Women House: Desperate Housewives

Questions about a woman’s “place” resonate in our culture, and conventional ideas about the house as a feminine space persist. Global artists in Women House recast conventional ideas about the home through provocative photographs, videos, sculptures, and room-like installations. Martha Rosler, Cindy Sherman, and Karin Mack use cliché and irony in their photographs to deconstruct stereotypes of women as submissive housewives.

Installation view of Martha Rosler, Woman with Vacuum, or Vacuuming Pop Art , 1965–74; Photomontage; Private collection

Martha Rosler, Woman with Vacuum, or Vacuuming Pop Art, 1965–74

Martha Rosler (b. 1943, Brooklyn, New York) constructed Woman with Vacuum, or Vacuuming Pop Art with images clipped from magazine advertisements which engaged in “shameless stereotyping.” Rosler says, “I felt that the emergent pop painters also repeated those tropes but always denied any depth of social critique beyond an ironic wink.”

The smiling woman in the photomontage appears content. Although she is vacuuming, her clothes are crisp and her hair is styled. She is both a hardworking housewife who is happy to serve and an object for the male gaze. While the smile plastered on the woman’s face coupled with the bright colors of the art on the walls radiate cheerfulness, the narrow hallway is suffocating and restrictive—almost cage-like. Whether or not she is resigned to her role as housewife, the woman cannot escape.

Cindy Sherman, Untitled Film Still #35, 1979; Gelatin silver print, 15 7/8 x 12 3/8 in.; Courtesy of the artist and Metro Pictures, New York

Cindy Sherman, Untitled Film Still #35, 1979

Drawing from pop-culture clichés, Cindy Sherman (b. 1954, Glen Ridge, New Jersey) explores notions of femininity and the construction of identity. In a series of photographs created from 1977 to 1980, Sherman evokes familiar images of women in stereotypical film roles, ranging from seductive bombshell, to subservient housewife, and ingénue.

The subject of her own photographs, Sherman uses wigs, costumes, and makeup to embody each character. Untitled Film Still #35 depicts a young woman wearing a dress, apron, and headscarf. She seems frustrated and dissatisfied with her limited role as a housewife, representing a stark contrast to the figure in Rosler’s work. Sherman says, “I definitely felt that the characters were questioning something—perhaps being forced into a certain role.”

Karin Mack, Bügeltraum (Iron Dream), 1975

Installation view of Karin Mack, Bügeltraum (Iron Dream), 1975; Black-and-white photographs
© Karin Mack / The SAMMLUNG VERBUND Collection, Vienna

Woman and ironing board become one in Bügeltraum (Iron Dream), a series of four black-and-white photographs by Karin Mack (b. 1940, Vienna, Austria). The artist, dressed in a black shirt and jeans, irons a gingham cloth. By the third image, Mack trades her casual outfit for a black dress and the cloth becomes a sheer black veil. In the final photograph, Mack lays on top of the ironing board with the veil draped over her head, symbolizing the death of the housewife.

Her body becomes part of the ironing board, highlighting her identity as an object rather than a person with agency. Mack’s subversive work underscores the struggles of many women artists in the 1970s who found their role as homemaker monotonous and often an obstacle to being taken seriously in a male-dominated art world.

Visit the museum and explore Women House, on view through May 28, 2018.

—Kali Steinberg is the 2018 spring publications intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Art Fix Friday: June 3, 2016

The New York Times asks, “Broadway may not be so white, but is it woman enough?” Theater critics Laura Collins-Hughes and Alexis Soloski discussed roles for women.

The Broadway musical Waitress, which just passed the million-dollar mark, and the play Eclipsed feature all-female creative teams. However, “women still lag far behind men as playwrights, composers, directors and designers.” About celebrated roles for women, Soloski says, “This season, I’ve worried that we still need to approach female characters as victims to accept them as heroes.”

Front-Page Femmes

Micol Hebron draws attention to the underrepresentation of women artists in her Gallery Tally project. When asked about upsetting gallerists, Hebron responded, “I’m reporting the numbers. I’m not making them.”

Multimedia artist Margot Bowman uses technology to reimagine the selfie in art.

Colossal shares minimalist aquariums with 3D-printed flora designed by Haruka Misawa.

Havana-born artist Carmen Herrera, now 100 years old, has lived and worked in New York City for the past six decades—in relative obscurity for much of that time.

Japanese “vagina artist” Megumi Igarishi released a manga memoir illustrating her practice and backlash from Japanese authorities.

Illustrator and typographer Georgia Hill creates bold, letter-based murals.

San Francisco-based artist Meryl Pataky combines neon sculptures with organic forms.

Lexi Alexander, a former kickboxing champion, is the only woman to direct a major comic book superhero movie.

“For all practical purposes the history of silhouette animation begins and ends with [Lotte] Reiniger,” writes the Telegraph. A Google Doodle celebrated the anniversary of the German filmmaker’s birth.

Yvonne Koolmatrie, an Ngarrindjeri weaver from South Australia, wins the $50,000 Red Ochre art prize.

The New York Times interviews comedic actress Maria Bamford about mental illness and her Netflix show, Lady Dynamite.

The Ghostbusters reboot, featuring an all-female cast, faces “a buzz saw of sexist backlash.”

The New York Times reviews Rita Dove’s career-spanning Collected Poems: 1974–2004.

Art historian Reiko Tomii’s latest book “offers illuminating assessments” and “provides valuable investigative tools for carrying out this kind of fresh-spirited research.”

The Ruins of Civilization, a new play by Penelope Skinner, “suggests a bleak sociopolitical future that is within the realm of possibility.”

Shows We Want to See

The Queensland Gallery of Modern Art hosts an exhibition of photographs by Cindy Sherman—“one of the most influential photo artists of the late 20th century,” The Guardian shares Sherman’s theatrical self-portraits, which capture “the grotesque and the uncanny, the monstrously feminine, and the comedic worlds of haute couture.”

Diane Simpson’s window designs at MCA Chicago are “a distillation of Art Deco design and research.” For her sculptures, Simpson even repurposed wallpaper and linoleum flooring from the 1920s and ’30s.

The Tel Aviv Museum of Art presents wooden dolls arranged in two tableaux vivantes by Canadian artist Ydessa Hendeles that are reminiscent of Pietà scenes, crime shows, and a controversial children’s book.

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

Art Fix Friday: August 14, 2015

Inmates at a women’s prison make art dedicated to female heroes. In a collective installation titled Shared Dining, a group of ten inmates created elaborate place settings dedicated to famous women who inspired the artists.

Wall Street Journal article calls the work, “a small refuge from the grim reality of incarceration.” Inspired by The Dinner Party by Judy Chicago, Shared Dining is on view at the Brooklyn Museum.

Front-Page Femmes

Western Australian artist Jukuja Dolly Snell wins the country’s most prestigious Indigenous art prize.

Mary Cassatt’s great-grandniece gives a Cassatt portrait of Col. Edward Buchanan—nicknamed “Grandpa”—to the National Gallery of Art.

ARTnews visits Nigerian artist Ruby Onyinyechi Amanze’s SoHo studio.

A sculpture by Phyllida Barlow is the first work in the new $750,000 fund for female artist acquisitions at the Nasher Sculpture Center.

The Huffington Post highlights 11 exceptional women artists—including Eva Hesse, Judy Chicago, Agnes Martin, and Kiki Smith.

Canadian artist Meryl McMaster uses blind contour drawings to sculpt wire masks.

The Huffington Post lists 8 female Dada artists who “shaped the trajectory of radical artmaking and radical feminism.”

Around 50 works from poet and author Maya Angelou’s collection will go to auction. The sale includes artwork by Faith Ringgold, Elizabeth Catlett, and Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe.

Hyperallergic explores Nicole Eisenman’s Seder at the Jewish Museum.

Sylvia Plath’s first job as a farm worker may have influenced her writing.

The Atlantic reviews the first full-length biography of famed author Joan Didion.

Stone Soup author Ann McGovern dies at the age of 85.

Cindy Sherman plays a character based on the opera singer Maria Callas in a new film.

Showtime adapts Patti Smith’s memoir Just Kids for a TV series.

Less than a third of speaking roles in movies go to women.

Shows We Want to See

The Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis will feature hand-woven, abstract fiber-based installation and sculptures from Sheila Hicks’s 60-year oeuvre.

Marilyn Minter: Pretty/Dirty explores the artist’s hyper-real work as an “astute interpretation of our deepest impulses, compulsions, and fantasies.”

The first large-scale exhibition of Israeli artist Keren Cytter is on view at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago.

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