Frightful & Delightful: Summer Exhibitions

We are excited to announce that NMWA’s summer exhibitions, Super Natural and Organic Matters—Women to Watch 2015, open tomorrow! Museum staff have been busy transforming the 2nd-floor galleries to display these flora-and-fauna-filled artworks by women.

NMWA exhibition team hang works while Patricia Piccinini’s Stags look on.

NMWA’s exhibition team hangs works while Patricia Piccinini’s Stags look on, Photograph: Laura Hoffman

Super Natural explores the works of both historical painters and naturalists alongside contemporary artists.

Historical works like Rachel Ruysch’s 17th-century still life are juxtaposed with contemporary works such as Sam Taylor-Johnson’s video of decaying fruit.

Upon walking into the galleries, the spotlit Stags, by Patricia Piccinini, compels viewers into the room to take a closer look at these sparring hybrid creatures.

One Super Natural gallery displays a variety of ingenious artists’ books together with Maria Sybilla Merian’s lavish illustrations of plants and insects. Not merely beautiful depictions of flowers, Merian’s prints portray insects’ life cycles, including a graphic depiction of a spider feasting on an ill-fated hummingbird. Super Natural subverts traditional notions of women as observers, showing them as inventive and risk-taking artists.

Gallery spaces are transformed for Super Natural

Gallery spaces are transformed for Super Natural, Photograph: Laura Hoffman

A plethora of photographs from Janaina Tschäpe’s “Little Deaths” series appears alongside Ana Mendieta’s “Volcano” series. Both artists’ work reflects their interest in manipulating scenes of nature with the human body.

NMWA’s committee-driven exhibition Organic Matters—Women to Watch 2015 features living artists working with the subject of nature. 

Organic Matters presents 13 emerging or underrepresented artists from the states and countries in which the museum has outreach committees. These artists redefine the relationship between women, art, and nature.

A recurring theme in Organic Matters is the emphasis on humankind’s effect on the environment. Goldschmied and Chiari’s photograph harkens back to Monet’s waterlillies, but presents garbage-made-pretty lilies floating in a stream. Drawings by Jennifer Celio portray an unsettling view of nature in the not-too-distant future. Mimi Kato’s digital landscape explores the presence of mankind within urban green spaces.

Organic Matters artist Dawn Holder lays out individual squares of porcelain grass in Monoculture; Right, Organic Matters artist Rebecca Hutchinson assembles her multimedia installation Patterns of Nature, Photographs: Laura Hoffman

Large floor-based sculptures by contemporary artists Dawn Holder and Rebecca Hutchinson command visitors’ attention in the center of each Organic Matters gallery. Both artists came to the museum for the installation process.

Super Natural and Organic Matters—Women to Watch 2015 are on view through September 13, 2015. Stop in for Free Community Day this Sunday and enjoy noon gallery talks every Wednesday!

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

5 Fast Facts: Rachel Ruysch

Impress your friends with five fast facts about Rachel Ruysch (1664–1750), whose work will be on view at NMWA in Super Natural, June 5–September 13, 2015.

Rachel Ruysch (1664–1750)

1. Affinities
Ruysch’s maternal great-grandfather, grandfather, great-uncle, and several uncles pursued creative professions. Ruysch, like American portraitist Sarah Miriam Peale (1800–1885), came from a long line of artists. Coincidentally, Ruysch and Peale both had sisters named Anna, who were also painters.

Rachel Ruysch, Roses, Convolvulus, Poppies and Other Flowers in an Urn on a Stone Ledge, ca. 1745; Gift of Wallace and Wilhelmina Holladay

Rachel Ruysch, Roses, Convolvulus, Poppies and Other Flowers in an Urn on a Stone Ledge, ca. 1745; Gift of Wallace and Wilhelmina Holladay

2. Weird Science
Rachel’s father, Dr. Frederik Ruysch, specialized in women’s reproductive health. Additionally, he revolutionized preservation and embalming techniques, collected and displayed an array of botanical and anatomical specimens, and operated an early museum of curiosities. Rachel helped compose his dioramas, decorating the eclectic, macabre tableaux with shells, flowers, and lace.

3. Rosy Outlook
The Ruysch family crest sports a blue rose with five petals. Most of the artist’s still lifes include prominently displayed roses, likely a nod to her family name and history.

4. Retiring Nature?
Ruysch and her father committed their lives to studying and depicting aspects of the natural world. Passionate about their work, neither elected to retire. Ruysch’s pieces date from 1679, when her painting career blossomed at age 15, to a few years before her death at the ripe age of 86.

5. Giga-What?
NMWA collaborated with the Google Cultural Institute to usher Ruysch into the 21st century. Thanks to gigapixel technology, Roses, Convolvulus, Poppies, and Other Flowers in an Urn on a Stone Ledge can be seen in minute detail online.

Catch a glimpse of this piece in person in Super Natural!

—Adrienne Gayoso is associate educator at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Making the Video: A Behind-the-Lens Look at “A Global Icon: Mary in Context”

These days, everything seems to be going digital. Artwork is no exception to this change, and museums are taking notice.

With its first online exhibition, NMWA has joined other museums in embracing digital technology. A Global Icon: Mary in Context, complements the museum’s exhibition Picturing Mary: Woman, Mother, Idea, now on view in the galleries. Through detailed images and videos, the online exhibition explores the portrayal of the Virgin Mary in artworks from around the world.

DT_1_Sirani-Great_Hall

Photography by Laura Hoffman

As the fall 2014 semester’s digital media intern, I was tasked with creating a series of six short videos for the online exhibition, delving into each thematic section plus an introductory video. Despite my past production experience, I wasn’t sure how shooting and editing seven videos would be possible with my two-day-per-week schedule and in less than three months’ time. However, with a plan of action and system of support, I was able to complete them just in time for the exhibition opening.

DT_2_SFS-Dix_Gallery

Photography by Laura Hoffman

For each shoot, we would set up the camera, microphones, chairs, and lights (always bringing extra lights in case one unexpectedly popped) hours before the museum opened to avoid capturing background noise from visitors. Despite our best efforts, sounds—from the *ding* of an elevator door to an ambulance’s blaring siren—would interrupt the shooting. The video’s museum-staff narrators would recite each line of the script at least three times to ensure one usable take.

DT_3_DG_VT-Library

Photography by Laura Hoffman

During this process, I began editing, piecing together the filmed footage with artwork images and music. At times, keeping track of the hours of footage, image positions, and potential music options was the most challenging part of the editing stage. Conversations between the digital engagement team, curators, and myself involved meticulous reviewing: Did an image move across the screen too quickly? Would panning across rather than zooming in flatter the artwork best? When should the music fade in and out so as to enhance the viewing experience?

By the end of my three-month internship, all seven videos had been exported and uploaded to the online exhibition, available through YouTube. When I walk into the introductory gallery on the museum’s ground level, I take pride in seeing the videos displayed on the installed iPads. It is exciting to see NMWA using technological innovations both on its gallery walls and through the digital realm.

—Dorothea Trufelman was the fall 2014 digital media intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Explore the full online exhibition, and plan your visit to Picturing Mary, on view at NMWA through April 12.

5 Fast Facts: Sofonisba Anguissola

Impress your friends with five fast facts about Italian artist Sofonisba Anguissola (ca. 1532–1625), whose work is currently on view at NMWA in Picturing Mary.

1. All in the Family
Anguissola’s father, Amilcare, encouraged all of his children’s artistic pursuits. Sofonisba began her artistic training alongside her sister Elena, but it was her younger sisters Lucia and Europa who truly followed in their sister Sofonisba’s footsteps by pursuing careers as painters.

Sofonisba Anguissola (Cremona, ca. 1532–Palermo, 1625), Self-Portrait at the Easel, 1556; Oil on canvas, 26 × 22 3/8 in.; Muzeum-Zamek, Łańcut; inv. 916MT

Sofonisba Anguissola (Cremona, ca. 1532–Palermo, 1625), Self-Portrait at the Easel, 1556; Oil on canvas, 26 × 22 3/8 in.; Muzeum-Zamek, Łańcut; inv. 916MT

2. Mystifying Michelangelo
While Michelangelo didn’t officially take on Anguissola as a student, letters to him from Anguissola’s father show he gave advice to the young artist. He particularly praised Anguissola’s ability to render a crying boy in Boy Bitten by a Crayfish.

3. Like a Virgo
Anguissola often described herself as “virgo,” a young woman or virgin, in the Latin inscriptions she included on her self-portraits. In Self-Portrait, ca. 1556 the full inscription reads: “The maiden Sofonisba Anguissola, depicted by her own hand, from a mirror, at Cremona.”

4. Royal Affair
Anguissola’s talent eventually caught the attention of the wealthy Spanish court. In 1559, Phillip II of Spain invited Anguissola to court as a lady-in-waiting to Queen Isabella. While there, Anguissola painted portraits of the royal family, gave the queen drawing lessons, and cared for the infantas.

5. So Nice We Showed It Thrice
NMWA’s 1995 exhibition Sofonisba Anguissola: A Renaissance Woman as well as Italian Women Artists in 2007 featured Anguissola’s Self-Portrait at the Easel. If you missed it, it’s back for Picturing Mary: Woman, Mother, Idea at NMWA, on view through April 12, 2015.

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

NMWA to be Awarded 2015 Simone de Beauvoir Prize for Women’s Freedom

The Simone de Beauvoir Prize for Women’s Freedom announced today that it has chosen to honor the National Museum of Women in the Arts with its annual award. NMWA will be the first U.S. organization to be presented this award, which will take place during a ceremony in Paris on January 9, 2015.

Simone de Beauvoir; Photo by Pierre Boulat, collection Sylvie Le Bon de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir; Photo by Pierre Boulat, collection Sylvie Le Bon de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir (1908–1986), French philosopher, novelist, essayist, and author of The Second Sex in 1949, was a major theorist and feminist of the 20th century. Throughout her life she demonstrated her full support of the defense of women’s freedom. The Simone de Beauvoir Prize for Women’s Freedom was created in 2008 to mark the 100th anniversary of Simone de Beauvoir’s January 9, 1908, birthday. Each year the prize is awarded to laureates who are selected by an international jury. The prize is supported by the Institut français, the Mairie de Paris and Paris Diderot University.

“The National Museum of Women in the Arts is extremely honored to receive the prestigious Simone de Beauvoir Prize for Women’s Freedom,” said NMWA Director Susan Fisher Sterling. “NMWA is dedicated to providing a platform for women’s free expression and filling the void in recognition of women artists past, present, and future. The museum empowers women and girls through inspirational examples in the arts and connects great art and ideas by women to people around the world.”

NMWA visitors; Photo by Dakota Fine

NMWA visitors; Photo by Dakota Fine

NMWA was founded in 1981 with the singular mission to bring to light remarkable women artists of the past while also promoting the best women artists working today. The goal of this mission is to directly address the gender imbalance in the presentation of art, therefore assuring great women artists a place of honor now and into the future. NMWA remains the only museum in the world solely dedicated to recognizing women’s creative achievements.

Judy Chicago next to Frida Kahlo’s Self-Portrait Dedicated to Leon Trotsky, 1937, in NMWA’s collection galleries

Judy Chicago next to Frida Kahlo’s Self-Portrait Dedicated to Leon Trotsky, 1937, in NMWA’s collection galleries

Renowned feminist artist Judy Chicago has long supported the museum: “My study of women’s history made me acutely aware of the fact that women’s achievements along with too much of women’s cultural production has been erased, marginalized, under-recognized, or in other ways diminished. My understanding of this tragic loss led me to devote my life to creating art that could help change this situation so that women’s accomplishments would become a permanent part of our cultural heritage,” said Chicago.

“When Wilhelmina and Wallace Holladay founded the National Museum of Women in the Arts, I became a staunch supporter. I long for the day when women around the world are accorded equal rights, equal pay, and equal recognition in all aspects of human life. Until our art museums, schools, and universities fully integrate women’s history, experiences, and perspectives into their collections and curricula we desperately need our own institutions so that our contributions will be honored in the same way as men’s have been. My congratulations to the museum on this well-deserved award.”