Passionate Pathmakers

Dynamic women designers and artists from the mid-20th century and today create innovative designs, maintain craft traditions, and incorporate new aesthetics into fine art in Pathmakers: Women in Art, Craft, and Design, Midcentury and Today, now on view at the National Museum of Women in the Arts. Each week, compare and draw parallels between works on view in Pathmakers and NMWA collection favorites.

On view in Pathmakers

Gabriel Maher, DE___SIGN, 2014

Maher examines the ways in which design supports and shapes concepts of “male” and “female.” Maher’s work in Pathmakers reveals how gestures, movements, and positions can imply gender norms.

Gabriel A. Maher, DE___SIGN, 2014; Video: directed by Gabriel A. Maher and Kimon Kodossos; Performers: Naomi Jansen, Floraine Misslin, Gabriel A. Maher, Olle Lunden; Courtesy of the artist

Gabriel A. Maher, DE___SIGN, 2014; Video: directed by Gabriel A. Maher and Kimon Kodossos; Performers: Naomi Jansen, Floraine Misslin, Gabriel A. Maher, Olle Lunden; Courtesy of the artist

Who made it?

Australian-born designer Gabriel A. Maher (b. 1983) practiced and taught interior architecture in Australia until 2012 and received a Masters degree in Social Design at Design Academy Eindhoven (Netherlands) in 2014. Maher identifies as gender queer and prefers the pronouns “they” and “them”—representing gender as a spectrum.

How was it made?

Clothes can often reinforce “male” or “female” looks. Maher’s video work DE___SIGN includes a garment designed for personal use. Lacking gendered colors, the gray outfit—or “behavioral tool” as Maher calls it—can limit or exaggerate body movements and postures. Dancers and models wear the garment in a series of performances. The video also shows performers using a chair designed by Maher that enables the body to move into positions often associated with either “maleness” or “femaleness” including knees together or knees spread apart. Together, the clothes and chair in Maher’s work show how gender is constructed and can be reconstructed.

Collection connection

Mwangi Hutter, Neger Don't Call Me (installation view), 2000; DVD, speakers, four wood chairs, and Dolby surround sound; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Heather and Tony Podesta Collection, Washington, D.C., Image courtesy of the artists

Mwangi Hutter, Neger Don’t Call Me (installation view), 2000; DVD, speakers, four
wood chairs, and Dolby surround sound; National Museum of Women in the Arts,
Gift of Heather and Tony Podesta Collection, Washington, D.C., Image courtesy of
the artists

A work in NMWA’s collection, Neger Don’t Call Me (2000) by Ingrid Mwangi (b. 1975), also explores representations of identity through video performance. A grid of nine frames alternates to a single image showing the artist’s face covered and uncovered with masks made from her own hair. Mwangi explained that her hair represents one facet of her identity. The installation incorporates four wooden chairs with speakers attached under the seats. A recording of Mwangi fills the space, repeating stories from her childhood related to the German word “neger,” or negro, as it translates in English. The artist explains, “Many people can’t say the word because they are so wounded by it, but for me, the more I used it, the history behind the word dissolved.”

Throughout her career, Mwangi focuses on issues of “hyphenated” identity. With Kenyan and German roots, Mwangi has lived in Africa and Europe. Her work often investigates Western culture’s tendency to label people with a race or nationality. Through video and performance art, Mwangi uses and manipulates her body to confront and dismiss these stereotypes. In 2005, Mwangi and her husband, Robert Hutter, merged their names and biographies as IngridMwangiRobertHutter. They consider all new and old artwork as part of their collective.

Visit the museum and explore Pathmakers, on view through February 28, 2016. Join a conversation with Gabriel Maher and design critic Alice Rawsthorn on January 27, 2016 during FRESH TALK: Can Design Be Genderless?

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

Now Open: Women Shape Design in “Pathmakers”

NMWA’s latest exhibition, Pathmakers: Women in Art, Craft, and Design, Midcentury and Today, is now open! Museum staff have been busy transforming the 2nd-floor galleries to display more than 80 objects including furniture, ceramics, textiles and jewelry. The exhibition explores the lasting impact of women artists and designers on midcentury Modernism through making groundbreaking commercial and industrial designs, maintaining craft traditions, and incorporating new aesthetics into fine art.

Pathmakers-1

Guest curator Jennifer Scanlan talks to members during Member Preview Day

In the 1950s and ’60s, an era when painting, sculpture, and architecture were dominated by men, women had considerable impact in alternative materials such as textiles, ceramics, and metals. Pioneers in these fields—including Ruth Asawa, Edith Heath, Sheila Hicks, Karen Karnes, Dorothy Liebes, Alice Kagawa Parrott, Lenore Tawney, and Eva Zeisel—had tremendous influence as designers, artists, and teachers.

Visitors explore prints by Anni Albers and a textile work by Marianne Strengell

Visitors explore prints by Anni Albers and a textile work by Marianne Strengell

Their artistic practices varied widely—some exhibited in New York City galleries, others took part in the regional handicraft scene in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and still others collaborated with corporations such as General Motors. Pathmakers also illustrates parallels between women creating work in the United States and Scandinavia, where craft often served as a pathway to Modernist innovation.

Guest curators Jennifer Scanlan and Ezra Shales also consider contemporary female artists and designers whose work builds upon that of their midcentury counterparts. Polly Apfelbaum and Michelle Grabner are represented by installations centered on woven and knitted patterns, while Anne Wilson’s work focuses on the processes of textile manufacture. Magdalene Odundo and Christine Nofchissey McHorse adapt traditional techniques and absorb influences from global sources. Furniture and fixture designers Vivian Beer, Front Design, and Hella Jongerius have also expanded the repertoire of making, while Gabriel A. Maher looks at the ways gender is constructed by the clothes we wear.

Pathmakers 2

A visitor studies Front’s Axor WaterDream/Axor Shower System

Pathmakers stresses the connections between midcentury and contemporary design and aesthetics,” said NMWA Associate Curator Virginia Treanor. “The installation will encourage the comparison of the modern and contemporary periods in a way that enables close inspection.”

Pathmakers: Women in Art, Craft, and Design, Midcentury and Today is on view through February 28, 2016. Visit this Sunday for a Free Community Day with a pop-up makerspace and enjoy noon gallery talks every Wednesday!