Artist Spotlight: Lilian Thomas Burwell

Magnetic Fields: Expanding American Abstraction, 1960s to Today places abstract works by multiple generations of black women artists in context with one another—and within the larger history of abstract art—for the first time, revealing the artists’ role as under-recognized leaders in abstraction.

Winged Autumn (2007)

By: Lilian Thomas Burwell (b. 1927, Washington, D.C.)

Lilian Thomas Burwell’s Winged Autumn (2007) is an amalgamation of Plexiglas, oil on canvas, and carved wood. To construct this work, Burwell cut shapes from clear Plexiglas, heated them until they become malleable, and affixed them to the rest of the composition. Winged Autumn represents a shift away from the heavier materials that characterized Burwell’s earlier large-scale works. Mounted to the gallery wall, Winged Autumn appears airy and weightless. The individual components fused together seem to form the shape of a bird mid-flight, reaching toward what Burwell refers to as “the something in me that shares the something in you.”

When pursuing a project, Burwell rarely, if ever, has a concrete outcome in mind. Instead, she sees art as a “channeling of spirit,” and her finished works reflect her improvisational approach. Burwell’s companion piece in Magnetic Fields, Menageri (2006)—completed a year before Winged Autumn—contains a similarly spirited quality.

Lilian Thomas Burwell, Menageri, 2006; Oil on canvas over carved wood, 20 x 29 x 12 in.; Collection of Cynthia Sands, Washington, D.C.; © Lilian Thomas Burwell; Photo by E. G. Schempf

A D.C. native, Burwell was the founding director of the Alma Thomas Memorial Gallery in Shaw for the D.C. Department of Education, the head of the visual arts department at Duke Ellington School of the Arts, and a publications and exhibits specialist for the U.S. Department of Commerce. Burwell’s career in sculpting, painting, lecturing, and writing spans 75 years, and at age 90, she is “still working at what [she] loves.”

According to Burwell, Winged Autumn reflects her personal “sense of soaring into infinity.” Burwell says, “I myself, well into the autumn of my years, am still learning to fly high and higher—my present mantra: living for possibility.”

Visit the museum and explore Magnetic Fields, on view through January 21, 2018. Learn more through the Magnetic Fields Mobile Guide.

—Ilayda Orankoy is the 2017 fall publications and communications/marketing intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Artist Spotlight: Deborah Dancy

Magnetic Fields: Expanding American Abstraction, 1960s to Today places abstract works by multiple generations of black women artists in context with one another—and within the larger history of abstract art—for the first time, revealing the artists’ role as under-recognized leaders in abstraction.

Winter into Spring 2 and Winter into Spring 4 (2015) 

By: Deborah Dancy (b. 1949, Bessemer, Alabama)

Created during the seemingly interminable Connecticut winter of 2015, Winter into Spring 2 (and its companion piece, Winter into Spring 4) echoes Deborah Dancy’s desire to see spring colors. Heavy brushstrokes imbue the work with a sense of restlessness and anxiety as Dancy, an artist who paints “color, surprise, absurdity, and encounters with the self,” impatiently waits for the ice of winter to thaw. While a solitary flourish of pink in Winter into Spring 4 indicates the eventual oncoming of spring, the painting remains blanketed in streaks of gray, black, and blue—not unlike an early blossom smothered by an unseasonably late snowfall.

The painting’s gestural brushstrokes—what Dancy calls “tangential entanglements” and “linear demarcations”—are characteristic of her engaging, disruptive style. The dissonance in the intersecting shapes is also characteristic of Dancy’s oeuvre. Her artwork shows that “everyday moments, meanderings, intentional and accidental observations and notations, are best when the beautiful and the disconcerting are combined.”

Dancy also embraces the natural ambiguity of abstraction. Although her works are inspired by her own emotions and experiences, they also allow viewers to contemplate their own relationships to her work. Dancy says, “I make abstract work because I am interested in its ability to operate in a realm in which beauty and tension simultaneously exist without explanation or narrative.” Dancy is “an artist who examines and mines abstraction’s potential to move across mediums and materials as it explores [subtlety] and confrontation.”

Visit the museum and explore Magnetic Fields, on view through January 21, 2018. Learn more through the Magnetic Fields Mobile Guide.

—Ilayda Orankoy is the 2017 fall publications and communications/marketing intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Art Fix Friday: January 12, 2018

The 2018 Golden Globe Awards celebrated women, awarding top prizes to women-centric films and shows including Three Billboards, Lady Bird, and Big Little Lies. Eight actresses invited activists from a range of fields as their plus-ones to direct attention to the Time’s Up initiative. Oprah Winfrey made history as the first black woman to receive the Cecil B. Demille Award.

Among these many achievements, however, are more sobering statistics from Diego State University’s “Celluloid Ceiling” report. The analysis found that of the top 250 films of 2017, 88% had no women directors, 83% had no women writers, and 96% had no women cinematographers. The Atlantic delves into the report, #MeToo, and Time’s Up in an article titled “The Brutal Math of Gender Inequality in Hollywood.”

Front-Page Femmes

Amy Sherald’s portrait of former first lady Michelle Obama will be unveiled on February 12 at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C.

Four Salvadoran women artists discuss their work amidst recent immigration news that could affect over 200,000 Salvadorans living in the U.S.

“The American People” paintings by Faith Ringgold are searing portraits of a racially divided America.

Venezuelan collector Patricia Phelps de Cisneros announced that her foundation will donate more than 200 artworks, by 91 artists from 22 countries, to six museums across the U.S., Latin America, and Europe.

Elizabeth Murray’s canvases “bulge and ripple from the walls, fold over themselves at the corners, or comprise fractured and imperfectly interlocking shapes.”

Cheryl Dunn’s photographs of New York capture “aggression, freedom, protest, humor, resilience, the streets.”

ARTnews features Brazilian artist Rosângela Rennó’s symbolic works.

Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein turns 100 years old.

A new wall sculpture by Rachel Whiteread—modeled on a suburban U.S. house—will be on view at the new U.S. Embassy in London.

Beijing-based artist Peng Wei paints Classical Chinese motifs on rice paper to create contemporary sculptures of human legs, shoes, and torsos.

The book Yayoi Kusama: From Here to Infinity focuses on Kusama’s artwork, rather than her biography, to “expand children’s perspectives on art and its role in our lives. ”

The New Yorker explores whether or not the English-language translation of The Vegetarian is faithful to Korean writer Han Kang’s original text.

Mary Beard’s book Women & Power unpacks the way people think about female speech and power. NPR examines Beard’s book, along with a fiction work by Naomi Alderman, to discuss when and how women have influence in public and private spheres.

Shows We Want to See

Seattle-based, Pakistan-born artist Humaira Abid’s first solo exhibition is on view at the Bellevue Arts Museum. Searching for Home premieres never-before seen works, created following months of research and interviews with refugee women who have been resettled in both the Pacific Northwest and Pakistan.

Liz Glynn’s Archaeology of Another Possible Future at MASS MoCA is a sculptural experience of sight, sensation, sound, and scent—stretching nearly the length of a football field.

The solo exhibition Elizabeth Catlett: Wake Up in Glory presents work from the artist’s seven-decade career.

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

Artist Spotlight: Brenna Youngblood

Magnetic Fields: Expanding American Abstraction, 1960s to Today places abstract works by multiple generations of black women artists in context with one another—and within the larger history of abstract art—for the first time, revealing the artists’ role as under-recognized leaders in abstraction.

YARDGUARD (2015)

By: Brenna Youngblood (b. 1979, Riverside, California)

In the dream-like, mixed-media work YARDGUARD (2015), Brenna Youngblood applies an array of colors, tones, and patterns to create a nuanced composition. In the six-foot-high painting, the artist challenges viewers to make connections and open their imaginations.

Brenna Youngblood, YARDGUARD, 2015; Mixed media on canvas, 72 x 60 in.; Courtesy of the artist and Tilton Gallery, New York, New York; © Brenna Youngblood

A multidisciplinary artist, Youngblood fuses her process of abstract painting with her photographic background to both conceal and reveal meaning. The artist says, “I don’t like to say exactly what something is about, because I enjoy people’s interpretations—what they bring from their lives, their experiences.” This sense of ambiguity is evident in the artist’s stylistic choices and overall technique in YARDGUARD as well as Forecast (2014), also on view in Magnetic Fields.

Youngblood often combines references to artificial objects and nature in her works. In YARDGUARD, the ghostly appearance of a chain-link fence that grazes the edges of the frame is disrupted by splashes of rich color breaking through the center of the composition. Set on a silvery gray background, the surface of the work appears faded and worn. The artist’s use of serene jewel tones is juxtaposed with a forceful application of shimmering, liquid-seeming pigment. Youngblood’s ability to evoke the world around us in YARDGUARD creates shifts in focus and resounding energy.

Visit the museum and explore Magnetic Fields, on view through January 21, 2018. Learn more through the Magnetic Fields Mobile Guide.

Katie Benz is the 2017 fall digital engagement intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Artist Spotlight: Abigail DeVille

Magnetic Fields: Expanding American Abstraction, 1960s to Today places abstract works by multiple generations of black women artists in context with one another—and within the larger history of abstract art—for the first time, revealing the artists’ role as under-recognized leaders in abstraction.

Harlem Flag (2014)

By: Abigail DeVille (b. 1981, New York, New York)

A New York City native and the youngest artist represented in Magnetic Fields, Abigail DeVille approaches her work with the mindset of an artist, archaeologist, and historian. Eschewing the traditional two-dimensional form, she assembles her paintings with scavenged materials found on the streets of New York and other areas that inspire her. DeVille’s assemblages speak to the displacement of marginalized communities and the destruction of deep-rooted regional histories. She aims to provide these sites with new agency to voice their injustices. In describing her work, DeVille explains, “I’m interested in telling invisible histories, about groups of people that occupied a space that no longer exists.”

Abigail DeVille, Harlem Flag, 2014; Sheetrock, door, American flag, wax, encaustic paint, charcoal dust, wallpaper scrap, window shade, and staples, 96 x 120 in.; Courtesy of the artist, Bronx, New York; © Abigail DeVille; Photo by E. G. Schempf

Harlem Flag was first exhibited in Material Histories at the Studio Museum in Harlem. Objects taken from the streets of Harlem are arranged in a way that reveals parallels between the past and the present. The piecing together of this assortment of discarded materials results in a richly textured canvas. Drawing inspiration from her grandmother—a vibrant figure in her Bronx neighborhood known for gathering and transforming discarded possessions—DeVille “translates the act of collecting into not only a tool of sociocultural archiving but also one of self-discovery and explorations of otherness.”

DeVille combines sheetrock, wax, encaustic paint, charcoal dust, staples, a door, a window shade, and an American flag into a statement about the materials’ shared importance in the history and memory of Harlem. The American flag, in the work’s title and composition, contains a dual meaning that confronts the viewer. For some viewers the flag is a symbol of pride and freedom; for others it recalls a history of oppression and ownership of people. In her work, DeVille creates shifting perspectives of the physical world, introducing a new genre of storytelling that engages the imagination.

Visit the museum and explore Magnetic Fields, on view through January 21, 2018. Learn more through the Magnetic Fields Mobile Guide.

Katie Benz is the 2017 fall digital engagement intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Artist Spotlight: Evangeline “EJ” Montgomery

Magnetic Fields: Expanding American Abstraction, 1960s to Today places abstract works by multiple generations of black women artists in context with one another—and within the larger history of abstract art—for the first time, revealing the artists’ role as under-recognized leaders in abstraction.

Sunset (1997)

By: Evangeline “EJ” Montgomery (b. 1933, New York, New York)

Evangeline “EJ” Montgomery, Sunset, 1997; Offset lithograph, ed. 8/17, 21 1/2 x 30 in.; Courtesy of the Brandywine Workshop and Archives, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; © Evangeline Montgomery; Photo by Gustavo Garcia

Both of Evangeline “EJ” Montgomery’s works in Magnetic Fields represent and explore memory. While Sunset (1997) captures the burning redwoods in the mountains of California, Sea Grass (1998) depicts the kelp groves and coral reefs surrounding the Catalina Islands—reputedly a favorite cliff-face of California skin divers. To Montgomery, these pieces are “abstractions of life experiences and cultural connections,” flash imprints that blend observation, dialogue, and emotion. Montgomery considers the marks and characters in Sunset and Sea Grass to be a form of universal communication; their content speaks to shared human experience.

Montgomery was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 1994, which prevented her from continuing to work in metal as she had in the past. The artist shifted her focus to etching, lithography, and monoprint. Sunset and Sea Grass are both offset lithographs; they involved transferring an image onto an intermediate surface before printing it onto a final sheet. The practice behind Sunset and Sea Grass also affects Montgomery’s presentation of memory—as if in contemplation of the past, each piece is mirrored twice, appearing on the final sheet the same way it was originally etched.

In addition to being an accomplished artist, Montgomery is also an independent curator. Since 1967, Montgomery has organized more than 150 exhibitions in museums, university galleries, and art centers. Montgomery moved to Washington, D.C., in 1980. Three years later she pursued a career with the United States Department of State as a program development officer for the Arts America Program at the United States Information Agency (USIA), specializing in American exhibitions touring abroad. Through her efforts, she implemented successful fine arts programs domestically and abroad. In 2005, Blacks In Government (BIG) established the Evangeline J. Montgomery Scholarship Program, a fund for artists who are interested in working with the government to promote the arts.

Visit the museum and explore Magnetic Fields, on view through January 21, 2018. Learn more through the Magnetic Fields Mobile Guide.

—Ilayda Orankoy is the 2017 fall publications and communications/marketing intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Art Fix Friday: January 5, 2018

The Art Newspaper reports that ceramicist Betty Woodman, who in 2006 became the first living woman artist to have a retrospective at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, died at the age of 87.

Woodman distinguished herself as an avant-garde sculptor when “the world of ceramics, where it intersected with ‘high art,’ was totally dominated by the macho.” Hyperallergic and artnet remember the groundbreaking artist.

Front-Page Femmes

“You feel you are not alone,” writes Hyperallergic about Mónica Mayer’s multifaceted El Tendedero/The Clothesline Project at NMWA.

Large-scale paintings by Njideka Akunyili Crosby reflect her life in both Nigeria and the United States.

Tatyana Fazlalizadeh discusses her anti-street harassment series “Stop Telling Women To Smile” series and her work in the 2017 Netflix series reboot of the 1986 film She’s Gotta Have It.

Romanian-born artist Adela Andea’s futuristic light installations appear “as lit explosions. . . . springing outwards in a blend of chaos and control.”

Hyperallergic and the Art Newspaper explore a new study which found that respondents consistently ranked works they believed to have been made by male artists higher than those believed to be by women artists.

The Foundation for Contemporary Arts grants $40,000 to three experimental poets, including Lisa Robertson, Anne Boyer, and Fred Moten.

Using thick layers of vibrant vinyl paint, Icelandic artist Katrin Fridriks depicts the fire, ice, volcanoes, and geysers.

Sofia Bonati uses pencils, watercolors, inks, gouache, and markers to portray “the intricacy of the female mind and women’s role in society.”

Maysaloun Hamoud’s film In Between is a “bold, brassy and beautiful first feature about living while Arab and female in Israel.”

Dick Van Dyke Show actress Rose Marie died at the age of 94.

Some of Hollywood’s most powerful women have teamed up to launch the Time’s Up campaign, an initiative aimed at combating sexual harassment inside and outside the industry.

For the first time since 1958 the top three highest-grossing films of the year starred women.

Shows We Want to See

Harriet Tubman and Other Truths, on view at Grounds for Sculpture in New Jersey, explores decades of Joyce J. Scott’s work—including her jewelry and figurative work, along with an homage to Harriet Tubman.

Marking the Infinite at the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art features 70 works by nine contemporary women artists hailing from remote regions of Australia.

Hooked on Patty Yoder surveys the 13-year career of American rug hooker Patty Yoder, who set a new standard within the field of American textile arts with her attention to color, composition, and technique.

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

Artist Spotlight: Chakaia Booker

Magnetic Fields: Expanding American Abstraction, 1960s to Today places abstract works by multiple generations of black women artists in context with one another—and within the larger history of abstract art—for the first time, revealing the artists’ role as under-recognized leaders in abstraction.

Chakaia Booker, El Gato, 2001; Rubber tire and wood, 48 x 42 x 42 in.; Collection of the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, Bebe and Crosby Kemper Collection, Museum purchase, Enid and Crosby Kemper and William T. Kemper Acquisition Fund, 2004.12; © Chakaia Booker; Photo by E. G. Schempf

El Gato (2001)

By: Chakaia Booker (b. 1953, Newark, New Jersey)

“There is no separation between who I am and what I do,” says sculptor Chakaia Booker about her artistic process. Booker bends, coils, and cuts rubber tires into innovative sculptures and means of social commentary.

Booker’s work is rooted in her interest in fashion and style. As a child she was taught to sew by the women in her family. Building on this skill, she developed her artistic style by making her own clothing as a teenager. After receiving a BA in sociology from Rutgers University in 1976, Booker moved to Manhattan, where she participated in internships related to ceramics and basket-weaving. She continued to create her own wearable sculptures incorporating found materials. Continuing her artistic pursuits, Booker earned her MFA from the City College of New York in 1993.

In the early 1990s, Booker became interested in old, discarded tires and burnt rubber from car fires in the urban landscape of Manhattan’s East Village. Initially drawn to the tires for their accessibility, she soon realized their artistic possibilities and expressive power. For Booker, the worn nature of discarded tires evokes the lifecycle of humanity and the aging process. The tonal variations of rubber calls to mind the diversity of human identity, while the tire treads reference textile designs and markings from the African Diaspora. Booker also welcomes the perspectives individuals bring to her work. Booker explains, “As an artist, I put the ideas expressed in the sculpture out to the public with my own experience and the audience responds to the work on the basis of their own experience.”

El Gato, “the cat,” possesses a feline quality in its slinking stature. The sculpture’s extensions appear paused, perched, and also relaxed. Booker combined wood with a myriad of bicycle and automobile tires to create an intricate arrangement. The sculpture’s human-like form and scale call to mind the artist’s interest in African motifs and ceremonial headdresses. Such physical characteristics lend a self-referential quality to the work, as they remind viewers of Booker’s process of transforming herself with her wearable art.

Visit the museum and explore Magnetic Fields, on view through January 21, 2018. Learn more through the Magnetic Fields Mobile Guide.

—Katie Benz is the 2017 fall digital engagement intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Artist Spotlight: Alma Woodsey Thomas

Magnetic Fields: Expanding American Abstraction, 1960s to Today places abstract works by multiple generations of black women artists in context with one another—and within the larger history of abstract art—for the first time, revealing the artists’ role as under-recognized leaders in abstraction.

Orion (1973)

By: Alma Woodsey Thomas (b. 1891, Columbus, Georgia; d. 1978, Washington, D.C.)

NASA’s burgeoning space program during the late 1960s and ’70s inspired Alma Woodsey Thomas’s painting Orion. Though the title references the constellation Orion, the painting speaks more to the mystery of outer space as a whole. Orion’s rhythmic red tile-shaped brushstrokes evoke the velocity required for a spacecraft to break through Earth’s atmosphere.

Alma Woodsey Thomas (American, 1891-1978), Orion, 1973, Oil on canvas, 53 3/4 x 64 in., NMWA; Gift of Wallace and Wilhelmina Holladay

Thomas became Howard University’s first fine arts graduate in 1924, after which she taught art classes in Washington, D.C., public schools for nearly four decades. Thomas retired in 1960 and, due to her developing arthritis, considered giving up painting. However, Howard University offered to host a retrospective of her work in 1966. Thomas, determined to create new works for her upcoming exhibition, delayed her retirement. It was during this time that she developed the abstract, colorful, mosaic-like painting style for which she became best known. It wasn’t until 1975, at the age of 84, that she became the first black woman to have a solo exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art.

One of the older artists featured in Magnetic Fields, Alma Woodsey Thomas was a pioneer in abstraction for black women artists. In another claim to posthumous fame, an untitled 1968 painting by Thomas hung in the White House dining room during the Obama administration. Both of these works involve her characteristic use of short, punctuated brush strokes, arranged in lines and circles that conjure images of rain, flowerbeds, and sunlight. Another painting by Thomas in NMWA’s collection, Iris, Tulips, Jonquils, and Crocuses (1969), is currently on view on the museum’s third floor.

Thomas’s primary source of inspiration was nature, which she communicated through her use of vibrant, optimistic color. In the case of Orion, one of her later paintings, she turned her fixation on the natural world skyward to observe stars in the night sky.

“The use of color in my paintings is of paramount importance to me,” said Thomas. “Through color I have sought to concentrate on beauty and happiness, rather than on man’s inhumanity to man.”

Visit the museum and explore Magnetic Fields, on view through January 21, 2018. Learn more through the Magnetic Fields Mobile Guide.

—Ilayda Orankoy is the 2017 fall publications and communications/marketing intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Art Fix Friday: December 8, 2017

Lubaina Himid becomes the first woman of color to win the Turner Prize since it was established in 1984, reports Hyperallergic. At the age of 63, Himid is also the oldest artist to win the U.K.’s prestigious award. Until this year, only artists under the age of 50 were eligible.

Himid told BBC, “I think it will get people talking, which is the point of my work.” Himid’s artwork addresses racial politics and the legacy of slavery. The prize judges praised her “uncompromising tackling of issues including colonial history and how racism persists today.” The Art Newspaper, the Guardian, and the Telegraph explore Himid’s work and Turner Prize history.

Front-Page Femmes

artnet explores NMWA artist Amy Sherald’s art-market success.

NPR discusses Time’s Person of the Year for 2017, the #MeToo social media movement, and the silence breakers who have helped raise awareness about sexual harassment and assault.

Think Progress shares El Tendedero/The Clothesline Project, the bilingual installation on violence against women at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

NMWA Associate Curator Ginny Treanor and Magnetic Fields artist Lilian Thomas Burwell discuss the exhibition on the Kojo Nnamdi Show on WAMU 88.5.

Through an analysis of the 199 galleries showing at this year’s Art Basel, Artsy find that dealers who are women are 28% more likely to show artists who are women.

Liza Dracup reflects on her best work, a photograph of a barn owl.

Nicola L.’s works are “forceful and appealing, with their bright colors, stylized representations of the human body, and humorous applications of faux fur, perspex, and vinyl.”

German photographer Alma Haser prints photographs of twins onto a 500 or 1,000-piece puzzles and switches every other piece to create two works that are an equal combination of each sibling.

Caitlin McCormack’s fiber sculptures investigate the warping of memory over time through the breakdown of physical material.

Netflix will film eight more episodes of House of Cards for a final season that will feature the show’s female lead, Robin Wright.

The New Yorker delves into Anna Kavan’s novel, Ice, a “fantasia about predatory male sexual behavior that takes place during an apocalyptic climate catastrophe.”

Shows We Want to See

Aliza Nisenbaum: A Place We Share at the Minneapolis Institute of Art upends class and status structures through majestic group portraits.

Hyperallergic interviews Cecilia Fajardo-Hill, a curator of the Radical Women exhibition at the Hammer Museum, about how the show fills historical gaps with the contributions of Latin American women.

Trigger: Gender as a Tool and a Weapon at the New Museum “seeks a space beyond that taxonomic obsession.”

Photographer and filmmaker Laura Aguilar’s self-portraits shot in the Mojave Desert, ephemera from her college years and early career, family snapshots, and a few short films are on view at the Vincent Price Art Museum.

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