Art Fix Friday: February 1, 2019

At 98 years old, Venezuelan-born artist Luchita Hurtado is finally getting her due with her first major retrospective and a string of solo exhibitions this year and in 2020.

Luchita Hurtado stands in her home studio, surrounded by her paintings, many depicting scenes of nature.

Luchita Hurtado in her Los Angeles home studio; Photo by Laure Joliet for the New York Times

The pioneering artist has been “at the forefront of not just spiritual surrealism, but also the environmental and feminist art movements.” Hans Ulrich Obrist, organizer of Hurtado’s upcoming retrospective in London, notes that “she navigated a century of different contexts and played an important role in all of those.”

Front-Page Femmes:

The 2014 recipient of NMWA’s Mellor Prize for distinguished scholarship on women artists, Carole Blumenfeld, has published her book on the 18th- and 19th-century French painter Marguerite Gérard.

Artist Naima Green seeks to update Catherine Opie’s “Dyke Deck,” a set of playing cards that “represented a 1990s West Coast corner of the lesbian scene.” Green wants to include a wider spectrum of queerness.

Patricia McBride Lousada, a founding member of the New York City Ballet and noted cookbook author, has died at the age of 89.

Élisabeth Louise Vigée-LeBrun’s painting Portrait of Muhammad Dervish Khan has sold for $7.2 million at Sotheby’s “The Female Triumphant” sale.

Victoria Beckham stands in a white jumpsuit with a red belt, in front of Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun's Portrait of Muhammad Dervish Khan. Khan holds a sword, wears white, and looks powefully off into the distance.Beckham mimicks his pose.

Victoria Beckham with Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun’s Portrait of Muhammad Dervish Khan at the exhibition for “The Female Triumphant” at Sotheby’s New York; Photo courtesy of Tom Newton

Artsy explores how nuns have shaped the course of art history.

Starting February 24, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago will offer discounted admission for visitors who believe the gender pay gap has negatively affected their earnings. The move coincides with a Laurie Simmons retrospective.

The Mellon Foundation has released the second iteration of their 2015 survey on museum diversity, finding that more people of color were hired in 2018, and more women stepped into leadership positions.

Heather Harmon has been named deputy director of the forthcoming Las Vegas branch of the Nevada Art Museum.

Influential artist and designer Florence Knoll Bassett has died at age 101.

Hyperallergic reviews Yes, and the body has memory, a group show of women photographers who explore trauma, family, ancestry, and the female body.

At the recent Talking Galleries symposium, economist Clare McAndrew reported her findings that the more established a woman artist becomes, the less likely she is to find gallery representation.

The Guardian reports on the upsurge in exhibitions of work by women artists, but asks: will they stay on the walls once the trend for representation has passed?

Polish art collector Grażyna Kulczyk has created a haven for women artists in a tiny Swiss village, Muzeum Susch.

Shows We Want to See:

At the Art Gallery of Ontario, Mickalene Thomas: Femmes Noires is on view until March 24. The expansive exhibition—Thomas’s first solo showing in Canada—includes her vibrant paintings, silkscreens, photographs, time-based media, and site-specific installations—all exploring how Black women are represented in art and pop culture.

Mickalene Thomas's piece Diahann Carroll #2, a closeup of a black woman's face in grey-scale.

Mickalene Thomas, Diahann Carroll #2, 2018, Silkscreen ink on acrylic on mirrored mounted on wood panel; Courtesy of the artist and Galerie Nathalie Obadia, Paris/Brussels; © Mickalene Thomas / SOCAN (2018)

Annabeth Rosen: Fired, Broken, Gathered, Heaped, the first major museum survey of the critically acclaimed ceramicist, is on view until March 10 at the Cranbrook Art Museum in Michigan. The exhibition includes more than 20 years of her work and demonstrates Rosen’s ability to “push the medium beyond spectacle and into dialogues about feminist thought, labor, and endurance.”

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

Director’s Desk: Women Museum Directors Conquer D.C.

Mark the date: March 11, 2019. It’s the day Kaywin Feldman becomes the fifth director of the National Gallery of Art. No woman has held the post before. In fact, she is only the second woman currently directing of one of our nation’s top encyclopedic art museums. Paving the way was Anne Pasternak, who was appointed director of the Brooklyn Museum in 2015. Now women directors will lead two of our nation’s largest museums.

Kaywin Feldman gestures and speaks in front of a large painting of a nude woman in the galleries of the Minneapolis Institute of Art, while a group of attendees looks on with interest.

Kaywin Feldman discusses a painting at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts; Photo credit: Minneapolis Institute of Art

With this move, Feldman, who is currently the director and president of the Minneapolis Institute of Art (Mia), will oversee one of America’s great collections. I don’t know her well, but I believe that she is a rock star and an inspired and deserving choice. In addition to all Feldman has done for the museums where she has worked, she also has been a leader in the field as past president of the American Association of Museum Directors and past chair of the American Alliance of Museums. With her proven track record—she doubled attendance at Mia during her tenure—I am excited to see how she will transform the National Gallery of Art.

Feldman has spoken openly about the challenges of being a woman in the upper echelons of museums, and we anticipate she will be a strong ally for the National Museum of Women in the Arts. I look forward to congratulating her in person and welcoming her to Washington, D.C.

A graphic detailing statistics of the ongoing gender gap in art museum directorships, published by the Association of Art Museum Directors, which shows that men hold most of the positions in contemporary, encyclopedic, and single artist museums, while women hold the majority of positions in college/university and culturally specific museums.

Graphic: “The Ongoing Gender Gap in Art Museum Directorships” published in 2017 by the Association of Art Museum Directors

On the heels of this announcement comes the news that Anthea M. Hartig has been named as the new director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. Women directors already in place at D.C. cultural institutions include Carla Hayden at the Library of Congress; Deborah Rutter at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts; Melissa Chiu at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden; Ellen Stofan at the National Air and Space Museum; Dorothy Kosinski at The Phillips Collection; Kim Sajet at the National Portrait Gallery; and Stephanie Stebich at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, among others.

With such a strong cadre of women directors, there is at last an opportunity for women to truly help shape the art and culture agenda of our nation’s capital—and the nation itself—for the betterment of all. Here’s a round of applause for all the women museum directors in Washington, D.C. And may 2019 be a year of continued growth for women in art and culture at all levels.

—Susan Fisher Sterling is the Alice West Director of 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.

5 Fast Facts: Louise Bourgeois

Impress your friends with five fast facts about artist Louise Bourgeois (1911–2010), whose work is on view in NMWA’s collection galleries.

1. Legacy

The second daughter of Joséphine and Louis Bourgeois, Louise was named after her father. Though Bourgeois did have a younger brother, she ensured the family’s legacy by giving her three sons her last name rather than that of her husband, Robert Goldwater.

2. It Figures

Bourgeois initially studied mathematics, and it wasn’t until after her mother’s death in 1932 that she decided to pursue art in earnest.

Louise Bourgeois, The Song of the Blacks and the Blues, 1996; Lithograph, woodcut, with hand-coloring on paper, 21 5/16 x 96 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Museum purchase: Members' Acquisition Fund; Art © Louise Bourgeois Trust/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY

Louise Bourgeois, The Song of the Blacks and the Blues, 1996; Lithograph, woodcut, with hand-coloring on paper, 21 5/16 x 96 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Museum purchase: Members’ Acquisition Fund; Art © Louise Bourgeois Trust/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY

3. Itsy Bitsy?

Although spiders provoke fear for some people, Bourgeois recognized their positive qualities and saw their protectiveness reflected in her mother, who was also a weaver. Bourgeois rendered arachnids throughout her long career, including seven sculptures titled Maman (1999) which stand over 30 feet high. These eight-legged giants grace collections around the world.

Louise Bourgeois, Spider III, 1995; Bronze, 19 x 33 x 33 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Wilhelmina Cole Holladay; Art © The Easton Foundation/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY; Photo by Emily Haight

Louise Bourgeois, Spider III, 1995; Bronze, 19 x 33 x 33 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Wilhelmina Cole Holladay; Art © The Easton Foundation/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY; Photo by Emily Haight

4. Déjà Vu

Another theme Bourgeois returned to throughout her career was the relationship of a woman to her home. She combined human and architectural forms in the works titled Femme Maison, which translates to “woman house” or “housewife.” These paintings and sculptures appear in her oeuvre from 1945 to 2004.

5. In the Neighborhood

Bourgeois is a subject—as well as an artist—in NMWA’s collection. In SoHo Women Artists (1978), May Stevens represented members of her community based on photographs, including Bourgeois in one of her wearable sculptures.

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

Art Fix Friday: January 25, 2019

Musician Brenda Navarrete; Photo: Rose Marie Cromwell

Cuban jazz artist Brenda Navarrete; Photo: Rose Marie Cromwell

The New Yorker profiles five female jazz musicians emerging from Havana and reshaping the scene.

While Cuban women have always made their mark on jazz music, they have predominantly been singers or limited to all-female dance bands. The new vanguard includes, among others, multi-instrumentalist Brenda Navarrete, who has mastered at least twelve instruments, including the traditional batá drum, which women are often prohibited from playing.

Front-Page Femmes

Forbes profiles NMWA’s newly reinstalled collection. “The goal was not just to show ‘new’ art, but to highlight women artists’ exceptional range of approaches and mediums,” explained Deputy Director for Art, Programs, and Public Engagement/Chief Curator Kathryn Wat.

The Atlantic examines the ways that the three female actresses in the Oscar-nominated film The Favourite use their bodies to “rage against expectations of courtly decorum…as they navigate the halls of power.”

The celebrated poet Mary Oliver, renowned for her meditations on the natural world, has passed away at the age of 83.

While SheBuiltNYC succeeded in getting approval for its plan to build a permanent statue of Shirley Chisolm in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park, their original proposal intended to shift the masculine paradigm of singular statues by honoring the collaborative efforts of women with a group statue.

Black Girl Nerds lists all of the films at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival directed by women. This comes on the heels of the Oscar nominations, which did not include any nominations for women directors.

Jenny Holzer, from Inflammatory Essays, 1979–82; Courtesy of the artist; Image © Jenny Holzer, member Artists Rights Society (ARS)

Jenny Holzer, from Inflammatory Essays, 1979–82; Courtesy of the artist; Image © Jenny Holzer, member Artists Rights Society (ARS)

Artsy looks at Jenny Holzer’s “Inflammatory Essays” (1979–82), seemingly timeless and re-contextualized in America’s current political climate.

The Art Newspaper Podcast discusses the growing movement to bring female Old Masters to prominence, and the signature faking that kept 17th-century artist Judith Leyster out of the spotlight.

Actress and comedian Jessy Yates is the first recipient of the Yale School of Drama’s scholarship for actors with disabilities.

United States Artists announced its 2019 winners, including Simone Leigh, Juliana Huxtable, Wu Tsang, Cecilia Vicuña, and more. Winners receive $50,000 in unrestricted funding.

Shows We Want to See

At Tulane University’s Newcomb Art Museum, formerly incarcerated women team up with more than 30 artists to portray the challenges women in the prison system face. Per(Sister): Incarcerated Women in Louisiana, features artwork that highlights the lasting impact of long-term incarceration on women and their families. “The show…comes at a time when our nation, states, and local communities are grappling with how to have collective and constructive conversations about the issue of mass incarceration,” says museum spokeswoman Miriam Taylor.

From She Persists: A Century of Women Artists in New York at Gracie Mansion: left, Betty Parsons, “Brick in the Sky” (1968); center, Simone Leigh, “The Village Series #7” (2019), stoneware; right, Alice Neel, “Ginny and Elizabeth” (1975); Photo: Tawni Bannister for the New York Times

From She Persists: A Century of Women Artists in New York at Gracie Mansion: left, Betty Parsons, “Brick in the Sky” (1968); center, Simone Leigh, “The Village Series #7” (2019), stoneware; right, Alice Neel, “Ginny and Elizabeth” (1975); Photo: Tawni Bannister for the New York Times

At Gracie Mansion, the residence of the Mayor of New York, She Persists: A Century of Women Artists in New York is on view through January 2020. Including works by 44 artists and collectives, the show is the largest to be mounted at the mansion and the first to highlight women artists. First lady Chirlane McCray said, “The exhibit is really important at this time, given the #MeToo movement, the centennial anniversary of the suffrage movement, [and] the historic number of women running for office.”

—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

Rodarte Exhibition_47 closeup1

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.

Confining Moments: Cage Imagery in NMWA’s Collection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5 Fast Facts: Hung Liu

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

1. Child of the Revolution

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

2. Secret Paintings, Secret Freedom

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

3. Junkyard Happenings

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

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

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

4. Drip, Drip, Drip

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

5. Life as an American

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

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

Art Fix Friday: January 11, 2019

NPR profiles Asian-American women artists who are re-creating the food of their cultures in sculptural form, a way to pay tribute to their heritage and celebrate their identity.

Artist Stephanie Shih’s porcelain dumplings; Courtesy of Robert Bredvad

Artist Stephanie Shih’s porcelain dumplings; Courtesy of Robert Bredvad

Artists Stephanie Shih, Monyee Chau, and Annie Shen craft dumplings, sticky rice buns, pork belly slices, and bao sandwiches using plaster, paint, and porcelain. Of her work, Shih says, “I’m thinking about my younger self and what these images might mean to someone who feels that they have been deprived of having their own culture elevated.”

Front-Page Femmes

Scientists discovered the blue pigment lapis lazuli in the teeth of a medieval female skeleton and have established she was likely a painter, contributing to the lavish illustrations of sacred texts.

Artprice released a list of the Top 20 Female Artists in the Global Art Market for 2018. Though the art market’s gender gap still persists, data reveals that women artists under 40 are taking the secondary market by storm.

Art in America reviews Lisa Yuskavage’s just-closed show Babie Brood, praising her technical brilliance and observing lowbrow inspirations.

Ruth Estévez has been named senior curator at large at Brandeis University’s Rose Art Museum.

The Haus der Kunst in Munich has canceled two separate shows by women artists Joan Jonas and Adrian Piper. Painter Markus Lüpertz will replace them, leading many to criticize the move as a “return to the proven figures of the art world, who are primarily German and male.”

Graciela Iturbide, Nuestra Señora de las Iguanas, Juchitán, México, (Our Lady of the Iguanas, Juchitán, Mexico), 1979; Courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Graciela Iturbide, Nuestra Señora de las Iguanas, Juchitán, México, (Our Lady of the Iguanas, Juchitán, Mexico), 1979; Courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

The New York Times profiles renowned Mexican photographer Graciela Iturbide in advance of her exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, opening on January 19.

The art of Fahrelnissa Zeid graced Google’s homepage on January 7, what would be her 118th birthday. She was one of the first Modernist female painters in Turkey.

Colossal profiles the latest collection from Amber Cowan, who is transforming discarded vintage glass into enchanting “sculptural paintings.”

Art in America’s list of the Best Photography Books of 2018 includes Janice Guy, Laia Abril, Deana Lawson, Klea McKenna, and Zanele Muholi.

Curator Carmen Hermo reflects on the late Sister Wendy Beckett.

Sotheby’s has announced the full lineup of this year’s Female Triumphant, a selection of masterworks by 14 female artists from the 16th to 19th centuries.

Shows We Want to See:

The “intimate, imperfectInstagram photos of poet and writer Eileen Myles are the subject of an exhibition at Bridget Donahue in New York City. Back Room: Eileen Myles – poems presents snapshots captured on walks around lower Manhattan, scenes around Myles’s apartment, and other bits of daily life. The show closes on January 13.

Judy Baca, Absolutely Chicana, 2002. Screenprint. Collection of the McNay Art Museum, Gift of Harriett and Ricardo Romo, 2013. © Judith F. Baca

Judy Baca, Absolutely Chicana, 2002, Screenprint; Collection of the McNay Art Museum, Gift of Harriett and Ricardo Romo, 2013; © Judith F. Baca

The McNay Art Museum in San Antonio will open Estampas Chicanas on January 17. The exhibition will present the works of women artists of the Chicano labor movement who were often overlooked and unheard. Pieces also depict other women in the movement, including labor leader Dolores Huerta and musician Lila Downs. Participating artists include Judy Baca, Patssi Valdez, Barbara Carrasco, Ester Hernandez, and Alma Lopez, among others.

—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.