Press Room

Eye Wonder: Photography From the Bank of America Collection

Jan 25 2011

The National Museum of Women in the Arts (NMWA) opens the 2011 exhibition season with Eye Wonder: Photography from the Bank of America Collection, featuring more than 100 photographs made between 1865 and 2004 that demonstrate how women have long embraced the subjectivity and quirkiness of the camera’s eye. The exhibition is provided by Bank of America’s Art in our Communities™ program. As part of their program, Bank of America encouraged NMWA to review the bank’s collection of international art by women and organize an exhibition for museum visitors.

“Bank of America’s collection is particularly deep in the field of photography, a medium in which women have had a profound impact since its inception. Through this unique program we are able to bring together and share with the public works by some of the of the best women photographers,” said NMWA Director Susan Fisher Sterling.

Through Art in our Communities, Bank of America has transformed its collection into a unique community resource from which museums and nonprofit galleries may borrow complete exhibitions. By providing these exhibitions and the support required to host them, the program helps enrich communities culturally and economically and generate vital revenue for museums. By the end of 2011, Bank of America will have loaned more than 50 exhibitions to museums worldwide.

“Bank of America is dedicated to strengthening artistic institutions and, in turn, the surrounding communities we serve,” said Bill Couper, Mid-Atlantic president, Bank of America. “Sharing our art collection with the public through partners such as the National Museum of Women in the Arts brings world-class cultural experiences to the residents and visitors of Greater Washington, providing important support to NMWA that contributes to the local economy.”

With works ranging from the historical to the contemporary, Eye Wonder is organized by themes such as landscape, urban life, portraiture, and still life. Displaying prints from different periods side by side highlights the myriad perceptions of these timeless subjects as well as aesthetic similarities and differences though time. American documentary-style photographers of the 20th century, including Margaret Bourke-White (1904–1971) and Dorothea Lange (1895–1965) play against contemporary works by Terry Evans (b. 1944) and Graciela Iturbide (b. 1942).

Further, the strong Modernist aesthetic in Bourke-White’s images clearly relates to artwork made decades later. Taken from a balcony or atop a ladder in a dance studio, Bourke-White’s Machine Dance, Moscow Ballet School, 1931, presents six dancers with their arms linked together in imitation of a chain-belt conveyer. With its spare background and high value contrast, Machine Dance appears more like a Modernist photomontage than a traditional documentary work.

Modernist photographers typically left commentary on the human social condition to documentary artists, but a number of photographers today use the still life to address the social experience. Stilleven met melk [Still Life with Milk], 2002, by Dutch artist Elspeth Diederix (b. 1971) seems to depict the aftermath of a spilled purse, with a pack of chewing gum, nail clippers, car keys, and other items scattered in a pool of milk. The large-scale print highlights the volume and banality of items that women carry throughout their daily lives.

American artist Linda Butler (b. 1947) combines a Modernist aesthetic, a documentarian’s sensitivity, and a conceptual focus to produce still lifes during her travels around the world. Her series of images made in rural Japan, for example, feature sunlit radishes, prickly tea whisks, and gleaming wooden tables. Butler’s immersion in world cultures has antecedents in “view photography,” which was popular in the 19th century.

Landscape photography today often critiques ecological issues or, in true postmodern fashion, older landscape art. Terry Evans (b. 1944) utilizes aerial perspective to create her images of the Midwest. Seascapes by DoDo Jin Ming (b. 1955) center on the sublimity of the ocean and resemble 19th century paintings by J.M.W. Turner. By combining multiple negatives to create each of her prints, Jin Ming increases the complexity and drama of her imagery.

Kathryn A. Wat, NMWA’s modern and contemporary art curator, developed Eye Wonder.

She remarked, “It was thrilling to see how the earliest works in the exhibition—a portrait by British artist Julia Margaret Cameron, for example—could be in dialogue with Gisèle Freund’s witty portraits from the 1930s or Rineke Dijkstra’s spare images made in the past ten years. The artists’ processes vary widely, but they were all after the same result—capturing some essence of the human experience.”

Portraiture, another theme in the exhibition, has had a long and storied connection with women photographers. In the early days of the medium, portraiture, because it was typically executed in intimate settings--a home or studio and required “patience and empathy”--was long considered by men to be the most suitable type of photography for women to practice. For some women in the early 20th century portraiture provided income that enabled them to pursue more inventive (and less lucrative) subjects. Freund (1912–2000) is well known for her photojournalistic work, but she also created a series of color portraits of writers and artists in Paris—Colette, Henri Matisse, and Virginia Woolf, among others—between the world wars.

Unlike Freund, Rineke Dijkstra (b. 1959) and Hellen van Meene (b. 1972) have chosen more anonymous subjects. Posing her models frontally and with flat expressions, Dijsktra describes her subjects as “isolated … so they become a certain icon or symbol.” Much like a film director, van Meene asks her models to act out a particular emotion or idea, in turn the viewer must speculate about the narrative being expressed in each of her untitled portraits.

Contemporary artists often use photography as part of their art-making process, sometimes to document their performative pieces. Eye Wonder includes a number of conceptual photographs, including works by Merry Alpern (b. 1955), Michal Rovner (b. 1957), and Sandy Skoglund (b. 1946). Skoglund designs, sculpts, paints, installs, and lights the surreal tableaux that she photographs. Her work Revenge of the Goldfish, 1981—an installation that is wholly her own creation--emphasizes the synthetic nature of art.

Other artists featured in the exhibition include: Berenice Abbott (1898-1991); Ilse Bing (1899-1998); Linda Connor (b. 1944); Barbara Crane (b. 1928); Candida Höfer (b. 1944); Gertrude Käsebeir (1852-1934); Vera Lutter (1960); and Barbara Morgan (1900-1992).

Eye Wonder: Photography from the Bank of America Collection is provided by Bank of America Art in our Communities™ program and the Members of NMWA.  Lead support for education programs associated with this exhibition is provided by Bank of America.

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Bank of America and the Arts
As one of the world's largest financial institutions and a major supporter of arts and culture, Bank of America has a vested interest and plays a meaningful role in the international dialogue on cultural understanding. As a global company, Bank of America demonstrates its commitment to the arts by supporting such efforts as after-school arts programs, grants to help expand libraries, programs to conserve artistic heritage as well as a campaign to encourage museum attendance. Bank of America offers customers free access to more than 120 of the nation’s finest cultural institutions through its acclaimed Museums on Us® program, while Art in our Communities™ shares exhibits from the company’s corporate collection with communities across the globe through local museum partners. The Bank of America Charitable Foundation also provides philanthropic support to museums, theaters and other arts-related nonprofits to expand their services and offerings to schools and communities. Bank of America partners with more than six thousand arts institutions worldwide.

National Museum of Women in the Arts (NMWA), founded in 1981 and opened in 1987, is the only museum solely dedicated to celebrating the achievements of women in the visual, performing and literary arts. The museum’s permanent collection features 4,000 works from the 16th century to the present created by more than 800 artists; including Mary Cassatt, Frida Kahlo, Alma Thomas, Lee Krasner, Louise Bourgeois, and Chakaia Booker along with special collections of 18th-century silver tableware and botanical prints. NMWA is located at 1250 New York Avenue, NW, Washington, D.C., in a landmark building near the White House. It is open Monday–Saturday, 10 a.m.–5 p.m. and Sunday, noon–5 p.m. For information, call 202-783-5000 or visit www.nmwa.org. Admission is $10 for adults, $8 for visitors 65 and over and students, and Free for NMWA Members and youth 18 and under.