Urgent Museum Notice

5 Fast Facts: Movement Muses and #5WomenArtists

Blog Category:  5 Fast Facts
Black-and-white photograph of a man, dressed in black, and Martha Graham, in white, dancing. Graham, lit from above, strikes one of her famous angular poses, both legs bent, the back foot pointing behind her. Her raised arms are held by the man, who stand

Across time and place, artists have been inspired by dancers, and some are even performers themselves. Impress your friends with five fast facts about NMWA collection artists who saw movement as their muse.

1. Barbara Morgan

In 1935, artist Barbara Morgan (1900–1992) attended a performance by the Martha Graham Dance Company. Blown away by the art form, she began creating her now-famous images of Graham’s iconic dances. Her other dance muses include Pearl Primus (1919–1994) and Hanya Holm (1893–1992). Morgan believed that “dance has to go beyond the theater,” and her images helped it do just that.

Black-and-white photograph of a man, dressed in black, and Martha Graham, in white, dancing. Graham, lit from above, strikes one of her famous angular poses, both legs bent, the back foot pointing behind her. Her raised arms are held by the man, who stand
Barbara Morgan, Puritan Love Duet, from “An American Document,” 1939; Gelatin silver print, 18 3/8 x 15 1/4 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Roslyn Wyckoff Rusinow in honor of her aunt and uncle, Louis Britwitz and Eleanor LeMaire; Conservation funds generously provided by the Southern California State Committee of the National Museum of Women in the Arts.; © Barbara Morgan, The Barbara Morgan Archive; Photo by Lee Stalsworth

2. Dorothea Rockburne

Abstract painter Dorothea Rockburne (b. 1932) spent three years of her career dancing with the Judson Dance Theater. Participating in this radically experimental dancemaking showed Rockburne the importance of exploring ideas instead of objects. She stopped dancing and returned to painting with a new understanding of how to incorporate her mathematic studies into artmaking.

Six folded white triangles resembling origami form a large geometric shape on a white background. Connected by a continuous line that bisects their center, the corners of each triangle touch and encourage the eye to move in a circular fashion.
Dorothea Rockburne, Sheba, 1980; Gesso, oil, conte crayon, glue on linen, 74 x 59 1/2 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Wallace and Wilhelmina Holladay; © Dorothea Rockburne

3. Lois Morrison

In The Caterpillar Who is a Corps de Ballet (1993), book artist Lois Morrison (b. 1934) tells the story of a caterpillar who performed in iconic dance works, including Vaslav Nijinsky’s Le Sacre du Printemps and Agnes de Mille’s Rodeo. Morrison’s books are whimsical and often include moveable parts, like this dancing caterpillar’s legs.

In this art book, white legs with pointed toes fan out from a central, oblong shape holding pages. The top page contains text in italics. The bottom contains an illustration.
Lois Morrison, The Caterpillar Who is a Corps de Ballet, 1993; Paper, ink, watercolor, 2 x 8 1/2 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Purchased with grant funds awarded to NMWA by the U.S. Department of Education in June 1997; © 1993, Lois Morrison; Photo by Lee Stalsworth

4. Judy Rifka

Judy Rifka (b. 1945), a prolific painter, studied dance with Barbara Dilley’s all-women group, The Natural History of the American Dancer. Rifka relates the movement of bodies in space while dancing to the creation of space in her paintings, which helps the artist make a physical connection to her works.

A print of a figure sketched in black lines, seemingly dancing. She wears an orange dress, whcih is depicted with crosshatched strokes. The same technique is used for a blue background that illuminates the figure.
Judy Rifka, Modern Dance, 1984; Color lithograph on paper, 32 x 24 3/4 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Museum purchase: Members’ Acquisition Fund

5. Susan Katz

In her photo essay The Woman I Am (1974–1976), photographer Suzan Katz (b. 1947) set out to document the experiences of 18 professional women artists. She featured several dancers, including Joan Miller (1936–2014), also a choreographer, and pioneer of avant-garde postmodern dance, who used movement to make social change.

A black-and-white photograph of a woman dancing in a studio. The photo is taken behind the woman, facing a mirror, which shows the full scene of the studio and the woman's fluid move.
Joan Miller in her studio, ca. mid-1970s; Photo by Susan Katz for “The Woman I Am” Collection, part of the Archives of Women Artists, National Museum of Women in the Arts, Betty Boyd Dettre Library & Research Center

Want to learn about more artists moved by dance? Check out Faith Ringgold (b. 1930) and Nikki S. Lee (b. 1970).

Related Posts