/Summer 2010 collection underscored their use of narrative and nontraditional techniques to convey complex ideas. To evoke a futuristic desert landscape for this line, the Mulleavys distressed their materials—dyed cheesecloth, leather, crystals, macramé, and plastic—by painting, burning, shredding, and sandpapering them. These transformed materials encase the figure in a loosely plaited network of pattern and texture.

Photo © Tony Powell. 2018 NMWA Rodarte Opening. November 8_ 2018-27

Selections from Rodarte's Spring/Summer 2010 Collection on view at NMWA; Photo by Tony Powell

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Close up of selections from Rodarte's Spring/Summer 2010 Collection on view at NMWA; Photo by Alicia Gregory

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Close up of selections from Rodarte's Spring/Summer 2010 Collection on view at NMWA; Photo by Alicia Gregory

Connecting the Threads: Lynda Benglis and Rodarte

Close up of selections from Rodarte's Spring/Summer 2010 Collection on view at NMWA; Photo by Alicia Gregory

Connecting the Threads: Lynda Benglis and Rodarte

Rodarte exhibition installation view at NMWA; Photo by Floto+Warner

In 2010, the Mulleavys designed and created the ballet costumes for the Academy Award–winning film Black Swan. Natalie Portman, the film’s star, recommended them to director Darren Aronofsky, recognizing the synergy between the psychological horror film and the elegant yet visceral balletic designs of Rodarte’s Fall/Winter 2008 collection. The Mulleavys conducted extensive research into the history of ballet and sociopolitical developments surrounding ballet and the female body. As Kate explains, “The dark and extremely beautiful transformation in ‘Swan Lake’ mirrors the physical transformation that the ballerina goes through in order to perform.”

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

Connecting the Threads: Joan Mitchell 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.”

Landscape & Memory

In the 1950s, Joan Mitchell (1925–1992) emerged as a leading member of the second generation Abstract Expressionist movement. One of just a small group of women painters to gain acclaim in the movement, Mitchell is known for her expansive paintings and ecstatic, gestural brushstrokes. In her work, she sought to capture the emotional and psychological impressions of landscapes and experiences—each painting a preservation of feeling. “I could certainly never mirror nature. I would like more to paint what it leaves me with,” she once said. In Sale Neige (which translates to Dirty Snow) (1980), on view in NMWA’s collection galleries, Mitchell evokes impressions from childhood in her native Chicago—frozen Lake Michigan, falling through the ice in a sledding accident, and competing as a champion figure skater.

Joan Mitchell, Sale Neige, 1980; Oil on canvas, 86 1/4 x 70 7/8 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Wallace and Wilhelmina Holladay; © Estate of Joan Mitchell

Joan Mitchell, Sale Neige, 1980; Oil on canvas, 86 1/4 x 70 7/8 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Wallace and Wilhelmina Holladay; © Estate of Joan Mitchell

Mitchell spent much of her career in France—moving to Paris in 1959, and later, the small village of Vétheuil in 1968. There, with nature as a backdrop, her work changed significantly, encompassing more spaciousness and light. In her book Ninth Street Women, Mary Gabriel described this change: “In an environment so rich in natural bounty…a part of Joan long buried awakened. The ‘violent’ high notes of yellows and reds she first used as a girl returned. Joan’s canvases shone like light.” Mitchell herself once explained the refuge she found in rendering nature: “I become the sunflower, the lake, the tree. I no longer exist.”

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Ever-present in the Mulleavys’ work is the landscape of California. This influence is deeply rooted in their childhood, which was spent outdoors, exploring the redwoods and beaches that surrounded their home in Aptos, California. Kate says, “There is probably a little bit of California’s natural beauty in every one of our collections.” Laura describes “tide pools, redwood forests, mustard fields, California poppies, and apple orchards…the entire landscape had a sort of hazy atmosphere. Hare Krishnas, psychedelic skaters, hippies, punks, surfers—all of these memories shaped the way we think creatively.”

Photo © Tony Powell. 2018 NMWA Rodarte Opening. November 8_ 2018-51 2

Rodarte exhibition installation view at the National Museum of Women in the Arts, D.C.; Photo: Tony Powell

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Rodarte exhibition installation view at the National Museum of Women in the Arts, D.C.; Photo: Lee Stalsworth

Photo © Tony Powell. 2018 NMWA Rodarte Opening.

Rodarte exhibition installation view at the National Museum of Women in the Arts, D.C.; Photo: Tony Powell

Rodarte’s Spring/Summer 2011 collection reflects the Mulleavys’ memories of growing up in 1970s and 1980s suburbia. Dresses echo the faux-wood paneling of their childhood home, the blue-and-white porcelain in their house, and a bronze Minerva, the Roman goddess of wisdom, shown on the Great Seal of California. Other dresses reflect impressions of Santa Cruz, where two subcultures—the surfers and hippies—are transformed into printed silk gowns that replicate tie-dye combined with neoprene bibs. California, thus, is not only a source of inspiration, but also an ideological point of reference, both free-thinking and iconoclastic.

—Alicia Gregory is the assistant editor 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.

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.

Modern Makers: Jess Rotter

L.A.-based illustrator/artist Jess Rotter collaborated with NMWA, Kate and Laura Mulleavy of Rodarte, and custom design studio Third Drawer Down to create a set of paper dolls featuring Rodarte fashions. Buy them from the Museum Shop and learn more about her process and inspiration:

Jess Rotter, photo by Michael Reich

Jess Rotter, photo by Michael Reich

Can you describe your work?

I’m best known for paying homage to music of the 1960s and ’70s (Grateful Dead, Yusuf/Cat Stevens, Harry Nilsson, Judee Sill) through my scribbles. In 2007, I started a T-shirt line called “Rotter and Friends” and that shepherded my work into more exposure. Recently I have branched out to working in more diverse areas of entertainment, fashion, and editorial, but am still a big record nerd at heart.

How did you get started?

I have always been an artist, and studied painting at Syracuse University. When abroad for a semester in London, I got my first job designing graphics, for a streetwear label for girls called Birdie, and that was my first foray into the world of merchandise and fashion.

What is a typical work day like for you?

I love being home in the quiet morning, making a chemex’d pot of coffee, taking in the news, and having daydreams, before reality strikes and it’s time to get to work! I usually put a record on or listen to an old ’70s radio show while I draw or paint. The projects change every day. I’m grateful to have a freelance routine, as it has taken me many years to get to this place.

What inspires you?

I love old album covers, comics, and magazines. I cherish wine-filled talks with friends where we share creative ideas and discuss the state of the world. That in-person camaraderie is the good stuff.

Can you name a female artist whose work you love?

So many that it is hard to pick! But the recent retrospective of Aline Kominsky-Crumb’s comics, Love That Bunch, is hitting home…perhaps because I am also a sarcastic Long Island Jewess. Her work is so honest and needs to be recognized more.

How did you begin this collaboration with Rodarte?

I’ve been close friends with Kate and Laura for over a decade and we always look for projects we can work on together. It’s hard to find friends who you can belly laugh and philosophize with at the same time, and those two have been very important souls to me. I have followed their work closely all these years, and their collections forever inspire. The process was pretty natural, just them calling me asking to draw their amazing dresses. The answer was immediately, “Duh!”

5 Questions with Holly Laws

The fifth installment of NMWA’s Women to Watch exhibition series, Heavy Metal, is 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. Heavy Metal engages with the fluidity between “fine” art, design, and craft, whose traditional definitions are rooted in gender discrimination.

Heavy Metal—Women to Watch 2018
Artist: Holly Laws
Nominating committee: Arkansas Committee / Consulting curator: Matthew Smith, Arkansas Art Center

Holly Laws with her works in Heavy Metal; Photo: Sarah Baker

1. What do you like best about working with metal?

I am intrigued by the almost infinite variety of processes and techniques associated with metal, as well as the range of metals available to the contemporary sculptor. From fine gold beaten into delicate sheets for leafing to molten iron for casting, one could spend a lifetime discovering new ways of working.

 2. How do your works on view in Heavy Metal fit into your larger body of work?

For the past several years I have been focusing on immersive installations with interconnected objects, using recorded sound and dialogue to explore the repercussions of human actions and interactions. These two works are metaphors for our current sociopolitical climate, and were part of a larger body of work exploring the divisive state of affairs in American politics and the collective interpersonal polarization, splintering, and miscommunication.

 3. As an artist, what is your most essential tool? Why?

Because I employ so many different materials and methods of construction in my work, I don’t have just one essential tool.  When I’m extruding rubber, my most essential tool is my miniature precision caulking gun. When I’m sewing rawhide, it would be my Japanese screw punch, and when I’m growing alum crystals it would be my kitchen stove and a large enameled pot. This is probably why my house and studio are packed to the rafters with miscellaneous tools and materials.

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Holly Laws, Placeholder, 2017; Cast bronze, found ironing board, and plywood pedestal, 39 1/2 x 54 x 26 in.; Courtesy of the artist

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Holly Laws, Placeholder (detail), 2017; Cast bronze, found ironing board, and plywood pedestal, 39 1/2 x 54 x 26 in.; Courtesy of the artist

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Holly Laws, Three Eastern Bluebirds, 2017; Copper, steel, mahogany, found ironing board, and plywood pedestal, 50 1/2 x 60 x 28 in.; Courtesy of the artist

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Holly Laws, Three Eastern Bluebirds, 2017; Copper, steel, mahogany, found ironing board, and plywood pedestal, 50 1/2 x 60 x 28 in.; Courtesy of the artist

 4. Who or what are your sources of inspiration and influence?

All the women in my family who came before me are a huge influence. My father’s mother tatted. My mother’s mother sewed clothing for her five daughters and herself. My aunts sewed, did needlework, Ikebana flower arranging, and many other creative pursuits that required a good eye for design and fine motor skills. There were never idle hands. I grew up with everyone around me making.

 5. What is the last exhibition you saw that you had a strong reaction to?

Women Artists in Paris, 1850–1900 at the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Massachussetts is great. The exhibition was a stark reminder of the struggles women artists have faced and all the obstacles they needed to overcome to study and to carve out a place for themselves in a male-dominated art world. These women were trailblazers, and marveling at the fruits of their labors was uplifting and empowering.

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

Artist Spotlight: Alejandra Prieto

The fifth installment of NMWA’s Women to Watch exhibition series, Heavy Metal, is 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. Heavy Metal engages with the fluidity between “fine” art, design, and craft, whose traditional definitions are rooted in gender discrimination.

Heavy Metal—Women to Watch 2018
Artist: Alejandra Prieto
Nominating committee: Chile Committee / Consulting curator: Gloria Cortés Aliaga, Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes

Alejandra Prieto with Pyrite Mirror (2018) in Heavy Metal; Photo: NMWA

Alejandra Prieto’s Pyrite Mirror (2018), on view in Heavy Metal, is over seven feet in height. The metal mirror is made from pyrite—often called “fool’s gold”—resin, and wood. She based her work on mirrors made by the ancient peoples of Central and South America. Because of this connection to the past, Prieto says that her mirror “functions as a contemporary ruin that activates the past in the present, thus making visible the transience of our present time.”

The artist has made several versions of Pyrite Mirror, and each has a unique web of cracks and imperfections. They interrupt the reflection of the viewer observing the piece, and draw attention to the materiality of the mirror. Often, when looking at mirrors, viewers can only focus on their reflection, or the details of the object, one at a time. But with Prieto’s mirrors, the viewer sees both at once. Indeed, the work forces the viewer to confront the mirror as an object, instead of merely examining their own image.

Alejandra Prieto, Pyrite Mirror, 2018; Pyrite, resin, wood, and metal.; Photo: NMWA

The artist often uses coal in her sculptures, and she has also created mirrors out of this material, which was also used for mirrors in ancient cultures. Her coal and pyrite mirrors likewise encourage contemplation on the history and nature of the mirror—now a ubiquitous item, it was once an uncommon luxury. Her other coal sculptures of everyday objects include a chandelier, sneakers, gloves, a belt, shoes, and a carpet. Like her mirrors, these carvings display the artist’s incredible attention to detail and are slightly reflective. Prieto’s surprising sculptures make the viewer reconsider humble materials and aesthetics, as well as the human history of crafting and using objects.

Visit the museum to see Heavy Metal, on view through September 16, 2018. Hear from more 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.

5 Questions with Venetia Dale

The fifth installment of NMWA’s Women to Watch exhibition series, Heavy Metal, is 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. Heavy Metal engages with the fluidity between “fine” art, design, and craft, whose traditional definitions are rooted in gender discrimination.

Heavy Metal—Women to Watch 2018
Artist: Venetia Dale
Nominating committee: Massachusetts State Committee / Consulting curator: Emily Zilber, editor, Metalsmith (formerly of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston)

Venetia Dale; Photo: Daniel Portal

1. What do you like best about working with metal?

Pewter was commonplace in colonial homes in the form of practical objects like plates and tankards. Today, pewter is often used to make souvenir spoons, wizard figurines, and other trinkets. I am constantly negotiating this associated space, as kitsch and fantasy meet the colonial American home, when I am making my work. I love both the reverence and sense of play that these associations carry.

2. How do your works on view in Heavy Metal fit into your larger body of work?

The works Touchmarks: Made in India (2009), As it Comes to Bear (2015), and Between: Kitchenaid Mixer (2017) share a common thread. I took common-but-overlooked objects (Styrofoam inserts, keychains, and plastic baskets) and translated them through material and form. These works, like most I create, use a similar making methodology of fragmenting an object, then molding and casting it in pewter. Once I have a good stockpile of castings, I cut, piece, and solder them together.

3. As an artist, what is your most essential tool? Why?

My three-wheel vintage Craftsman bandsaw is my most useful tool. It expedites my process by making quick, straight cuts to my castings. I am fascinated by the way people adapt objects to fit their needs. When I bought this bandsaw on Craigslist, it was outfitted with a DIY motor taken from a treadmill. I fell in love with two disparate objects of use becoming one.

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Venetia Dale, As It Comes to Bear (detail), 2015; Teddy bear keychains cast in pewter, found keychains, and pewter, 38 x 42 in.; Courtesy of the artist

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Venetia Dale, As It Comes to Bear, 2015; Teddy bear keychains cast in pewter, found keychains, and pewter, 38 x 42 in.; Courtesy of the artist

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Venetia Dale, Between: Kitchenaid Mixer, 2017; Styrofoam cast in pewter, two elements, each 29 x 21 x 8 in.; Courtesy of the artist

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Venetia Dale, Touchmarks: Made in India, 2009; Fragments of plastic baskets cast in pewter, 22 x 22 x 17 in.; Courtesy of the artist; Photo by Adam Krauth

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Venetia Dale, Touchmarks: Made in India (detail), 2009; Fragments of plastic baskets cast in pewter, 22 x 22 x 17 in.; Courtesy of the artist; Photo by Adam Krauth

4. Who or what are your sources of inspiration and influence? 

I am drawn to what people leave behind and what those traces can tell us about our relationships to things and to one another. My work relies on things people use out of delight, need, or convenience. Sometimes tracing one’s habits of buying and throwing away—or imagining why something is made, and how—guide my work.

5. What is the last exhibition you saw that you had a strong reaction to? 

In 2013, I visited Ann Hamilton’s installation the event of a thread at the Armory in New York. Hamilton took a spacious drill hall and turned it into a place where intimate yet connected interactions occurred. Objects became facilitators that connected the viewers. It was unexpectedly moving, and that is likely why it has stayed with me.

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

5 Questions with Alice Hope

The fifth installment of NMWA’s Women to Watch exhibition series, Heavy Metal, is 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. Heavy Metal engages with the fluidity between “fine” art, design, and craft, whose traditional definitions are rooted in gender discrimination.

Heavy Metal—Women to Watch 2018
Artist: Alice Hope
Nominating committee: Greater New York Committee / Consulting curator: Shannon Stratton, Museum of Arts and Design

Alice Hope with her untitled work in Heavy Metal; Photo: Sarah Baker

1. What do you like best about working with metal?

What I love most about working with metal is the material’s reflectivity. Because I use thousands of metal parts to make my work, there are thousands of points for light to potentially bounce. Consequently, the works notably change, as the light changes.

2. How do your works on view in Heavy Metal fit into your larger body of work?

I like my work to appear as if it grew itself, as if the materials reproduced and multiplied. This illusion is suggested in some of my installations; the materials seeming to colonize and take over space. The works in Heavy Metal attempt to suggest this colonizing, within the object or grid.

3. As an artist, what is your most essential tool? Why?

I’m informed by the layers and levels of seeing. These days my most essential tool is my magnifying glasses, but research and dialogue also intensify my seeing.

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Alice Hope, Untitled, 2017; Steel ball chain, used fishing tackle, and found net, 36 x 30 x 30 in.; Private collection; Photo by Jenny Gorman

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

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

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Alice Hope, Untitled, 2012; Aluminum ball chain and perforated metal, 6 x 6 ft.; Private collection; Photo by Jenny Gorman

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Alice Hope, Untitled (detail), 2012; Aluminum ball chain and perforated metal, 6 x 6 ft.; Private collection; Photo by Jenny Gorman

4. Who or what are your sources of inspiration and influence?

Unquantifiable quantities inspire me. I’m deeply moved when looking into a Gaylord box filled with used can tabs, when seeing schools of fish or swarms of insects, or when I’m part of mid-day pedestrian traffic. Perceiving overwhelming numbers of things likens to experiences of the infinite.

5. What is the last exhibition you saw that you had a strong reaction to?

Laurie Anderson’s show at Guild Hall literally had me questioning the ground I stand on. Her work makes me rethink spatial awareness like no other.

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