Mixed Media Majesty: Petah Coyne

In celebration of NMWA’s 30th anniversary, and inspired by the museum’s focus on contemporary women artists as catalysts for change, Revival illuminates how women working in sculpture, photography, and video use spectacle and scale for expressive effect.

Installation view of Petah Coyne’s Untitled #781 (1994); Photo: Yassine El Mansouri

Installation view of Petah Coyne’s Untitled #781 (1994); Photo: Yassine El Mansouri

Petah Coyne (b. 1953, Oklahoma City)

Called the “queen of mixed media,” Petah Coyne creates attention-grabbing sculptural works and photographs. Examples of both are on view in Revival. Her sculptures incorporate unusual materials like wax, sand, silk flowers, and taxidermy animals. Coyne’s massive forms are often seen suspended from the ceiling or snaking up gallery walls. She breathes new life into objects that may not otherwise be used, and incorporates obscured forms of the human body. Coyne spends years with each piece, and her creative process is as mysterious to her as the works themselves appear to viewers.

The Artist’s Voice:

“When material seems devoid of life, of possibility, I want even more to make something of it. I have an obsessive attraction to these kinds of materials. They are functionless yet carry all sorts of associations and memories.”—Petah Coyne, interview with Carrie Pryzbilla

“All of my pieces seem fragile. But that is deceiving, because they’re all begun with steel understructures. Yet I want each one to look incredibly delicate and to have that feminine sense of appearing soft and seductive. But as any number of women have shown, we have an internal strength and drive that is hard to fathom.”—Petah Coyne, interview in Sculpture Magazine

Installation view of Petah Coyne’s Untitled #1287 (Tati) (2009); Photo: Yassine El Mansouri

Revival Highlight:

Revival features sculptural and photographic work by Coyne that can evoke a range of emotions. Her photograph Untitled #885 (Saucer Baby) (1997) evokes feelings of playfulness, like the child in the pool, but also has a haunting quality. The intrigue and extravagance of the layers of wax and other media in her large-scale works Untitled #1287 (Tati) (2009) and Untitled #781 (1994) jog memories and form new associations in the viewer’s mind.

Untitled #1287 (Tati) features a taxidermy goose diving into a swirl of deep purple velvet and wax-dipped silk flowers. Coyne’s use of a stuffed bird and fake flowers recall associations with the past-life of “dead” objects. Lush and dramatic, Coyne’s work presents a spectacle that grabs and holds the viewer’s gaze.

Visit the museum and explore Revival, on view through September 10, 2017.

—Meghan Masius was the spring 2017 publications and communications/marketing intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Artist Spotlight: Patricia Tobacco Forrester

Revel in the beauty of nature captured by Patricia Tobacco Forrester (1940–2011) in her large-scale watercolor works on view at NMWA. The artist’s work is characterized by expansive compositions filled with vibrant hues.

Forester’s affinity for nature began at a young age. A New England native, Forrester grew up on a small farm in Western Massachusetts. She received a Bachelor of Arts from Smith College in 1962. Originally a printmaker, Forrester studied under sculptor and graphic artist Leonard Baskin and later received a Master of Fine Arts from Yale University in 1965.

Patricia Tobacco Forrester, Bronzed Roses, 1991; Watercolor, 40 x 60 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Promised Gift of Steven Scott, Baltimore, in Memory of the Artist; © The Estate of Patricia Tobacco Forrester

Patricia Tobacco Forrester, Bronzed Roses, 1991; Watercolor, 40 x 60 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Promised Gift of Steven Scott, Baltimore, in Memory of the Artist; © The Estate of Patricia Tobacco Forrester

Forrester produced some of her best known works in Washington, D.C, where she lived for nearly 30 years. She painted almost exclusively outdoors, finding inspiration in neighborhood parks and gardens around the city, including the National Arboretum. She once said, “I think I know almost every tree and flower there.” For Forrester’s artistic practice, working from photographs was not sufficient. She preferred painting en plein air, because of the wealth of visual information provided in nature. Light also played a key role in her work. When choosing a location to paint, the artist focused on areas with a dramatic interplay of light with surrounding trees and vegetation.

NMWA visitor gazes at Barbados (left) and Bronzed Roses (right); Photo: Madeline Barnes, NMWA

A visitor gazes at Patricia Tobacco Forrester’s Barbados (1995) at the left and Bronzed Roses (1991) at the right; Photo: Madeline Barnes, NMWA

Unconcerned with realistic depictions, Forrester enjoyed inconsistencies and distortions in her work. She often described her paintings as abstract and enjoyed the “accidental nature of watercolor” as a medium. She dove into each scene with little to no preparatory sketching. This technique allowed her pieces to evolve naturally, influenced both by the natural properties of her watercolors and by her personal response to her surroundings.

During the winter months, when D.C. weather was not conducive to working outside, Forrester often ventured to more tropical locales. One of her favorite destinations outside of the D.C. area was Costa Rica. Her work from abroad depicts lush and intricate rainforest scenes, integrating components from a multitude of sites. Forrester masterfully created vibrant, layered compositions.

Visit NMWA to see two of Forrester’s large-scale watercolors, Bronzed Roses (1991) and Barbados (1995), on view in the third floor galleries.

Caroline Cress was the spring 2017 development events intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Hair’s the Thing: Sonya Clark

In celebration of NMWA’s 30th anniversary, and inspired by the museum’s focus on contemporary women artists as catalysts for change, Revival illuminates how women working in sculpture, photography, and video use spectacle and scale for expressive effect.

Sonya Clark (b. 1967, Washington, D.C.)

Sonya Clark, Cotton to Hair, 2012; Cotton and human hair, 14 1/2 x 12 1/2 x 5 in.; Tony Podesta Collection, Washington, D.C.; © Sonya Clark; Photo by Lee Stalsworth

Sonya Clark, Cotton to Hair, 2012; Cotton and human hair, 14 1/2 x 12 1/2 x 5 in.; Tony Podesta Collection, Washington, D.C.; © Sonya Clark; Photo by Lee Stalsworth

Sonya Clark is a multimedia and textile artist of Afro-Caribbean descent based in Richmond, Virginia. Clark’s maternal grandparents, a tailor and a woodworker, and cultural background inspired her interest in the arts and her use of non-traditional materials.

Her works explore racial identity and the connotations assigned to various everyday objects, as well as the double meaning these objects can hold for African American communities. Working with combs, money, flags, and—most strikingly—human hair, Clark examines the intricacies of African American identity. She often uses these quotidian materials to create portraits of prominent black figures from American history, including Madame C.J. Walker and Barack Obama.

The Artist’s Voice:

“I am instinctively drawn to objects that connect to my personal narrative as a point of departure: a comb, a piece of cloth, a penny, or hair. . . . I question these collective meanings. My stories, your stories, our stories are held in the object. In this way, the everyday ‘thing’ becomes a lens through which we may better see one another.”—Sonya Clark, artist statement

“Here’s one of the things about hair—it brings us together, our DNA is in our hair; we spend a fair amount of time primping ourselves. Hair becomes one of those things we can look racially past ourselves. It’s a way in which we’re all connected to our ancestors; hair brings us together and it separates us.”—Sonya Clark, interview in The Roanoker

Sonya Clark, Hair Wreath, 2012; Human hair and wire, 13 x 13 x 2 in.; Tony Podesta Collection, Washington, D.C.; © Sonya Clark; Photo by Lee Stalsworth

Sonya Clark, Hair Wreath, 2012; Human hair and wire, 13 x 13 x 2 in.; Tony Podesta Collection, Washington, D.C.; © Sonya Clark; Photo by Lee Stalsworth

Revival Highlight:

Two works by Clark, Hair Wreath (2012) and Cotton to Hair (2012) are on view in Revival. In both Clark incorporates human hair to reflect on racial identity and cultural prejudices. By using wire to bind strands of dark hair, Clark’s Hair Wreath can be seen as an adornment—much like hair itself is often decorative.

Using human hair to question social issues exemplifies Revival’s theme of artists manipulating scale and spectacle in order to achieve the desired expressive effect in their works. By combining the recognizable forms of both hair and a wreath in an unexpected juxtaposition, Clark holds the viewer’s attention. One of the smaller works in the exhibition, Hair Wreath encourages audiences to look closer, which may lead to a deeper examination of their own relationship to the work.

Visit the museum and explore Revival, on view through September 10, 2017.

—Meghan Masius was the spring 2017 publications and communications/marketing intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Not So Itsy Bitsy: Louise Bourgeois

In celebration of NMWA’s 30th anniversary, and inspired by the museum’s focus on contemporary women artists as catalysts for change, Revival illuminates how women working in sculpture, photography, and video use spectacle and scale for expressive effect.

Installation view of Louise Bourgeois’s Topiary, 2006 by work by Anna Gaskell (left) and Deborah Paauwe (right); Photo: Emily Haight, NMWA

Installation view of Louise Bourgeois’s Topiary, 2006, in front of photographs by Anna Gaskell (left) and Deborah Paauwe (right); Photo: Emily Haight, NMWA

Louise Bourgeois (b. 1911, Paris, d. 2010, New York)

Louise Bourgeois paved the way for women artists and sculptors throughout her long career. She began studying art after the death of her mother in 1932. She began producing large-scale sculptures shortly after moving to New York in the late 1930s. After decades of work, Bourgeois gained recognition when, in 1982 at the age of 70, she received a retrospective at MoMA. Following the exhibition, institutions around the world acquired Bourgeois’s works and she received international acclaim for the last 30 years of her career.

The Artist’s Voice:

“The spiders were an ode to my mother. She was a tapestry woman, and like a spider, was a weaver. She protected me and was my best friend.”

“I want to create my own architecture so that the relationships of my forms and objects are fixed. Sometimes I need the large scale so that the person can literally move in relationship to the form. The difference between the real space and the psychological space interests me and I want to explore both. For example, the spiders, which are portraits of my mother, are large because she was a monument to me. I want to walk around and be underneath her and feel her protection.”—Louise Bourgeois, interview in The Guardian

Louise Bourgeois, Spider III, 1995; Bronze, 19 x 33 x 33 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Wilhelmina Cole Holladay; Art © The Easton Foundation/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY

Louise Bourgeois, Spider III, 1995; Bronze, 19 x 33 x 33 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Wilhelmina Cole Holladay; Art © The Easton Foundation/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY

Revival Highlight:

Revival features three sculptures by Bourgeois, situated in the exhibition’s three central themes of the body, the child, and other creatures. Topiary (2006) represents a pre-pubescent female figure with a seed head. Another sculpture, Clutching Hands (1990), depicts a balloon-like pair of carved hands atop a marble block. The exhibition also includes one of her signature spider forms, Spider III (1995), recently acquired by NMWA.

The resurgence of the spider in Bourgeois’s sculptures from the mid-1990s, including Spider III, is evidence of the lasting importance this creature had in the artist’s imagination. Bourgeois associated the spider with protectiveness and frequently remarked that her mother, Joséphine, shared spiders’ admirable attributes of patience, industriousness and cleverness. Although Bourgeois saw a nurturing quality in spiders, she understood that they can evoke a fearful response in others. The cast-bronze medium allowed her to create a rough surface texture that gives this creature a dynamic quality, capturing spiders’ characteristic skittering motion.

Visit the museum and explore Revival, on view through September 10, 2017.

—Meghan Masius was the spring 2017 publications and communications/marketing intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Go Figure! Amy Sherald at NMWA

“These are my favorites,” said Amy Sherald, gesturing to two of her paintings on view in NMWA’s collection galleries. “It was a relief to walk in here and see these. There’s absolutely nothing that I would fix because I had all the time in the world.” After winning first prize in the 2016 Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition for the National Portrait Gallery, the Baltimore-based artist keeps a busy schedule. During an Artists in Conversation program at NMWA on May 9, Sherald shared her sources of inspiration and what she hopes viewers will take away from her work.

Amy Sherald at NMWA

Amy Sherald at NMWA; Photo: Emily Haight, NMWA

They Call Me Redbone but I’d Rather Be Strawberry Shortcake (2009) relates to Sherald’s life in Columbus, Georgia. “Once I moved to Baltimore I realized no one called me a ‘redbone,’” explained Sherald. “If you don’t know what a ‘redbone’ is…it refers to someone who is supposed to be of Native American, African, and European descent. So, in the South it was very race conscious. . . . My basketball coach called me ‘redbone,’ which I really didn’t mind. And then there were other people who I didn’t know who called me ‘redbone’…and I didn’t like it so much.”

Sherald explained her personal connection to the subject of It Made Sense…Mostly in Her Mind (2011), portraying a horseback rider holding a children’s toy unicorn. “I went to an equestrian riding camp when I was an adolescent,” said Sherald, who later developed the idea for the painting after seeing her friend’s mother do dressage. Sherald asked her friend, Christina, to model for the painting because she embodied the sophistication Sherald wanted to capture.

Both paintings are displayed on the same gallery wall as Frida Kahlo’s Self-Portrait Dedicated to Leon Trotsky (1937). “Frida Kahlo was one of my inspirations,” said Sherald. “When I changed my major from pre-med to painting, I had these ideas of painting a lot of the same things she did. I was talking to my art teacher Arturo Lindsay and he said, ‘look up Frida Kahlo.’” Sherald added, “I’m honored, to say the least.”

When discussing the impact of her paintings, Sherald told attendees, “I received emails from all kinds of people that see themselves in this work, and that’s really important too.” Sherald noted, “When you walk through a space like [the museum] you don’t always see this [gesturing to the figures in her paintings]. For me, this became really important, interjecting images of the underrepresented in the dominant circle narrative and making work that I felt would resonate in a way that art history can’t be told without it. . . . I consider myself an American Realist, maybe with a post-modern flare.”

Visit the museum to see Sherald’s paintings in person. Stay tuned about future programs through the online calendar and by signing up for e-news.

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

Women Making Moves: Immigrant Artists in NMWA’s Collection

As life in Europe became increasingly dangerous during World War II, some artists sought new lives abroad. Burgeoning art movements springing from major cities in North America shifted the art world spotlight away from Europe. European-born artists Anni Albers, Eva Hesse, and Remedios Varo became prominent figures in their respective art movements after fleeing Europe for North America.

Anni Albers, Untitled, 1969; Serigraph on paper; Gift of Wallace and Wilhelmina Holladay, NMWA

Anni Albers, Untitled, 1969; Serigraph on paper; Gift of Wallace and Wilhelmina Holladay, NMWA

Anni Albers (1899–1994)

Anni Albers grew up in Germany and met her husband, fellow artist Josef Albers, at the Bauhaus in the 1920s. Albers experimented with textiles, creating abstract woven wall hangings, and became Head of the Weaving Workshop in 1931—a senior position that was rare for a woman. In 1933, the Albers couple moved to the U.S. to escape the pressures of Nazi control. Both taught at Black Mountain College in North Carolina and exhibited work around the country. In 1949, she became the first weaver to have a solo exhibition at MoMA. Her contributions to both textile and printmaking traditions earned her honorary doctorates, lifetime achievement awards, a gold medal from the American Craft Council, and an induction into the Connecticut Women’s Hall of Fame.

Eva Hesse, Study for Sculpture, 1970; Sculp-Metal, cord, Elmer’s glue, acrylic paint, and varnish on Masonite, 10 x 10 x 1 in.; Gift of Wallace and Wilhelmina Holladay; © The Estate of Eva Hesse, Hauser & Wirth Zürich, London

Eva Hesse, Study for Sculpture, 1970; Sculp-Metal, cord, Elmer’s glue, acrylic paint, and varnish on Masonite, 10 x 10 x 1 in.; Gift of Wallace and Wilhelmina Holladay; © The Estate of Eva Hesse, Hauser & Wirth Zürich, London

Eva Hesse (1936–1970)

Eva Hesse was born into a Jewish family in Nazi Germany. When she was 3 years old, her parents moved the family to the U.S. to flee the Nazi regime. Hesse studied under Josef Albers at Yale before working as an artist in New York City in the 1960s. She exhibited watercolors and drawings in 1961, and continued working in this medium during the first half of the decade. In 1965, Hesse moved to Germany for one year, where she experimented with making abstract sculptures. Once back in New York, Hesse continued her sculpture practice and was featured in the exhibition Eccentric Abstraction at Fischbach Gallery. Tragically, Hesse died from cancer in 1969 after only ten years of art making—but her influence on contemporary sculpture continues.

Remedios Varo, Tejido espacio-tiempo (Weaving of Space and Time), 1954; Oil on Masonite, 32 1/2 x 28 x 2 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift from Private Collection

Remedios Varo (1908–1963)

Remedios Varo, originally from Spain, was forced to migrate as a result of war—twice. Varo moved to Paris to escape the Spanish Civil War, where she met and worked with the Surrealists who greatly influenced her work. Then, in 1941, the Nazi invasion forced Varo to flee again, this time to Mexico. Once there, she became a part of a community of artists, and continued working in a Surrealist style with her friend Leonora Carrington. After only a few years of having her work featured in solo exhibitions, Varo suffered a fatal heart attack in 1963. Her works have been shown in Mexico City’s Museum of Modern Art and NMWA held a retrospective of more than 50 of her pieces in 2000. To further cement her impact on American culture, her work Los Amantes inspired imagery in Madonna’s 1995 music video for her song “Bedtime Story.”

Experience the legacy of these immigrant artists by visiting the museum in person or online today!

Meghan Masius is the spring 2017 publications and communications/marketing intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Artist Friendships: Leonora Carrington and Remedios Varo

Inspired by the special exhibition New Ground: The Southwest of Maria Martinez and Laura Gilpin, we are celebrating famous artist friendships. Did you know that Leonora Carrington (1917–2011) and Remedios Varo (1908–1963) met in Paris and became close friends after finding refuge in Mexico City?

Surreal Sisters

Both Leonora Carrington and Remedios Varo painted primarily in a Surrealist style, infusing their works with mysticism and otherworldly elements. NMWA owns five works by Carrington, including one print, two paintings, and two sculptures. Although Carrington did not begin producing sculptures until 1990, The Ship of Cranes (2010) is exemplary of Carrington’s interest in mythology and use of animal symbolism.

One the three paintings by Varo in the collection, La Llamada (The Call) (1961), is on view on the mezzanine level. La Llamada (The Call) provides viewers with signature traits of Varo’s work, including an ethereal being dressed in gold against a darker, castle-like background.

A Match Made in Mexico

Carrington and Varo met in Paris during the Surrealist movement, and were seen as the “femmes-enfants” to the famous and much older male artists in their lives. Varo had left Spain with poet Benjamin Péret and Carrington was in a relationship with Max Ernst. Their friendship then moved overseas to Mexico City as the outbreak of World War II in Europe caused them to move. In their new home, the two saw each other almost daily, of which Carrington said, “Remedios’s presence in Mexico changed my life.”

Though they painted separately, they did spent time together cooking, writing spells, and looking for ways to prank guests. Their mutual interest in alchemy is evident in their works. Both artists often depicted magical, alternate realities that are characteristic of Surrealism. While Carrington and Varo shared subject matter based on the universe, the supernatural, alchemy, and astrology, they interpret these topics differently in their works. In the book Surreal Friends: Leonora Carrington, Remedios Varo, and Kati Horna, Stefan van Raay writes, “Carrington’s work is about tone and color and Varo’s is about line and form.”

In Carrington’s book The Healing Trumpet, she modeled the two main characters after much older versions of herself and Varo, revealing how important she felt the friendship was to her and her wish that it would last well into their old age. Varo also included their friendship in stories she wrote, creating characters just as outlandish as Carrington’s.

Learn about the friendship between potter Maria Martinez (ca. 1887–1980) and photographer Laura Gilpin (1891–1979), whose works are on view in New Ground through May 14, 2017.

—Meghan Masius is the spring 2017 publications and communications/marketing intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Artist Friendships: Loïs Mailou Jones and Céline Tabary

Inspired by the special exhibition New Ground: The Southwest of Maria Martinez and Laura Gilpin, we are celebrating famous artist friendships. Did you know that Loïs Mailou Jones (1905–1998) and Céline Tabary (1908–1993) were close friends who met in Paris before establishing art classes and a studio group in Washington, D.C.?

Lasting Impressions

NMWA’s collection contains six works by Loïs Mailou Jones. Her colorful landscape painting Arreau, Hautes-Pyrénées (1949) was completed while the artist was on a sojourn in France. Other works by Jones are much more modernist in style, with bold colors and an African influence veering towards abstraction.

Céline Tabary’s painting Terrasse de Café, Paris (1950) is also part of NMWA’s collection. Tabary painted in an impressionist style for most of her career, but Terrasse de Café, Paris reveals an emerging cubist influence.

Little Paris in Washington, D.C.

Loïs Mailou Jones, Arreau, Hautes-Pyrénées, 1949; Oil on canvas, 19 1/2 x 23 5/8 in; National Museum of Women in the Arts; Gift of Gladys P. Payne

Loïs Mailou Jones, Arreau, Hautes-Pyrénées, 1949; Oil on canvas, 19 1/2 x 23 5/8 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Gladys P. Payne; © Loïs Mailou Jones

Jones moved to Paris in 1937 to study at the Academie Julien. Jones fell in love with the French way of life and lack of racial prejudice, and was introduced to Tabary, a fellow student, when she needed help translating. The two became friends, and Jones visited Tabary’s family in the north of France. Jones considers paintings she did there some of her best.

Jones returned to Washington, D.C. in 1938, and Tabary joined her, as they both planned to go back to France together. However, the start of World War II prevented their return, and Tabary and Jones continued working together in the United States and established Saturday morning art class for children as well as a salon style group to promote the artistic practice of public school art teachers. Alma Thomas, another prominent artist represented in NMWA’s collection, was also a part of the “Little Paris Group” run by Jones and Tabary.

Jones and Tabary remained very close friends throughout their careers. Due to racial tensions in the U.S., Jones did not want to reveal to the institutions acquiring her work that she was African American. In these instances, Tabary delivered Jones’s paintings for her, ensuring her friend’s works were exhibited. Tabary eventually returned to France, but even in an interview in the late 1980s, Jones mentioned visiting her friend. “Very soon I’ll be goin’ to visit Céline. . . . Before I return to Haiti, I’m goin’ back to paint with her again, like in the old days, even at my age which is now 83. That is certainly many, many years since it all started in Paris at the Academie Julian in 1937.”

Learn about the friendship between potter Maria Martinez (ca. 1887–1980) and photographer Laura Gilpin (1891–1979), whose works are on view in New Ground through May 14, 2017.

—Meghan Masius is the spring 2017 publications and communications/marketing intern at the National Museum of Women in the arts.

5 Fast Facts: Amy Sherald

Impress your friends with five fast facts about painter Amy Sherald (b. 1973), whose work is on view in NMWA’s collection galleries.

NMWA visitors study Amy Sherald’s Amy Sherald’s It Made Sense…Mostly In Her Mind, 2011 (left) and They call me Redbone but I’d rather be Strawberry Shortcake, 2009 (right); Photo: Emily Haight, NMWA

NMWA visitors study Amy Sherald’s It Made Sense…Mostly In Her Mind, 2011 (left) and They call me Redbone but I’d rather be Strawberry Shortcake, 2009 (right); Photo: Emily Haight, NMWA

1. Figure It Out

Sherald’s fascination with portraiture began at a young age when she explored art history through encyclopedias. Enthralled by the illustrations, she came to the conclusion that a great artist has the ability to expertly render the human form.

2. Make It Big

Sherald first visited a museum on a sixth grade field trip, and she still remembers the impact of seeing Bo Bartlett’s 10-by-14-foot Object Permanence (1986). This work sparked her desire to create large-scale figurative paintings.

3. Do What You Love

The daughter of a dentist, Sherald entered Clark-Atlanta University as a pre-med student, but her passion for painting was too strong to ignore. She switched majors in the middle of her junior year and began to focus on her art in earnest.

4. Model Behavior

The model featured in They Call Me Redbone but I’d Rather Be Strawberry Shortcake (2009), in NMWA’s collection, also appears in another of work by Sherald, Well Prepared and Maladjusted (2008). According to the artist, “[The model] was tall and different looking, and she had this really awesome Afro bouff.”

5. Herstory

In 2016, Sherald became the first woman to win the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery’s Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition for her work Miss Everything (Unsuppressed Deliverance) (2013).

Want to meet the artist? Join us on May 9, 2017 for a special Artists in Conversation program featuring Amy Sherald. Reserve your spot online!

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

Artist Friendships: Lola Álvarez Bravo and Frida Kahlo

Inspired by the special exhibition New Ground: The Southwest of Maria Martinez and Laura Gilpin, we are celebrating famous artist friendships. Did you know that Lola Álvarez Bravo (1903–1993) and Frida Kahlo (1907–1954) became friends through the same social circles in Mexico?

Nationalist Pride

One of Mexico’s first women photographers, Lola Álvarez Bravo’s works are celebrated for documenting daily life in post-revolutionary Mexico. Álvarez Bravo said, “If my photographs have any value, it’s because they show a Mexico that no longer exists.” Her work in NMWA’s collection, De generación en generación (1950), expresses a strong sense of Mexican nationalist pride combined with universal human emotions.

Frida Kahlo is renowned for her poignant, often shocking, self-portraits. Although she is referred to as a Surrealist, Kahlo maintained, “I never painted dreams. I painted my own reality.” Remembered for her tragic life story and her turbulent marriage to famed muralist Diego Rivera, Kahlo was foremost a fierce painter and political activist. Her work in NMWA’s collection, Self-Portrait Dedicated to Leon Trotsky (1937), is one of Kahlo’s softer self-portraits, meant to commemorate her brief affair with the Russian revolutionary Trotsky.

Amigas for Life

Álvarez Bravo started taking her own photographs after serving as an assistant to her husband, photographer Manuel Álvarez Bravo. After their divorce, she began her own successful, independent career. It was also through her husband that she met Kahlo. Both artists were involved in the same social circles in Mexico and shared similar nationalistic outlooks that influenced their respective artistic practices.

Álvarez Bravo’s most well-known photos featuring Kahlo are often praised for their honesty and intimacy. Kahlo even fastened one of these portraits to the front of her diary, indicating the respect that she had for the photographer. In addition to capturing numerous portraits of Kahlo, Álvarez Bravo also directed a film starring the painter, but it was never completed because of Kahlo’s declining health. Álvarez Bravo hosted Kahlo’s first solo exhibition in Mexico at her own gallery, shortly before Kahlo’s untimely death.

Learn about the friendship between potter Maria Martinez (ca. 1887–1980) and photographer Laura Gilpin (1891–1979), whose works are on view in New Ground through May 14, 2017.

—Madeline Barnes is the spring 2017 digital engagement intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.