Self-Portraits in NMWA’s Collection

Self-portraiture offers a fascinating glimpse into an artist’s mind. Whether traditional or abstracted, self-portraits can affirm an artist’s identity. There are fewer known self-portraits by early women artists, who faced societal challenges in pursuing their goals and publicizing their accomplishments. Modern and contemporary women artists with works on view at NMWA employ self-portraiture to address personal, social, and political issues.

Jane Hammond, Wonderful You, 1995; Oil, gold leaf, collage on canvas, 81 1/2 x 82 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Promised Gift of Steven Scott, Baltimore, in honor of the artist; © Jane Hammond

Known for her dizzying collages juxtaposing disparate characters and props to hint at alternate stories, Jane Hammond (b. 1950) draws source material from found clippings, images, and phrases. Hammond’s monumental work Wonderful You (1995), the first in a series, brings together recognizable figures including Superman, Mickey Mouse, and Buddha, replacing them all with her own face. Illustrating each character with jarring colors, the work highlights—rather than obliterates—their individuality. Rather than express herself in traditional terms, she chose to portray imaginary extensions of the self, celebrating a fantastical alternative to the isolation of the individual. She asserts the dignity of connections over distinction, eroding what may seem like deep-set cultural or historical differences to embrace the beauty of the other—or, in her words, “you.”

Kirsten Justesen, Lunch for a Landscape,1975/2009; Chromogenic print, 48 3/4 x 67 3/4 in; NMWA; Gift of Montana A/S, © Kirsten Justesen

Kirsten Justesen, Lunch for a Landscape, 1975/2009; Chromogenic print, 48 3/4 x 67 3/4 in; NMWA; Gift of Montana A/S, © Kirsten Justesen

Kirsten Justesen (b. 1943) champions the dignity of independence. Using her body as her medium, Justesen’s work examines how the female self relates to society. She portrays herself seated in a shopping cart, nude, and cruising down a tree-lined outdoor path in the photograph Lunch for a Landscape (1975; printed 2009). With her arms outstretched, Justesen rides in what she calls “the vehicle of [a housewife’s] life.” She embraces her roles as an artist and mother. Despite identifying as a housewife, she portrayed herself free from the house, her husband, or her children, asserting that her individuality as internal. Her pose is one of exhilaration and freedom. Justesen seems to reject the docility of historical female nudes, declaring independence from the male gaze in expressing her own desires.

Frida Kahlo, Self-Portrait Dedicated to Leon Trotsky, 1937; Oil on Masonite, 30 x 24 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of the Honorable Clare Boothe Luce; © 2012 Banco de México Diego Rivera Frida Kahlo Museums Trust, Mexico, D.F. / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Frida Kahlo, Self-Portrait Dedicated to Leon Trotsky, 1937; Oil on Masonite, 30 x 24 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of the Honorable Clare Boothe Luce; © 2012 Banco de México Diego Rivera Frida Kahlo Museums Trust, Mexico, D.F. / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Best known for her myriad self-portraits, Frida Kahlo (1907–1954) often used her own image in her artistic practice. In her Self-Portrait Dedicated to Leon Trotsky (1937), she paints herself standing center stage, meeting the viewer’s gaze with confidence, and dressed in bright, elegant attire. In one hand she holds a bouquet, while in the other she displays a letter dedicated to Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky. Framing herself between curtains that call to mind religious Mexican folk paintings of the time, Kahlo takes control of her staged reality, casting herself as a protagonist in a dramatic declaration of political allegiance. Her address to Trotsky functions not only as a message of political support, but also an act of self-assertion to a lover. Although the setting in Kahlo’s painting is fictional, it serves as a symbolic space for self-staged expression.

These women demonstrate that self-portraits can be complex reflections of the artist’s private fascinations or public life. Visit NMWA to see these works in the museum’s collection galleries.

—Xiaoxiao Meng was the summer 2017 publications and communications/marketing intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

More than Meets the Eye: Surprising Materials

Several of the artists featured in NMWA’s collection galleries create works that seem to be at odds with their materials. This discrepancy goes to the heart of the viewing experience, revealing the duplicity of the work while also calling into question the audience’s assumptions concerning the depicted forms. In creating a paradox between subject and material, these artists seek to uncover the tensions inherent in artistic representation.

Sharon Core, Single Rose, 1997; Chromogenic color print; 14 x 13 inches; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of the Heather and Tony Podesta Collection, Washington, D.C.; © Sharon Core, Courtesy of the artist and Yancey Richardson Gallery; Photograph by Lee Stalsworth

Sharon Core, Single Rose, 1997; Chromogenic color print; 14 x 13 inches; National
Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of the Heather and Tony Podesta Collection,
Washington, D.C.; © Sharon Core, Courtesy of the artist and Yancey Richardson Gallery; Photograph by Lee Stalsworth

Sharon Core’s culinary interests led her to craft her photographic series “Thiebauds.” From 2003 to 2004, Core re-created Wayne Thiebaud’s vivid, pastel still-life paintings with her own baked and hand-decorated dessert dishes. An earlier work in NMWA’s collection, Single Rose (1997), explores the distinction between delicacies and delicacy. In this photograph, a rose blooms against a tightly cropped pink background. A closer look reveals that the crumpled petals seem to be slices of meat. With this revelation, Core forces viewers to re-contextualize what they see. She substitutes the image of an elegant blossom with a parody of the rose’s associations of natural beauty. Her juxtaposition of visual truth against physical authenticity calls into question assumptions about equating representation with reality. Although meat exists in nature, as do roses, the viewer’s clashing associations frame the image as an artificial construction. Core’s visual deception reveals the contradiction in these associations.

Frida Baranek, untitled, 1991; Iron, 44 x 75 x 46 in.; NMWA; Museum purchase: The Lois Pollard Price Acquisition Fund

At first glance, Frida Baranek’s untitled sculpture (1991) conjures images of a bird’s nest. Only when viewers approach do they realize that what seems to be a tangle of straw is actually carefully constructed from iron wires and rods. Although the sculpture’s form appears lightweight and organic, it is heavy and industrial. Baranek is interested in using her art to comment on environmental issues in her native Brazil and around the world. Baranek’s sculptures demonstrate that even industrial debris can have meaning if reused and remade.

Marisa Tellería-Díez, Getting Wet, 1999; Fiberglass, hydrostone, and enamel, 16 x 13 x 14 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of the Tony Podesta Collection; © Marisa Tellería-Díez

Marisa Tellería-Díez invites contradiction in her sculpture Getting Wet (1999). Interested in visitor perception, Tellería-Díez explores the relationship between a work’s physical reality and what she calls its “perceptual presence”—which she describes as “a presence that points not only to what’s there but also to what’s not.” While Getting Wet resembles cushy stools, closer inspection shows that its soft curves are carved from rigid materials. Shattering the correlation between the visual and the kinesthetic, Tellería-Díez draws viewers in. Perhaps meant as a tongue-in-cheek reference to the title, the bottom of the two “cushions” retain a light blue gloss, an imitation of wetness that is just as illusory as the work’s hard plaster bodies.

Interested in experiencing this visual trickery firsthand? Visit the museum to see all three works in NMWA’s third floor galleries.

—Xiaoxiao Meng was the summer 2017 publications and communications/marketing intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Gallery Reboot: Natural Women

The museum’s newly reinstalled collection emphasizes connections between historical and contemporary art. Organized by the themes of the body, nature, domesticity, fabrication, and herstory, each gallery delves into a topic explored by women artists through time and around the world.

The natural world often serves as a source of inspiration for artists. Because of their purported powers of observation, women artists historically were encouraged to render the natural world. Still-life painting was deemed appropriate since it did not require the training needed to render the human body. NMWA’s collection galleries feature women artists from the 17th and 18th centuries who produced precise and imaginative flower paintings, as well as modern and contemporary artists who continue to draw inspiration from the natural world.

Dutch flower painter Rachel Ruysch (1664–1750) gained renown for her meticulous attention to detail and scientific accuracy. Because her father was a botanist she studied his collection from an early age. Ruysch’s education allowed her to put her own spin on the genre of still-life painting. She employed her scientific knowledge in her paintings by including insects and signs of decay. Although each flower is depicted with scientific accuracy, her compositions are imaginative. Ruysch combined blooms from different seasons and locations. In reality, these particular flowers would not have existed in the same arrangement.

Contemporary artist Sharon Core (b. 1965) often uses photography to mirror still-life paintings by well-known male artists and trick the viewer’s eye when presenting them with natural subjects. Core looks beyond traditional standards of beauty. At first glance, Single Rose (1997) appears lovely and delicate, but its velvety petals seem to be constructed from thin slices of meat. The work confronts the expectations of what is and is not considered beautiful in nature—and challenges the traditional subjects depicted by women artists.

Sale Neige (1980) by Joan Mitchell (1925–1992) serves as an abstracted interpretation of nature. The monumental painting’s title translates to “dirty snow” in French. Snow, often romanticized as pure and fresh—not unlike qualities often attributed to women—appears grittier and less pristine in Sale Neige. Vigorous brushstrokes of pale color at the top of the canvas seem to melt onto the more vividly colored lower third. Like many of her works, Sale Neige signifies Mitchell’s memories of or feelings for the landscape. Mitchell extended the scope of Abstract Expressionist painting by applying it to the subject of nature.

Works by these innovative women transcend simple, pleasing depictions of the natural world. See these works online or by visiting NMWA!

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

Striking Balance: Fanny Sanín’s Process

Upon first glance, paintings by Fanny Sanín (b. 1938) look impeccably neat. Whether on paper or canvas, the decisive lines and solid colors of her geometric abstractions almost conceal evidence of the artist’s hand. The smooth, precise quality of her work may even evoke associations of computer-generated graphics. The works on view in the special exhibition Equilibrium: Fanny Sanín, however, reveal a different story. Sanín’s refined, finished works are accompanied by preparatory sketches. Through these studies, the viewer can glean insight into Sanín’s artistic process as one of the pioneers of Latin American geometric abstraction.

Fanny Sanín, Acrylic No. 2, 2011; Acrylic on canvas, 62 x 60 in.

Sanín places great emphasis on the role of drawing as a natural extension of developing a painting. “Drawings are the first and most important part of my creation…I used them to plan and reach the image that I would finally love to paint on canvas,” she says. “Color and structure go hand-in-hand in my work. It isn’t until they are both worked out in detail in my drawings that they can have meaning.”

Fanny Sanín, Study for Painting No.2 (1), 2011; Color pencil on paper, 20 x 18 in.

Through her drawings, Sanín closes the gap between a rough conceptualization and the polished, finished product. An initial work in her series of 11 drawings for Study for Painting No. 2, 2011, scarcely resembles the finished painting. Study for Painting No. 2 (1), 2011 contains a much lighter color scheme and is grounded by an hourglass shape in the center of the composition. Throughout these studies, visitors gain an understanding about how Sanín plays with recurring visual components, including her use of horizontal bands and eye-catching red shapes. It is through experimenting with variations on these motifs that she achieves optimal visual balance in both color and form.

Other works in the exhibition are accompanied by preparatory studies, though not as many. Five studies are shown alongside Study for Composition No. 1, each of them with much more similar visuals. The deep blues and bright orange remain consistent, while Sanín focuses on playing with distinct combinations of shape and form instead.

Installation of Fanny Sanín’s Acrylic No. 2 next to 11 of her studies for the work; Photo: Lee Stalsworth

Above all, Sanín seeks to realize her own vision of harmony. Rather than embody or evoke representational subject matter, her forms exist on a plane of pure abstraction, an oasis from any social or political turmoil that may seem to define a generation. Sanín’s art-making methods result in timeless visuals that do not need to reference a particular time or place. Her bold experimentation with abstracted forms and colors shows her commitment to resolving chaos into harmony, finding a point of equilibrium that captures the ideal.

Equilibrium: Fanny Sanín is on view in the Teresa Lozano Long Gallery through October 29, 2017.

—Xiaoxiao Meng was the summer 2017 publications and communications/marketing intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

5 Fast Facts: Jiha Moon

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

1. Family Dynamics

Growing up as the middle child in her family, Moon had to fight for attention and concentrated on developing her painting and drawing skills to attract notice. Moon’s parents supported her growing talent and continuing artistic education.

2. Citizen of the World

Born in Daegu, South Korea, Moon earned her BFA and her first MFA in Seoul. Although she currently lives and works in Atlanta, Moon has worked and studied all over the U.S., including Washington, D.C., where she began her professional career.

Jiha Moon, Cascade Crinoline, 2008; Ink and acrylic on hanji paper, 41 x 59 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of the Georgia State Committee of NMWA; © Jiha Moon

3. Paper Preparedness

Moon often works on hanji—handmade Korean mulberry paper. She buys a year’s supply when she visits Korea. Her use of hanji is significant as one way in which she combines artistic traditions from different cultures. Cascade Crinoline (2008), an ink and acrylic work on hanji paper, references classical Asian painting and reflects her interest in animation and cartoons.

4. Mixing Medium

Before she explored abstraction at the University of Iowa, Moon’s early works focused on figures. Moon worked primarily with paint until she started incorporating more collage elements after a residency at the Fabric Workshop and Museum from 2009 to 2010, and began working with ceramics in late 2012.

Jiha Moon, Leia, 2013; Ceramic and glaze, 13 x 8 x 8 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of the Georgia Committee of the National Museum of Women in the Arts; © Jiha Moon; Photo courtesy of the artist

5. Title Matters

When Moon titles her artwork, she considers information that would help an individual examining the image. Her titles allow viewers to “get into [her] world.” Moon’s ceramic work in NMWA’s collection, titled Leia (2013), references the character of Princess Leia in Star Wars—and her iconic two-bun hairstyle.

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

Gallery Reboot: Domestic Affairs

Beatrice Wood, Gold Chalice, 1985; Earthenware, 12 x 8 7/8 x 8 1/4 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts; Gift of John Deardourff and Elisabeth Griffith; © Beatrice Wood Center for the Arts/Happy Valley Foundation

Beatrice Wood, Gold Chalice, 1985; Earthenware, 12 x 8 7/8 x 8 1/4 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts; Gift of John Deardourff and Elisabeth Griffith; © Beatrice Wood Center for the Arts/Happy Valley Foundation

The museum’s newly reinstalled collection emphasizes connections between historical and contemporary art. Organized by the themes of the body, nature, domesticity, fabrication, and herstory, each gallery delves into a topic explored by women artists through time and around the world.

The domestic sphere, with its daily activities and feminine associations, serves as a rich source of inspiration for many women artists. They draw subjects and materials from the domestic realm in order to uphold—or upend—cultural traditions, gender roles, and boundaries between art and craft.

Beatrice Wood (1893–1998), known as the “Mama of Dada,” gained renown for her luminous luster-glaze ceramics. Wood discovered pottery classes in the 1930s, when she wanted a matching teapot for a set of teacups from the Netherlands. Her work in ceramics and in creating a signature luster glaze earned her acclaim. Her works were featured in many solo museum exhibitions and fetched high prices at auction. Wood crafted Gold Chalice (1985) when she was 92 years old.

Angela Strassheim, Untitled (Prayer), 2005; Chromogenic color print, 30 x 40 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of The Heather and Tony Podesta Collection; © Angela Strassheim

Angela Strassheim, Untitled (Prayer), 2005; Chromogenic color print, 30 x 40 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of The Heather and Tony Podesta Collection; © Angela Strassheim

American photographer Angela Strassheim (b. 1969) portrays suburban life in the American Midwest, while making references to religion and art history. Strassheim was raised in Iowa to a born-again Christian family, whose beliefs she denounced as a teenager. Her photographs’ Christian undertones are presented matter-of-factly, but there is often an unsettling quality to the work. Strassheim’s background in forensic photography also informs her calculated compositions. Her works display recognizable scenes from daily life, but suggest that there is more than meets the eye in family life.

Ursula von Rydingsvard, Apron, 1997; Cedar, stain, and graphite, 46 x 28 x 12 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of the Tony Podesta Collection; © Ursula von Rydingsvard

Sculptures by Ursula von Rydingsvard (b. 1942) often take the form of domestic objects, such as Apron (1997). The artist’s medium of choice has been cedar for more than 35 years. Apron represents a traditionally feminine object wrought in a traditionally masculine medium. Like Strassheim, von Rydingsvard uses her family history as inspiration. The subject matter and medium are all carefully chosen. Household objects became dear to the artist when she moved around refugee camps with her family in Europe during and after World War II. In addition, aprons are a symbol of domesticity and comfort in many cultures. 

Women artists explore the theme of domestic affairs in various, unexpected ways. Visit the museum to see these works in the third floor galleries. Can’t visit in person? Browse #GalleryReboot on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter for more collection highlights.

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

Lasting Impressions: Women Printmakers in Early Modern Italy

With household names such as Michelangelo, Caravaggio, and Tiepolo dominating museums, it would be easy to believe there were no women artists working in Italy during similar time periods. Though they faced more challenges than their male counterparts, women artists held a strong presence in early Italian art.

Elisabetta Sirani, Madonna and Child with St. John the Baptist, 1655-1665; Etching on paper, 10 5/8 x 8 3/4 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Wallace and Wilhelmina Holladay

Elisabetta Sirani, Madonna and Child with St. John the Baptist, 1655–1665; Etching on paper, 10 5/8 x 8 3/4 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Wallace and Wilhelmina Holladay

Elisabetta Sirani and Diana Mantuana (also known as Diana Ghisi, Diana Mantovana, or Diana Scultori) are two women who had successful careers as artists. Sirani (1638–1665) was a Baroque painter and engraver from Bologna. Considered a prodigy, she created more than 200 works of her art during her short life. Mantuana (c. 1535–c. 1590), born in Mantua, Italy, was a Mannerist engraver who also had a very productive career.

These two women, born nearly 100 years apart, share striking similarities. Both were trained by their fathers—a typical entry point into the arts for women. By the age of 19 Sirani was the breadwinner of her family, supporting her parents and three siblings when her father became too ill to work. Mantuana also proved her business savvy, using her engravings to advertise the architectural work of her husband, thus securing him commissions.

Both Sirani and Mantuana made strong statements by signing their works—a rare practice for a woman artist. Because Sirani painted quickly, critics made accusations that her father was lending a hand. In response, Sirani opened her studio to the public to observe her at work. Even Grand Duke Cosimo III de’ Medici came to watch her paint. Mantuana also placed an emphasis on her signature, becoming one of the first women to receive papal privilege. Essentially a copyright granted by the pope, this protected her work from being copied and secured her name to every work that she printed.

Diana Ghisi, Christ and the Woman Taken in Adultery (after Giulio Romano), 1575; Copperplate engraving on paper, 16 1/2 x 23 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Wallace and Wilhelmina Holladay

Diana Mantuana, Christ and the Woman Taken in Adultery (after Giulio Romano), 1575; Copperplate engraving on paper, 16 1/2 x 23 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Wallace and Wilhelmina Holladay

NMWA’s collection contains engravings by both Sirani and Mantuana. Christ and the Woman Taken in Adultery (1575), based on a Raphael tapestry designed for the Sistine Chapel, is one of Mantuana’s most famous prints. In the corner, she dedicated the engraving to Eleonora of Austria and stated her dual allegiance to Rome and Mantua. Two engravings by Sirani, The Holy Family with St. Elizabeth and St. John the Baptist and Madonna and Child with St. John the Baptist, are in NMWA’s collection. In the latter engraving, Sirani stated that it was inspired by Raphael, much like Mantuana’s work.

These pioneering women also received recognition from their male peers. Mantuana is one of the few women mentioned in Vasari’s 1568 version of Lives, in which he says he “was astounded” by her work. Sirani won the favor of biographer Malvasia, who referred to Sirani as “the glory of the female sex, the gem of Italy, the sun of Europe.”

Sirani continued to help elevate other women artists, opening what is considered to be the first art school in Europe for women. There she trained her two younger sisters and at least 12 other aspiring women artists.

—Chloe Bazlen is the summer 2017 education intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Gallery Reboot: Body Language

The museum’s newly reinstalled collection emphasizes connections between historical and contemporary art. Organized by the themes of the body, nature, domesticity, fabrication, and herstory, each gallery delves into a topic explored by women artists through time and around the world.

Male artists controlled the representation of the female body through most of Western art history. During the feminist art movement in the 1960s and ’70s, women artists claimed ownership over visualization of the body, and artists today explore the expressive potential of the female form. Artists Daniela Rossell, Mickalene Thomas, and Magdalena Abakanowicz use the human body to communicate powerful messages.

Daniela Rossell, Michelle Jacuzzi- Untitled (#7) (Ricas y Famosas), 1999; Chromogenic color print, 50 x 60 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Heather and Tony Podesta Collection, Washington, DC; © Daniela Rossell, Courtesy of the artist and Greene Naftali, New York

Daniela Rossell, Michelle Jacuzzi–Untitled (#7) (Ricas y Famosas), 1999; Chromogenic color print, 50 x 60 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Heather and Tony Podesta Collection, Washington, DC; © Daniela Rossell, Courtesy of the artist and Greene Naftali, New York

In Michelle Jacuzzi–Untitled (#7) (1999) from the series “Ricas y Famosas,” Daniela Rossell (b. 1973) delves into the lives of Mexico’s elite families by emphasizing the way popular culture creates and disseminates female stereotypes. From a wealthy family herself, Rossell had access to some of the most affluent women in Mexico. Each subject constructs her own image by choosing her clothing, pose, and setting. Compared to other subjects in this series, Michelle is dressed in more casual clothing while perched atop a rooftop hot tub. Rossell’s model suggests a duality, shown with an over-sized rosary and subtly visible underwear and tattoo. The model’s confident posture and luxurious setting underscore her wealth and high social standing. Rossell’s works explore notions of purity, sexuality, and power in relation to the female body.

Mickalene Thomas, A-E-I-O-U and Sometimes Y, 2009; Plastic rhinestones, acrylic, and enamel on panel, 24 x 20 in.; Gift of Deborah Carstens; © 2009 Mickalene Thomas, Courtesy of the Artist and Lehmann Maupin

Mickalene Thomas, A-E-I-O-U and Sometimes Y, 2009; Plastic rhinestones, acrylic, and enamel on panel, 24 x 20 in.; Gift of Deborah Carstens; © 2009 Mickalene Thomas, Courtesy of the Artist and Lehmann Maupin

Mickalene Thomas (b. 1971) creates images of African American women as a way to scrutinize and disrupt popular notions of female beauty. Thomas pulls inspiration from art history as well as popular culture. Her works are as likely to reference 19th-century painting as 1970s Blaxploitation films. A-E-I-O-U and Sometimes Y (2009) re-creates a portrait of her model, Fran, from a photo booth picture. In Thomas’s work, Fran’s face materializes from carefully placed rhinestones against a flamingo-pink enamel background. Thomas compares her use of rhinestones to the lustrous lip gloss women wear as “another level of masking, of dressing up.” Her work challenges the perception of femininity.

Magdalena Abakanowicz (1930–2017), a leader in the fiber arts movement, created a mold made from a real person, using burlap mixed with resin and glue for her work 4 Seated Figures (2002). Born in Poland, Abakanowicz witnessed her mother get shot after soldiers stormed into their home during World War II—an instant that that is reflected in these figures. The forms are presented as genderless, and they appear to have been stripped of revealing muscles, arteries, or cords suggestive of the nervous system. Although her figures were inspired from a personal event, the work encourages multiple interpretations and speaks broadly to the human experience. Abakanowicz said, “They are naked, exposed, and vulnerable, just as we all are.”

Magdalena Abakanowicz, 4 Seated Figures, 2002; Burlap, resin, and iron rods, 53 1/2 x 24 1/4 x 99 1/4 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts; © Magdalena Abakanowicz

Magdalena Abakanowicz, 4 Seated Figures, 2002; Burlap, resin, and iron rods, 53 1/2 x 24 1/4 x 99 1/4 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts; © Magdalena Abakanowicz

Visit the museum to see these works in the third floor galleries. Can’t visit in person? Browse #GalleryReboot on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter for more collection highlights.

Madeline Barnes was the spring 2017 digital engagement intern 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.

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.