Xaviera Simmons: “How might our entire history have been different…?”

Xaviera Simmons (b. 1974) staged herself among a towering thicket of reeds in her photograph One Day and Back Then (Standing) (2007), currently on view in NMWA’s exhibition Live Dangerously. Simmons wears a black trench coat, black tights and boots, black face makeup, and bright red lipstick—a presentation that starkly juxtaposes her form against the landscape.

Xaviera Simmons (b. 1974) staged herself among a towering thicket of yellow reeds in her photograph One Day and Back Then (Standing) (2007). Simmons wears a black trench coat, black tights and boots, black face makeup, and bright red lipstick—a presentation that starkly juxtaposes her form against the landscape.

Xaviera Simmons, One Day and Back Then (Standing), 2007; Chromira c-print, 30 x 40 in.; Collection of Darryl Atwell; © Xaviera Simmons, Courtesy David Castillo Gallery

In her writing on racial and social justice for the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) and the Art Newspaper, Simmons has expressed a desire to understand what it takes to shift political systems. Her art works to shift our notions of race, history, and collective narratives.

She says of One Day and Back Then (Standing), “The image asks complicated questions of the viewer: Who is this subject and what are her intentions? What is the meaning of blackface in this context and where might this subject be? Who, historically and traditionally, gets to exist in the sublime with regards to landscape photography and landscape painting? How might our entire history have been different had America fulfilled its emancipatory promises to its freed slaves and their descendants instead of commemorating its defeated Confederate planters?”

“Black American men and women, particularly those who descend from American slavery, have been in a constant state of migration, distress, and unsettle since the formation of the United States in and on the landscape of their centuries of forced toil,” explained the artist. Simmons herself is the daughter of a sharecropper from Georgia and can trace her ancestors back nearly four centuries in the U.S. The artist states that her “entire lineage on all sides is all some kind of mixed ‘race’ group built by Southern American slavery.”

After graduating from Bard College with her BFA in 2004, Simmons simultaneously trained as an actor at the Maggie Flanigan Studio and completed the Whitney Museum’s Independent Study Program in Studio Art. She uses wide-ranging forms of art and writing in her work, including photography, performance, installation, and sound.

In her feature for MoMA, Simmons contemplates white supremacy and systemic racism in her social groups, her home town of New York City, and the country. “America doesn’t know people as daughters of sharecroppers or as descendants of American slavery…if there are descendants of slavery then there are descendants of planters and plantation owners.…Our collective narrative doesn’t really account for the white people, their children, and so on across the country who oppressed negros for centuries, like till right now.” Simmons wants us to properly acknowledge and take responsibility for our national history of oppression. “It would be radical if we were once again abolitionists; these times demand the usage of that word…”

—Hannah Southern was the fall 2019 publications and communications/marketing intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

In Her Own Hand: Judy Chicago’s Use of Text in “The End”

The End: A Meditation on Death and Extinction, the newest body of work by iconic feminist artist Judy Chicago, continues the artist’s practice of tackling taboo subjects. In these works, she offers a bold reflection on mortality and the destruction of entire species. Visually striking and emotionally charged, the exhibition comprises more than 35 paintings on black glass and porcelain, as well as two large-scale bronze reliefs. On view September 19, 2019–January 20, 2020.

***

Judy Chicago has a long history of incorporating handwritten text into her bold and colorful artworks. Whether embroidered into cloth or painted in watercolor, Chicago uses words within a visual language that invites viewers to reflect on—or challenge—the status quo. In her most recent body of work, The End: A Meditation on Death and Extinction, the sections titled “Extinction” and “Mortality” are no different. In these works, made of kiln-fired glass paint on black glass, the artist’s soft, cursive handwriting appears juxtaposed with the difficult and urgent subject matter it communicates. Through words and images, Chicago addresses a culture that averts its eyes from the inevitable and from destruction: aging, death, and extinction.

An image that is part of Judy Chicago's "Mortality" series, depicting the artist's reclined body, her crying husband holding her, and the text "Will I die in my husband's arms?" floating above the image.

Judy Chicago, How Will I Die? #8, from The End: A Meditation on Death and Extinction, 2015; Kiln-fired glass paint on black glass, 9 x 12 in.; Courtesy of the artist; Salon 94, New York; and Jessica Silverman Gallery, San Francisco; © Judy Chicago/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; Photo © Donald Woodman/ARS, NY

The panels in both series carry the intimacy of a diary in scale, at just 9 by 12 inches each (“Mortality”) or 12 by 18 (“Extinction”). Her distinctive, swirling letters resemble a decorative motif and embrace femininity, sentimentality, and sincere personal reflection. In the “Mortality” works, Chicago imagines various ways she might die and renders these scenarios in striking imagery framed by ruminating text. “Will I die in my husband’s arms?” hovers over an image of the artist’s reclined body, her crying husband holding her.

In “Extinction,” Chicago expresses compassion for the natural world by addressing human greed through factual, heart-wrenching descriptions. These works highlight her meticulous handwriting and commitment to research, presenting urgent information. Text in this series commands moral authority. In Declining (2016), Chicago paints three frogs perched on a cliff facing a distant horizon. Underneath the illustration, she writes:

Frog populations have been declining worldwide and nearly one-third are threatened with extinction. Frogs have survived in their current form for 250 million years and should serve as an alarm call that something is dramatically wrong with the environment. Frogs are considered accurate indicators of environmental stress. Pollution, global warming and habitat destruction have already taken a toll.

In Declining (2016), Chicago paints three frogs perched on a cliff facing a distant horizon. Underneath the illustration, she writes: Frog populations have been declining worldwide and nearly one-third are threatened with extinction. Frogs have survived in their current form for 250 million years and should serve as an alarm call that something is dramatically wrong with the environment. Frogs are considered accurate indicators of environmental stress. Pollution, global warming and habitat destruction have already taken a toll.

Judy Chicago, Declining, from The End: A Meditation on Death and Extinction, 2016; Kiln-fired glass paint on black glass, 12 x 18 in.; Courtesy of the artist; Salon 94, New York; and Jessica Silverman Gallery, San Francisco; © Judy Chicago/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; Photo © Donald Woodman/ARS, NY

Though small in scale, works in “Extinction” are striking and emotional. They urge viewers to question consumption and destruction and advocate for change. In a recent interview, Chicago stated, “I wanted [the artwork] to be in my own hand because I wished to demonstrate that art does not have to be huge in order to be important or moving.”

When artists include language as a technique, they liberate their artwork from its formal properties. Words have the power to control, influence, and inspire—often more directly than images alone. Chicago’s use of her own handwriting welcomes interpretation and introspection, inviting us to reflect on how we spend our time here on Earth.

—Christina Papanicolaou was the summer 2019 publications and communications/marketing intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Art Fix Friday: December 13, 2019

Feminist artist May Stevens died on Monday at age 95. An active figure in the Feminist Art Movement and the Civil Rights Movement, Stevens believed that art must be used for social commentary, not just personal expression.

May Stevens, Soho Women Artists, 1978; Acrylic on canvas, 78 x 142 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Museum purchase: The Lois Pollard Price Acquisition Fund

May Stevens, SoHo Women Artists, 1978; Acrylic on canvas, 78 x 142 in.; NMWA, Museum purchase: The Lois Pollard Price Acquisition Fund

Stevens celebrated the lives of women artists in individual and group portraits, including SoHo Women Artists (1978) on view in NMWA’s collection galleries. She co-founded the feminist magazine Heresies: A Feminist Publication on Art and Politics, published from 1977 to 1992.

Front-Page Femmes

Parker Curry, the young girl dazzled by Amy Sherald’s portrait of Michelle Obama, has written a children’s book about the experience with her mother called Parker Looks Up.

Eun Sun Kim, recently named San Francisco Opera’s next music director, will be the first Asian woman to lead an American opera company.

Guernica interviews essayist and feminist Lilly Dancyger, editor of the new book Burn It Down: Women Writing About Anger.

Rebecca Salter has been elected president of London’s Royal Academy of Arts; she is the first woman in the position in its 251-year history.

Artist Myrlande Constant in her studio

Artist Myrlande Constant; Courtesy of Faena Art

Artnet News profiles Haitian artist Myrlande Constant, who “paints” with beads in her intricate embroideries.

Mexican conceptual artist and curator Carla Herrera-Prats has died at age 46 from complications due to breast cancer.

Hyperallergic reviews Céline Sciamma’s film Portrait of a Lady on Fire, paying homage to the labor of women artists.

The Chicago Tribune profiles Re-Tool 21, a collaboration between the Joyce Foundation and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago that will train traditionally underrepresented groups in the art world for art preparation and handling.

Thirty-four-year-old Sanna Marin, the new Prime Minister of Finland, became the youngest head of government in the world when she took office on Tuesday.

The Hill interviews lawyer-turned-photographer Cindy Trinh, who documents activism, protests, and social justice movements to “show the positive outcomes of people exercising their rights to freedom of speech and protest.”

The BBC reports on the women revolutionizing Middle-Eastern film, a larger proportion than in Hollywood; a recent study found that 26% of independent Arab filmmakers are women.

Exhibitions We Want to See

Vija Celmins: To Fix the Image in Memory is open at The Met Breuer in New York. It is the artist’s first major retrospective in more than 25 years. The Nation writes, “it’s possible to look at any object in the show for a long time: There is so much to be seen, and each object yields so much on deeper investigation.”

A black and white photo of a still ocean.

Vija Celmins, Untitled (Ocean), 1970; Courtesy of The Met Breuer

Mickalene Thomas: Better Nights is open at The Bass in Miami. The immersive installation reconstructs an apartment environment from the 1970s according to the domestic aesthetic of the period. Artsy interviews Thomas and Bass director Silvia Cubiñá about the exhibition, which “promotes a vision of art making that relishes in solidarity and collaboration instead of tired notions of the single lone genius, toiling away in the studio to his sole benefit.”

—Hannah Southern is the fall 2019 publications and communications/marketing intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

2019 Holiday Gift Guide

It’s no secret: NMWA’s Museum Shop is a local favorite for fun, funky, and fresh gifts from women-owned and -operated companies around the world. We rounded up our favorite products to help you find last-minute gifts for the art-loving feminists in your lives.

Visit the shop Monday–Saturday 10 a.m.–5 p.m. and Sunday 12 p.m. –5 p.m., or buy products online.

Museum members receive a 10% discount on purchases both in-store and online. For online purchases, use the member code on your magazine subscription.

For the Art Buff

1.Great Women Artists ($59.95)

2. Yayoi Kusama Mug Set ($48)

3. Guerrilla Girls “Erase Discrimination” Eraser ($3)

4. Frida Kahlo Keychain ($25)

5. Niki de Saint Phalle Bookmark ($4)

For the Fierce Feminist

1. Guerrilla Girls “Dear Art Collector” Handkerchief ($18)

2. Colonize This! Young Women of Color on Today’s Feminism ($19.99)

3. “You’re Perfect!” Boobs Coffee Mug ($17)

4. “Chill with that Misogyny” T-Shirt ($35)

5. Ruth Bader Ginsberg Trinket Tray ($20)

For the Women Who Live Dangerously

NMWA’s exhibition Live Dangerously, on view through January 20, 2020, presents fierce, dreamy, and witty photographs of women presiding over the landscape—all through the lens of the female gaze.

1. Everyday Magic: Rituals, Spells & Potions to Live Your Best Life ($14.99)

2. “Ignite” Small Match Bottle ($17)

3. Rosebud Original Strength CBD Oil ($55)

4. “Women Don’t Owe You Shit” Cap ($32)

5. The New Women’s Survival Catalog ($30)

For the Little Feminist

1. Muslim Girls Rise: Inspirational Champions of Our Time ($17.99)

2. We Came to America ($17.99)

3. She Persisted Around the World: 13 Women Who Changed History ($17.99)

4. Parker Looks Up: An Extraordinary Moment ($17.99)

Visualizing Extinction in Judy Chicago’s “The End”

The End: A Meditation on Death and Extinction, the newest body of work by iconic feminist artist Judy Chicago, continues the artist’s practice of tackling taboo subjects. In these works, she offers a bold reflection on mortality and the destruction of entire species. Visually striking and emotionally charged, the exhibition comprises more than 35 paintings on black glass and porcelain, as well as two large-scale bronze reliefs. On view September 19, 2019–January 20, 2020.

***

In a piece for the New Yorker this summer about a polar bear that was sighted far from its usual terrain, Michele Moses wrote, “The story of climate change has been told, in part, through pictures of polar bears. And no wonder: in their glittering icy habitat, they reflect the otherworldly beauty that rising temperatures threaten to destroy.” Polar bears, dependent on a habitat of sea ice to hunt for food and raise their young, were the first species to be declared threatened or endangered due to climate change. Little has been done to end this destruction, and greenhouse gases continue to shrink the extent of Arctic ice.

Judy Chicago, Stranded, from The End: A Meditation on Death and Extinction, 2016; Kiln-fired glass paint on black glass, 12 x 18 in.; Courtesy of the artist; Salon 94, New York; and Jessica Silverman Gallery, San Francisco; © Judy Chicago/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; Photo © Donald Woodman/ARS, NY

Judy Chicago (b. 1939) captures that otherworldly beauty—and human-caused destruction—in Stranded, from The End: A Meditation on Death and Extinction (2016). In kiln-fired glass paint on black glass, Chicago depicts a polar bear looking out toward the viewer as it seems to drift backward on an ice floe. Luminous colors evoke the vibrant blues of the Arctic ocean and the reflected light from water and ice.

As artists contend with the urgency of climate change, some portray nature’s stunning grandeur to inspire viewers into protecting the planet; others show human-caused damage that provokes shock and anguish. In combining those approaches, Chicago delivers a painful message through beautiful and delicate works. She has said that this body of work was “personally excruciating to create. To be faced every day with what we are doing to other creatures and the planet was to enter the kingdom of hell.”

Separate sections of The End show the artist grappling with grief and with her own mortality. Stranded is part of the “Extinction” series, a group of works that each depict the plights of individual animals or plants—birds, sea turtles, elephants, frogs, coral, and orchids appear, among others. Chicago uses written text throughout her work to describe the threats that imperil each creature and to issue a plea for compassion. The handwritten text within Stranded underscores the importance and centrality of the polar bear, and it includes a quote from environmental activist Derrick Jensen: “Every creature on the planet must be hoping that…our time of awakening comes soon.”

 —Elizabeth Lynch is the editor at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Art Fix Friday: December 6, 2019

Cecilia Vicuña: About to Happen is open at the Museum of Contemporary Art in North Miami. The retrospective traces Vicuña’s career-long commitment to exploring discarded and displaced materials, peoples, and landscapes in a time of global climate change.

Cecilia Vicuña at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Miami, where her solo environmental show runs through March; Photo by Angel Valentin for the New York Times

In an interview with the Art Newspaper, the 71-year-old Chilean-born artist says the exhibition’s organizers “read my work from a new perspective and sought to present it as an ecological, feminist and participatory practice.”

Front-Page Femmes

The Washington Post reviews NMWA’s current exhibition Live Dangerously, noting that the photographs invite viewers “to contemplate the immense variety of female bodies and experiences they chronicle.”

BmoreArt interviews 27 women in the Baltimore arts scene about The Baltimore Museum of Art’s recent announcement that it would only acquire art made by women in 2020.

Hyperallergic revisits the 11 women abstract expressionists who participated in the 1951 Ninth Street Show; they are currently featured in a new exhibition at the at the Katonah Museum of Art, Sparkling Amazons: Abstract Expressionist Women of the 9th St. Show.

The BBC’s annual “greatest films” poll focuses solely on female directors this year; Jane Campion, Agnès Varda, Chantal Akerman, and Ava DuVernay all made the cut.

The Vienna State Opera presents the first opera by a woman in its 150-year history: Olga Neuwirth’s adaptation of Virginia Woolf’s Orlando, which deals with duality and trans identity.

Charlotte Nebres is the first black Marie, the young heroine of George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker, at New York City Ballet; Photo by Heather Sten for the New York Times

This year, the New York City Ballet has cast Charlotte Nebres as the first black Marie, the young heroine of the Nutcracker, making strides towards representation and diversity.

The Los Angeles Times profiles playwright Aleshea Harris, “part of a vanguard of young, African American playwrights boring into questions of race and history through humor, drama, absurdity and tragedy.”

Feminist artist and activist Silvianna Goldsmith, co-founder of Women Artists in Revolution, has died at age 90.

In Mexico City, a group of women protested at the city’s Museum of Modern Art after a patron was expelled for breastfeeding; the museum has since changed its policy.

The Lily reviews A Tale of Two Women Painters: Sofonisba Anguissola and Lavinia Fontana, currently on view at the Museo del Prado in Madrid.

Artnet News interviews artist Delphine Diallo about how she is “creating space for a language of photography that presents black women the way they see themselves.”

The New York Times profiles mixed-media artist Manal AlDowayan whose solo presentation at Art Basel uses text to explore the shift of Saudi Arabian women’s lives from private to public.

Exhibitions We Want to See

Kudzanai-Violet Hwami: (15,952km) via Trans-Sahara Hwy N1 is open at Gasworks in London. It is the first solo exhibition by the Zimbabwean-born artist and features intensely pigmented paintings that examine “the diasporic experience of being foreign in both places you call home.”

Kudzanai-Violet Hwami, Medicine Man, 2019; Oil on canvas; Commissioned by Gasworks; Courtesy of the artist and Tyburn Gallery; Photo by Andy Keate

At New York City’s Museum of Arts and Design, Vera Paints a Scarf celebrates the work of artist Vera Neumann, one of the most successful female design entrepreneurs of the 20th century, and her contributions to the field of American design.

—Hannah Southern is the fall 2019 publications and communications/marketing intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Director’s Desk: Roots to Routes

At the National Museum of Women in the Arts, we regularly rotate our collection to spark new thematic connections. This is an essential part of our curatorial philosophy. In a six-post series, I will explore the themes featured in our most recent collection installation. Read about our “Family Matters,” “Rebels with a Cause,” “Space Explorers” and “The Great Outdoors” themes, and stay tuned for more.

Iranian artist Shirin Neshat (b. 1957) addresses topics of exile and nostalgia in her multimedia works. In On Guard (1998), Neshat photographs the hands of a woman clasping a microphone. Out of frame, the woman wears a chador, an enveloping black garment worn by some Iranian women to cover their heads and bodies in public. Neshat photographed the woman’s exposed hands and inscribed Farsi poetry directly onto the image, forming a veil-like screen over her subject’s skin.

Shirin Neshat, On Guard from the series “Turbulent,” 1996; Gelatin silver print with ink, 11 x 14 in.; NMWA, Gift of Tony Podesta Collection; © Shirin Neshat

Perhaps because of gendered, racial, and class-based expectations about a woman’s “place” in the world, many women artists examine the subjects of homelands and migration. Artists in this section convey the impact that cultural identity, living environments, and community have on people’s perceptions of themselves and others.

Many artists identify with a mother country, creating images that demonstrate their emotional connection to familiar locales and cultural customs. Others yearn for a sense of belonging, focusing on the experience of physical journeys or the complexities that arise with exile, migration, and hybrid identities. These works reveal our global culture, in which “home” is primarily a state of mind.

Gallery Highlights:

Iranian artist Shirin Neshat (b. 1957) addresses topics of exile and nostalgia in her multimedia works. In On Guard (1998), Neshat photographs the hands of a woman clasping a microphone. Out of frame, the woman wears a chador, an enveloping black garment worn by some Iranian women to cover their heads and bodies in public. Neshat photographed the woman’s exposed hands and inscribed Farsi poetry directly onto the image, forming a veil-like screen over her subject’s skin. On Guard exemplifies some of the dichotomies that have shaped Iranian society: man and woman, communication and silence, freedom and oppression.

Faith Ringgold, American Collection #4: Jo Baker’s Bananas, 1997; Acrylic on canvas with pieced fabric border, 80 1/2 x 76 in.; NMWA, 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

The story quilt American Collection #4: Jo Baker’s Bananas (1997), by Faith Ringgold (b. 1930), pays homage to African American dancer Josephine Baker. Baker left the United States for Paris, where she rose to legendary status and lived until her final days. The “banana dance” that she performed in 1926 cemented her fame. Offstage, Baker supported the burgeoning Civil Rights Movement in the U.S. and used her prominence to bolster support for the cause.

A large-scale collage including striped and polka-dotted fabrics; the masthead of Smith's reservation newspaper, Char-Koosta; parts of a U.S. map; and a comic strip. These collaged elements are juxtaposed with blocks of stained or roughly brushed and dripped paint.

Jaune Quick-to-See Smith, Indian, Indio, Indigenous, 1992; Oil and collage on canvas, 60 x 100 in.; NMWA, Museum purchase: Members’ Acquisition Fund; © Jaune Quick-to-See Smith

The richly layered painting Indian, Indio, Indigenous (1992) by Jaune Quick-to-See Smith (b. 1940) is influenced by her childhood on the Flathead Reservation in Montana. The work criticizes the historical desecration of American Indian lands and continued injustices to native peoples and their cultures. She said, “My work comes from a visceral place—deep, deep as though my roots extend beyond the soles of my feet into sacred soils.”

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

Women Artists of the DMV: Malaka Gharib’s “I Was Their American Dream”

DMV Color presents artists’ books, graphic novels, photobooks, and zines by women of African American, Asian American, and Latina heritage with ties to the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia—known locally as the DMV. The works on view depict intimacies of family life, legacies of enslavement, dislocation tied to immigration, changes resulting from rampant development, and more. On view in NMWA’s Betty Boyd Dettre Library and Research Center through March 4, 2020.

***

A head shot of author/artist Malaka Gharib. She smiles and wears a red button-up short sleeved shirt and has hear hair braided over her left shoulder.

Malaka Gharib photo by Ben de la Cruz

Washington, D.C., resident Malaka Gharib (b. 1986) is an editor at NPR, co-founder of the D.C. Art Book Fair, and zine artist. Her graphic memoir I Was Their American Dream (Clarkson Potter, 2019), chronicles her multicultural upbringing as the daughter of a Filipino Catholic mother and an Egyptian Muslim father. From her multiethnic hometown in suburban Los Angeles to the majority white upstate New York town where she attended college, Gharib constantly negotiated between her Filipino and Egyptian heritage—and the ideals of white America. “What are you?” is a question the artist explores with heartfelt insight and humor in this joyous tribute to her immigrant family.

The intricacies of family life and cultural tensions are major themes throughout DMV Color, and Gharib addresses them with nuance and authenticity. In playful red, white, and blue illustrations, Gharib depicts navigating clashing familial relationships, cultural values, religion, and food. Even within her high school’s diverse cultural pool, Gharib’s own ethnic ambiguity and fascination with white people in popular culture earned her a label of “white-washed” and treatment as a misfit. To be “normal” was to be white, according to teenage Gharib. Eventually, she found her stride as part of a motley, punk-loving, creative crew. She also learned to blend her family’s distinct cultures together, creating an identity all her own. Reading like a conversation with a close friend, this is the story all children of immigrants might have wished they had growing up.

Interior detail from "I Was Their American Dream" which depicts, in cartoon format, the author's Microaggressions Bingo interactive spread.

Interior detail from I Was Their American Dream; Copyright © 2019 by Malaka Gharib; Published by Clarkson Potter, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC

Gharib’s memoir is delightfully designed, featuring interactive elements including a family recipe for the Filipino soup monggo, a cheeky-yet-pointed bingo chart of microaggressions, and a paper doll of the author with various outfits that highlight her code-switching in college. Her simple and unique character designs reject racial caricaturing, reimagining race with a refreshing lens. In one section, Gharib’s renderings of her high school classmates’ yearbook pictures represent the diversity of her school without relying on stereotypical depictions. The artist flatly rejects monolithic narratives and depictions of immigrants and their families.

In an interview with the Asian Journal, Gharib explained how the negative, one-dimensional, anti-immigrant rhetoric of 2016 catalyzed her to write the memoir. “I thought about my dad who liked gardening and loved the movie Forrest Gump. He’s totally harmless. I wanted to correct the narrative that I was seeing.” In I Was Their American Dream, Gharib invites readers on a journey into her colorful world and leaves us with renewed empathy and understanding.

Elizabeth Chung is the fall 2019 Betty Boyd Dettre Library and Research Center intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Art Fix Friday: November 22, 2019

Clockwise from left, Mickalene Thomas (in sunglasses) included the artists Zoë Charlton, Theresa Chromati, and Devin N. Morris in her show at the Baltimore Museum of Art; Photo by Andrew Mangum for the New York Times

Clockwise from left, Mickalene Thomas (in sunglasses) included the artists Zoë Charlton, Theresa Chromati, and Devin N. Morris in her show at the Baltimore Museum of Art; Photo by Andrew Mangum for the New York Times

The Baltimore Museum of Art (BMA) has announced that it will acquire only artwork by female-identifying artists for its permanent collection in 2020. This new policy will help correct the gender imbalance at the institution—only 4% of the BMA’s collection is by women artists.

The commitment runs parallel to a series of upcoming exhibits at the museum celebrating female-identifying artists. One of those artists is Mickalene Thomas, who will open Mickalene Thomas: A Moment’s Pleasure, at the BMA on Sunday. The immersive two-story installation transforms the museum’s east lobby into a living room for Baltimore reflective of Thomas’s signature aesthetic. The artist has also included works by artists with ties to Baltimore in the exhibition.

Front-Page Femmes

Artnet interviews legendary gallerist and artist Suzanne Jackson ahead of her first New York solo show.

A Frida Kahlo painting of an unknown “lady in white” sold for $5.8 million at Christie’s Latin American art sale; it is the second-highest price ever achieved for the artist at auction.

Singer-songwriter and artist Solange recently debuted a new interdisciplinary performance, Bridge-s, at the Getty Center.

NPR profiles 19, a new musical about women’s suffrage set to premiere at NMWA on November 25 for a three-night run.

Artnet interviews Shirin Neshat about the artists who inspire her most, including Frida Kahlo and Cindy Sherman.

The New Yorker profiles Alicia Rodriguez Alvisa’s “You Are There, Are you there?, There You Are,” her new self-portrait series that doubles the artist through composite image.

An upcoming exhibition at Beijing’s UCCA Center for Contemporary Art by Chinese American artist Hung Liu was canceled after local authorities declined to issue necessary import permits; Liu’s work contains strong social and historical themes.

Hung Liu, Untitled (from the series “Seven Poses”), 2005; Digital print on paper, 14 x 14 in.; NMWA, Gift of the Greater Kansas City Area Committee of NMWA; © Hung Liu; NMWA holds multiple works by the artist in the museum’s collection

Hung Liu, Untitled (from the series “Seven Poses”), 2005; Digital print on paper, 14 x 14 in.; NMWA, Gift of the Greater Kansas City Area Committee of NMWA; © Hung Liu; NMWA holds multiple works by the artist in the museum’s collection

Anonymous Was a Woman, an organization that supports the careers of women artists over 40, announced the 2019 grantees.

Artnet interviews sculptor Andra Ursuţa, who transforms throwaway horror movie props into eerie totems.

Sculptor and Washington Color School patron Helen Stern died at age 89.

Author Susan Choi won the National Book Award for her novel Trust Exercise.

NPR profiles Rose McAdoo—a pastry chef who uses cakes to make scientific ideas (literally) digestible.

Hyperallergic profiles Sylvia Fein, one of the last living Surrealist painters, on her 100th birthday.

The New York Times interviews Waad al-Kateab, director of the documentary For Sama, on her life as a refugee in England.

Cecilia Vicuña won the 2019 Premio Velázquez de Artes Plásticas, Spain’s most prestigious art award.

Marina Abramovic’s The Life will be the first mixed-reality artwork auctioned by Christie’s.

Shows We Want to See

Dora Maar is now open at the Tate Modern. The Guardian reviews the comprehensive retrospective, calling it a “meticulously mapped-out reappraisal of Maar’s long and restlessly inventive creative journey.”

Haegue Yang, Strange Fruit, 2012–13; Six light sculptures; Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; Purchased with funds provided by the Acquisition and Collection Committee Installation

Haegue Yang, Strange Fruit, 2012–13; Six light sculptures; Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; Purchased with funds provided by the Acquisition and Collection Committee Installation

Haegue Yang: In the Cone of Uncertainty is on view at The Bass in Miami. The exhibition includes multisensory installations, light sculptures, and a commissioned piece that explores Miami Beach’s relationship to the climate crisis.

—Hannah Southern is the fall 2019 publications and communications/marketing intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Judy Chicago—The End: Mortality

The End: A Meditation on Death and Extinction, the newest body of work by iconic feminist artist Judy Chicago, continues the artist’s practice of tackling taboo subjects. In these works, she offers a bold reflection on mortality and the destruction of entire species. Visually striking and emotionally charged, the exhibition comprises more than 35 paintings on black glass and porcelain, as well as two large-scale bronze reliefs. On view September 19, 2019–January 20, 2020.

***

On a black background, a nude female figure painted in cool, translucent colors lays on a multicolored block with her hands folded over her chest. Atop her the sentence "Everyone hopes to die peacefully" is painted in cursive print.

Judy Chicago, How Will I Die? #1, from The End: A Meditation on Death and Extinction, 2015; Kiln-fired glass paint and luster on black glass, 9 x 12 in.; Courtesy of the artist; Salon 94, New York; and Jessica Silverman Gallery, San Francisco; © Judy Chicago/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; Photo © Donald Woodman/ARS, NY

When Judy Chicago (b. 1939) first began her research on the topic of death and its representation in art, the artist was struck by societies that have acknowledged life’s inevitable end with awareness and acceptance. Ancient Egyptian, Greek, Roman, and many American Indian cultures believed that the spirits of the dead continued on—death was merely a change in existence. The Mexican Día de los Muertos tradition can be traced back to Aztec feasts where family members honored their dead and supported their spiritual journey. The Korowai people of Indonesia speak of themselves as being in the process of dying in everyday conversation. Hyolmo Buddhists in Nepal regard dying “as an intricate art to be learned…to ensure a smooth passage into the next life as well as a successful rebirth.” Chicago embarked on The End as a personal exercise in coming to terms with her own fear of death.

In the “Mortality” section, Chicago explores her own death across 20 black glass panels. The figure in each work has the artist’s shock of bright curls and presents a vivid vision of her eventual demise. Chicago, who says she has always been aware of her own mortality, became even more cognizant after a health scare in 2012. The works in this section are rendered in kiln-fired glass paint, an extremely time-consuming and laborious process, with multiple firings needed to achieve the artist’s desired effect. Chicago chose black glass, which is both strong and fragile, because “it seems a perfect metaphor for life.”

Judy Chicago - Sweet Prospect

Judy Chicago, Sweet Prospect, from The End: A Meditation on Death and Extinction, 2015; Kiln-fired glass paint on black glass, 9 x 12 in.; Courtesy of the artist; Salon 94, New York; and Jessica Silverman Gallery, San Francisco; © Judy Chicago/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; Photo © Donald Woodman/ARS, NY

Judy Chicago - How Will I Die _9 _A_

Judy Chicago, How Will I Die? #9, from The End: A Meditation on Death and Extinction, 2015; Kiln-fired glass paint, Liquid Bright, and oil paint on black glass, 9 x 12 in.; Courtesy of the artist; Salon 94, New York; and Jessica Silverman Gallery, San Francisco; © Judy Chicago/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; Photo © Donald Woodman/ARS, NY

Judy Chicago - How Will I Die _7

Judy Chicago, How Will I Die? #7, from The End: A Meditation on Death and Extinction, 2015; Kiln-fired glass paint on black glass, 9 x 12 in.; Courtesy of the artist; Salon 94, New York; and Jessica Silverman Gallery, San Francisco; © Judy Chicago/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; Photo © Donald Woodman/ARS, NY

Judy Chicago - Title Panel Mortality

Judy Chicago, Title Panel: Mortality, from The End: A Meditation on Death and Extinction, 2015; Kiln-fired glass paint on black glass, 9 x 12 in.; Courtesy of the artist; Salon 94, New York; and Jessica Silverman Gallery, San Francisco; © Judy Chicago/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; Photo © Donald Woodman/ARS, NY

Handwritten text is an integral element in The End. In “Mortality,” Chicago uses writing to both comfort and question. The artist incorporates musings on death from a number of celebrated thinkers including Albert Camus, Simone de Beauvoir, and Socrates, who once said, “If death is simply the end of our sense, then it is like a long dreamless sleep, and therefore, a sweet prospect.” In startling works that envision possible scenarios surrounding her own death, Chicago asks pointed questions: “Will I die embracing the light?” “Will I die screaming in pain?” Another panel presents synonyms and metaphors for death—demise, release, oblivion, be no more—an exercise in sorting through meaning around this amorphous, unknown, universal experience.

In The End, Chicago intentionally addressed the one subject that most people in Western societies work diligently to avoid: their own impermanence. “As difficult as it was to confront my own mortality, it brought me to a place of acceptance,” Chicago said. “I hope that I will be able to face my end with courage, grace, and humor.”