Get to Know NMWA’s Director: Part 2

NMWA Director Susan Fisher Sterling answers questions about art, equity, and travel. This is part two of a two-part questionnaire. Explore part one.

Yael Bartana, What if Women Ruled the World, 2016; Neon, 98 1/2 x 38 1/2 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Museum purchase, Belinda de Gaudemar Acquisition Fund, with additional support from the Members’ Acquisition Fund; © Yael Bartana; Photo by Lee Stalsworth

What do you consider your greatest achievements regarding women and the arts?

First, helping NMWA founder Wilhelmina Holladay and the board of trustees to build this museum. Second, having the privilege of working in contemporary art and being in the exciting position of introducing artists to the world.

What is your favorite museum outside of your own?

It could be the last one I’ve visited. The Science Gallery in Dublin is working in an innovative way. I have always loved the Musée Guimet in Paris and the Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus in Munich. I like museums that surprise me. There’s a real sense of discovery when you are at a smaller museum, and it becomes a jewel box experience.

What has been your most inspirational travel destination?

I traveled to Brazil in 1993 and saw phenomenally important work from the 1960s and 1970s that I had never seen, the flipside of what was happening in the U.S. at the time. I was one of the first curators in the U.S. to recognize that this work was missing from our lexicon of great contemporary art. As a result of the trip, we were able to show two exhibitions of work by Brazilian women artists at NMWA.

Frida Baranek, Untitled, 1991; Iron, 44 x 75 x 46 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Museum purchase: The Lois Pollard Price Acquisition Fund; © Frida Baranek / Galeria Raquel Arnaud, © Frida Baranek

What do women in leadership positions in the arts need more of?

According to the 2014 Association of American Art Museum Directors survey, there is a gender gap in salaries. We need more women in executive leadership positions and more women in board leadership positions. We also need to create more time for women to speak with experts from other fields, creating centers for relevant conversations about the future of our culture. And we need an influx of younger people who believe in what museums do.

What does gender equity mean to you?

Women need to be recognized both as sole producers and as part of a larger context of women. Equal representation has a ripple effect. Communities will support women if their work is valued. We need to focus on a wider world view including women of color.

What artistic talent would you most like to have?

It may not be an artistic talent, but I’ve always wanted to be able to see the future.

Tell us something we might not know about you.

I like science fiction—especially Star Trek and Westworld. I wonder what art would look like on another planet or galaxy.

Get to Know NMWA’s Director: Part 1

NMWA Director Susan Fisher Sterling answers questions about art, equity, and travel. This is part two of a two-part questionnaire. Explore part two.

NMWA Director Susan Fisher Sterling; Photo by Michele Mattei

Was there a pivotal moment that led you to working in the arts? If so, what was it?

From the time I was in fourth grade, I had the good fortune to take school field trips to the Cleveland Museum of Art. We went on Mondays when it was closed to the public so I always felt like it was a very special place. Since it’s an encyclopedic museum, you could see everything from early civilizations through to the early 20th century. The now-famous director Sherman E. Lee brought in Asian art that glowed on the walls. In high school I was able to have a one-day-a-week internship, working with Henry Hawley who was an expert on Fabergé eggs.

Which women artists do you admire most?

I admire the next artist I am about to see. But to narrow it down, right now I deeply appreciate great artists who are all about creating social awareness with intentions to incite social change. I am drawn to artists who are handling big topics, and creating art that makes you think about our world.

Which historical women artists would you like to invite to a dinner party?

I would like to dine with women artists from French society in the 18th century. There was a brief period when women held court in the salons of Paris before the French Revolution. It was the beginning of the modern age. At the table it would be great to see Élisabeth Louise Vigée-LeBrun—who became the court painter to Marie Antoinette—as well as Marguerite Gérard, Adélaïde Labille-Guiard, and Anne Vallayer-Coster.

If you could change one thing in the art world, what would it be?

The reputation of women in the art world. In music, there are blind juries so the judges can’t see the gender or race of the person playing. Perhaps this needs to be considered more within visual art competitions.

What is the role of art in our society?

It’s central! Essential!

Art Fix Friday: September 11, 2015

“Become a creative enabler. My secret to success is making sure others can be highly successful and productive too,” says NMWA Director Susan Fisher Sterling in the third installment of artnet’s “Women Share Their Secrets to Art World Success.

Female art world professionals shared words of wisdom for women looking to find their place in the arts. The latest group of 31 women work at top-tier galleries, PR firms, and auction houses. Check out artnet’s other survey responses in their first and second installments.

Front-Page Femmes

Matika Wilbur attempts to photograph members of each federally recognized Native American tribe in the United States.

Iranian artist Atena Farghadani’s shook her lawyer’s hand and faces new charges including “indecent conduct.”

Actresses Sally Field and Miriam Colón, singer Meredith Monk, and visual artist Ann Hamilton will receive National Medals of Arts from the White House.

Hyperallergic examines Lorraine O’Grady’s 1983 performance piece Art Is…

The Huffington Post praises Doubleworld, the New Museum’s exhibition of Sarah Charlesworth’s photo-collages.

Saudi artist Arwa Alneami’s photographs and videos, Drop Zone, are named after her hometown’s amusement park, where women are not permitted to scream loudly on rides.

Melissa Cooke’s large-scale graphite drawings look like surrealistic black-and-white photographs.

Product designer Sara Little Turnbull died on Friday at age 97. The New York Times remembers the innovative artist for her diverse inspirations, ranging from geisha styles, to prison, to a Kenyan park.

Mozart’s sister—a child prodigy whose career ended at age 18—is the subject of a new play called The Other Mozart.

The Art Newspaper reviews Jesse Locker’s latest book, Artemisia Gentileschi: the Language of Painting.

The Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards celebrated its 80th anniversary. Edith Anisfield Wolf created the award in 1935 to celebrate books that explored issues of race.

17th-century artist and naturalist Maria Sibylla Merian’s fascination with butterflies is the subject of a new book. Hyperallergic’s review states the book shows how Merian “progressed from a young girl curious about the natural world, to one of the first researchers to examine butterflies in such detail.”

Brain Pickings shares portions of a 1968 interview between Janis Joplin and radio host Studs Terkel.

The Washington Post explores the recent publishing trend in memoirs of female rockers, attributed in part to the “different way that women rockers tell stories—with more humility and vulnerability than their male counterparts.”

Bustle recommends 17 nonfiction women-authored books, including works by Maya Angelou, Barbara Kingsolver, and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

Shows We Want to See

Ieva Epnere’s latest exhibition contains videos, photographs, and tent-like installations that highlight the isolated beauty of a former mining town in Norway.

Tate Modern’s The World Goes Pop “provides a valuable corrective to the notion that Pop Art was a male preserve.” Including 25 female artists, the exhibition reveals how many women used Pop Art motifs to critique 1960s and ’70s social norms.

American minimalist Anne Truitt’s drawings are on display at the Matthew Marks Gallery in New York. The Art Newspaper shares a video of the artist discussing her Tokyo period from 1964 to 1967.

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

The Art of Change: New Trends in Activist Art

“Contemporary art has within itself the possibility to effect powerful change.”

Earlier this fall, National Museum of Women in the Arts Director Susan Fisher Sterling traveled to Tianjin, People’s Republic of China, to present at the World Economic Forum’s eighth Annual Meeting of the New Champions. The Forum’s goal is to improve the state of the world by bringing together industry leaders to discuss and implement societal change. Sterling’s talk focused on five contemporary artists who are advancing innovative ideas and helping to drive solutions to some of society’s most pressing issues. She believes that artists have the potential to be agents for social change.

Sterling described similarities between contemporary artists and social activists Mel Chin, Natalie Jeremijenko, Theaster Gates, Caledonia Curry (Swoon), and the Documentary Group. She presented dynamic activist art as the art of the future.

“For many of you their works may not seem like art, but that is precisely the point. Their work, which is called the art of social practice, fits between art and life,” said Sterling. “They are today’s art world innovators in the real world.”

From collaborating with children around the country—children created “fundred” dollar bills to assist in the eradication of lead poisoning in New Orleans—to turning dilapidated buildings into places of beauty and respite, NMWA’s director showed how these artists use their practices to empower change.

“This is a direction that my museum is going in. This is a movement, the art of social practice…there is a need for new champions for this movement. My hope is that the National Museum of Women in the Arts, through its programming, will help it along its way.”

—Stacy Meteer is the communications and marketing associate at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.