NO MAN’S LAND: Charismatic Canvases

Contemporary large-scale paintings and sculptural hybrids are on view in NO MAN’S LAND: Women Artists from the Rubell Family Collection. The exhibition imagines a visual conversation between 37 women artists from 15 countries exploring images of the female body and the physical process of making. Artists Natasja Kensmil, Cecily Brown, and Suzanne McClelland test the expressive boundaries of painting.

Natasja Kensmil, Desperate Land, 2004; Oil on linen; Rubell Family Collection, Miami

Natasja Kensmil, Desperate Land, 2004; Oil on linen; Rubell Family Collection, Miami

What’s On View?

Natasja Kensmil’s Desperate Land, 2004

Ominous themes of the human condition and the power of history are on view in painting by Natasja Kensmil (b. 1973, Amsterdam). Her somber colors and craggy brushwork reflect the dark nature of connections between religion, mythology, and power.

Kensmil created a series of work based on the Romanov family. In Desperate Land, she portrays the Russian mystic Rasputin in the center wearing a pointed hood, surrounded by followers. She obscured Rasputin’s features, allowing the scene to stand as an emblem for zealous fraternal organizations. Kensmil’s multilayered painting style evokes shadows and discord.

Cecily Brown, Service de Luxe, 1999

Although paintings by Cecily Brown (b. 1969, London) appear to combine elements of abstract and figurative painting, she says, “I often avoid using the terms figuration and abstraction because I’ve always tried to have it both ways. I want the experience of looking at one of my paintings to be similar to the process of making the painting—you go from the big picture to something very intense and detailed, and then back again.”

Cecily Brown, Service de Luxe, 1999; Oil on linen; Rubell Family Collection, Miami

Cecily Brown, Service de Luxe, 1999; Oil on linen; Rubell Family Collection, Miami

In Service de Luxe, Brown depicts a reclining female nude. Through her loose brushwork—which she uses to call attention to the sensuous nature of oil paint itself—forms become imprecise but alluring. She says, “I think it’s almost impossible to not allude to something.”

Suzanne McClelland, Forever, 1991; Acrylic, gesso, and charcoal on canvas; Rubell Family Collection, Miami

Suzanne McClelland, Forever, 1991; Acrylic, gesso, and charcoal on canvas; Rubell Family Collection, Miami

Suzanne McClelland’s Forever, 1991

“Being trained in both, I have always loved and been attracted to abstraction in music and art,” says Suzanne McClelland (b. 1959, Jacksonville, Florida).

McClelland explores the links between audible language and its written image—in her work, letters curl around to mimic their acoustic form and reflect meaning. Beginning in the 1980s, she says, “I wanted the thoughts or the words that I had in my head, and the sounds that I heard in the city, to be subjects for my painting.”

On depictions of the female body, McClelland says, “It’s been painted and drawn and described and photographed so many times that I don’t feel the need to join in on reclaiming the female body when there’s the voice.”

Visit the museum and explore NO MAN’S LAND, on view through January 8, 2017. Reserve your spot to meet artist Suzanne McClelland at NMWA on December 13, 2016 for a special in-gallery conversation.

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

Opening This Friday: NO MAN’S LAND

Large-scale paintings and sculptural hybrids reveal the expressive range of women artists in NO MAN’S LAND: Women Artists from the Rubell Family Collection, on view from September 30, 2016, to January 8, 2017.

Isa Genzken, Schauspieler, 2013; Mixed media, 72 1/4 x 18 1/2 x 10 1/2 in.

Isa Genzken, Schauspieler, 2013; Mixed media, 72 1/4 x 18 1/2 x 10 1/2 in.

The National Museum of Women in the Arts is collaborating with the Rubell Family Collection (RFC), Miami, to realize a new vision for the exhibition that opened at the RFC’s space in December 2015. The exhibition features 37 women artists whose aesthetically diverse work addresses wide-ranging intellectual and political themes. Although women historically had limited access to training and opportunity in the traditional fields of sculpture and painting, the title of the exhibition suggests “a space free from the rule of any sovereign power” where women artists are able to adapt and modify these mediums.

The highly focused selection of paintings and sculptures emphasizes the female body and the physical process of art-making. Ever since the feminist art movement of the 1960s and ’70s, these two themes have become prevalent avenues for experimentation, play, and subversion.

Mickalene Thomas, Whatever You Want, 2004; Acrylic, rhinestone, and enamel on panel, 48 x 36 in.

Mickalene Thomas, Whatever You Want, 2004; Acrylic, rhinestone, and enamel on panel, 48 x 36 in.

During the feminist art movement, women artists claimed ownership over visualization of the body. Artists in NO MAN’S LAND explore this history and experiment with the expressive potential of the female form. Some artists, including Cecily Brown and Mickalene Thomas, adapt the art-historical theme of the odalisque by transforming its typically passive character. Others such as Hayv Kahraman use portraiture as a space for self-expression. Many of the works on view signify broader ideas about culture, gender, and ethnicity.

For artists in NO MAN’S LAND, the physical process of making is key to developing meaning, exploring intellectual conundrums, and conjuring psychological experiences. Painters and sculptors eliminate hierarchies among mediums by disrupting conventional ideas about women and handcraft. Historically defined as “women’s work,” handcraft remains a gendered topic in art. Artists including Analia Saban, Rosemarie Trockel, and Shinique Smith focus on unconventional materials or labor-intensive techniques. They upend tradition to suit their aesthetic and intellectual purposes.

Visit the exhibition before the public during the opening reception on September 29, 2016. See the full calendar of events for NO MAN’S LAND.

—Francisca Rudolph is the fall 2016 publications and communications/marketing intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Art Fix Friday: July 31, 2015

East London’s newest museum stirs up controversy. The space was initially intended for “the first women’s museum in the UK.” Instead, the Jack the Ripper Museum took its place.

TakePart states, “Even the men who are famous for killing and terrorizing get honored with museums, while the women who helped shape history are largely forgotten.”

Front-Page Femmes

British painter Cecily Brown identifies another neo-Expressionist painter as an alleged copycat of her work.

The Huffington Post looks at seven lesser-known women surrealists.

Women artists in India start conversations in notoriously dangerous streets in an attempt to make these aresa safer.

Artist Maria Aristidou treats coffee spills like watercolors.

Crowdfunding has enabled women creators and fans to launch their own comics.

The Arab American National Museum will showcase graphic arts and comics by six women.

Inventor Lipa Aisa Mijena helped create a lamp that runs on saltwater.

Children’s book author Beatrix Potter’s (1866–1943) birthday was on Tuesday. Brain Pickings reveals that the famed author also drew scientific studies of mushrooms.

The Telegraph discusses J.K. Rowling’s online presence in honor of the author’s 50th birthday.

Toni Morrison’s commencement address is one of 11 recorded in Take This Advice. The Nobel Prize-winning author “defies every graduation cliché with wisdom.”

Vanity Fair has a list of novels that tell the stories of women whom history has forgotten.

Maggie Shannon’s photo project Noise Girls features female noise-rock participants.

The number of female artists on country radio has remained consistent over the last 20 years, but their success rate has declined.

Former SNL cast member Abby Elliott reflects on her experiences on the show and says, “I sort of got pigeonholed into being the impression girl.”

Filmmaker and artist Penny Woodcock tells The Guardian, “I’m always open about my age, because I hope that’s encouraging to younger women. I’m 65 and still doing interesting things. You don’t need to bow out.”

The Guardian describes actress Tilda Swinton as “shapeshifting” and “otherworldly.”

Shows We Want to See

Tate Modern will host a retrospective of famed American artist Georgia O’Keeffe next summer. “This exhibition will re-examine her entire career, her development, her trajectory west, and the profound influence and legacy of her work.”

Petra Cortright discusses her internet-inspired artwork in her exhibition Niki, Lucy, Lola, Viola.

Alice Anderson has a compelling new show at the Wellcome Collection.

Works by 72-year-old painter Judith Bernstein are on view at Mary Boone Gallery.

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

Art Fix Friday: June 19, 2015

ARTnews reports on painting and feminism during a panel featuring artists Rosy Keyser, Cecily Brown, and Joan Semmel.

In discussing Linda Nochlin’s famous essay, Semmel said, “There are many great women artists. And we shouldn’t still be talking about why there are no great women artists. If there aren’t great celebrated women artists, that’s because we have not been celebrating them, but not because they are not there.”

At the beginning of the discussion Semmel stated, “I was told that feminism was over a long time ago, and painting was dead. But here we are.”

Keyser added, “There needs to be a revolution every day.”

Front-Page Femmes

Arts patron and collector Valeria Napoleone launches new initiatives to increase the visibility of women artists in public collections. A work from a woman artist will be donated to a museum each year. The museum will, in turn, host a solo show for the artist.

Photographer Deborah Willis describes the current environment for black female photographers. “It seems we see a few of their names often, and I wonder if that is not just a function of social media. When you look closely though at collections and museum shows, then these artists tend to disappear.”

Harper Lee’s letters failed to sell at Christie’s auction on Friday.

Working with the Female Artists’ Foundation, these four African women artists explore societal challenges and preconceptions in their works.

Following author Kamila Shamsie’s call to action in a recent article in The Guardian, the publishing house And Other Stories will only release titles written by women in 2018.

Drawn & Quarterly has a history of championing female cartoonists and its current best-selling cartoonists are women. The New York Times examines Drawn & Quarterly’s advance of women in comics for their 25th anniversary.

The College Art Association (CAA) compiles a list of their top-picks for women-centered exhibitions and events. Check out what they are most excited for in June.

Shows We Want to See

A mind-bending retrospective of British artist Bridget Riley is open at the De La Warr Pavilion this summer. One review declares, “Bridget Riley is the most important British painter of the modern age.”

The Hammer Museum’s latest exhibition features a collaborative initiative of Los Angeles-based women artists and Afghan weavers.

She Came to Stay opens soon. This cross-generational exhibition of five women artists describes obstacles and displays women’s stories.

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