Meret Oppenheim’s “Table with Bird’s Feet”

On view at NMWA in Meret Oppenheim: Tender Friendships, through September 14, Table with Bird’s Feet is a Surrealist sculpture that blends an everyday object with the fantastical. It was first exhibited in an exhibition of avant-garde furniture in Paris in 1939, organized by Réne Drouin and Leo Castelli. In this work, Oppenheim transformed a prosaic utility object, a table, into a fantasy, supported by the bronze feet of a bird, and marked with imprints of birds’ feet on its oval surface. Under the artist’s supervision, the table was manufactured in a limited edition of thirty copies in 1973.

Table with Bird’s Feet, 1983; Top: wood, carved and goldplated; feet: bronze, 25 1/2 x 27 1/2 x 19 3/4 in.; On loan from Daphne Farago Collection, Delray Beach, Florida; Photograph by Suzanne Khalil; Image courtesy of Lisa Wenger and Martin A. Bühler, Meret Oppenheim Estate

Table with Bird’s Feet, 1983; Top: wood, carved and goldplated; feet: bronze, 25 1/2 x 27 1/2 x 19 3/4 in.; On loan from Daphne Farago Collection, Delray Beach, Florida; Photograph by Suzanne Khalil; Image courtesy of Lisa Wenger and Martin A. Bühler, Meret Oppenheim Estate

The table represents Oppenheim’s fascination with the natural world—these feet could belong to a heron, flamingo, or any other long-legged bird she might have encountered or sketched on one of her frequent walks.

Visit NMWA Wednesday, August 20, for a free noon gallery talk on Tender Friendships to learn more!

Artist Spotlight: Behind the Scenes with Eve Sussman, the Rufus Corporation, and the Old Masters

When first exhibited at the 2004 Whitney Biennial, 89 Seconds at Alcázar (2004) was a runaway success. Eve Sussman and the Rufus Corporation, a collaborative of actors, choreographers, technicians, and artisans of all kinds, created the enthralling video installation that was called “the only obvious smashing work on view.”¹ The 10-minute video is a reimagined, moving meditation on Las Meninas (ca. 1656), by Spanish court painter Diego Velázquez (1599–1660). It envisions the moments leading up to and following the painting’s iconic, transient scene.

Installation view of Eve Sussman | Rufus Corporation, 89 Seconds at Alcázar, 2004; High-definition video installation

Installation view of Eve Sussman | Rufus Corporation, 89 Seconds at Alcázar, 2004; High-definition video installation

Velázquez’s enigmatic painting has garnered a cult-fandom among the art-obsessed. The slice-of-life, monumental scene in Las Meninas offers a very modern viewpoint, similar to a photographic snapshot but created more than 200 years before the camera. Velázquez’s composition is clever, even revolutionary. The painting shifts the traditional viewing perspective to focus on the creator of the image rather than the image the creator is representing.

Diego Velázquez, Las Meninas, 1656

Diego Velázquez, Las Meninas, 1656

At the foreground of Las Meninas, Velázquez depicts himself before of a massive canvas with brush and palette in hand; next to him are members of the Royal Spanish court. However, the most prominent element for art historians is the indistinct mirror that can be seen at the very center background of the painting. Velázquez’s inclusion of the mirror, depicting a bust-length view of the King and Queen of Spain, allows the viewer to see beyond the canvas. His perspective suggests that the viewer is standing in the space occupied by the King and Queen. For the centuries of art leading up to this work, representational painting was rendered as though the surface of a canvas might be substituted for a window into another world, where the spectator looked in. Instead, Velázquez presents a painting that looks out at the viewing looking in. It is a complex, behind-the-scenes glimpse at the process of art-making itself.

So what can account for this drastic change in perspective?

At the same time Las Meninas was developed, the Arnolfini Portrait (1434), by Jan van Eyck, was hanging in the halls of the Spanish palace, or alcázar, that Velázquez walked every day. It is likely that Velázquez was very familiar with this work—as a result, many historians see Las Meninas as a direct reference to the mirror-motif originally used in Van Eyck’s work.

The plot thickens, bringing us back to Sussman and the Rufus Corporation.

Eve Sussman | Rufus Corporation, Erin as María, production still from 89 Seconds at Alcázar, 2004; High-definition video installation; Image courtesy of Eve Sussman | Rufus Corporation, photo by Benedikt Partenheimer for the Rufus Corporation

Eve Sussman | Rufus Corporation, Erin as María, production still from 89 Seconds at Alcázar, 2004; High-definition video installation; Image courtesy of Eve Sussman | Rufus Corporation, photo by Benedikt Partenheimer for the Rufus Corporation

When Eve Sussman saw Velázquez’s Las Meninas at the Museo Nacional del Prado, she too was prompted to reimagine a painting that itself reimagined Van Eyck’s earlier work.

However, Sussman and the Rufus Corporation approached their journey into shifting spectatorship with a new medium and a new dynamic viewing perspective. And while the subject matter appropriates content from Velázquez’s work, Sussman describes 89 Seconds as “. . . about activating the viewpoint of the camera, so you see it’s not Las Meninas—it’s something different.”²

To learn more, visit NMWA on Wednesday, August 3, at noon for our weekly staff-led gallery talks. Associate Curator Virginia Treanor will facilitate a 30-minute conversation about 89 Seconds at Alcázar—join us during your lunch break, and return each Wednesday for up-close views of the other works in Total Art: Contemporary Video, on view at NMWA through October 12.

—J. Rachel Gustafson is a curatorial fellow at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Notes:
1. Blake Gopnik, “Shifting Through the Whitney: Eve Sussman,” in the Washington Post, March 14, 2004. (http://www.rufuscorporation.com/wapost.jpg)
2. Eve Sussman as quoted in Carol Kino, “In the Studio: Eve Sussman,” in Art + Auction, July 2006. (http://www.rufuscorporation.com/anauc.html)

Artist Spotlight: The Magical Erasure of Michal Rovner

Upon entering the exhibition Total Art: Contemporary Video, your attention may be drawn to the large blue artwork on the opposite wall. From a distance, it is challenging to determine the print’s context and subject. As you approach it more closely, however, you realize the work’s content is just as ambiguous in close proximity. The majority of the image is a nondescript, turquoise-tinted background. The upper portion contains four off-white, thick, irregular, horizontal lines that are staggered on top of one another, barely alluding to a sense of depth.

Installation view with work by Michal Rovner

Installation view with work by Michal Rovner

The work in question is One-Person Game Against Nature, No. 35 (1993) by Michal Rovner (b. 1957, Tel Aviv, Israel)—a chromogenic print reproduction of a frozen video image. The work is installed just above an elongated, sleek, white table with glass petri dishes erratically arranged along its length. This is another work by Rovner, Data Zone, Cultures Table #3 (2003), which incorporates moving video segments via hidden monitors under the table. As you peer into the petri dishes, you are greeted by miniscule objects that appear to be alive. They evoke bacteria or insects but as you look closely at all the dishes, something astonishing happens—the objects that are swarming or repeating their movements become recognizable as atomized human forms. Rovner recorded the movement of a group of people from above and transformed them through a heavy editing process that obscures any previously detectable natural arrangement.

Michal Rovner, Data Zone, Cultures Table #3 (detail), 2003; Steel table, 6 petri dishes, 4 monitors, glass plates, lighting, and digital files, 33 x 118 1/2 x 31 1/2 in.; NMWA, Gift of Heather and Tony Podesta Collection, Washington, D.C.; Image © Michal Rovner, Courtesy Artists’ Rights Society (ARS), NY; Photo Ellen Labenski, Courtesy Pace Gallery

Michal Rovner, Data Zone, Cultures Table #3 (detail), 2003; Steel table, 6 petri dishes, 4 monitors, glass plates, lighting, and digital files, 33 x 118 1/2 x 31 1/2 in.; NMWA, Gift of Heather and Tony Podesta Collection, Washington, D.C.; Image © Michal Rovner, Courtesy Artists’ Rights Society (ARS), NY; Photo Ellen Labenski, Courtesy Pace Gallery

Rovner’s digitized trompe l’oeil doesn’t stop there. A closer examination of One-Person Game reveals the same concept—given a second look, the lines and abstracted forms are human silhouettes. For this work, Rovner video-recorded four young men floating in the Dead Sea and then enlarged and amplified a still shot from the recording to create the grainy, ambiguous, and enigmatic image that scarcely suggests human forms.

A more pessimistic blogger might suggest that in reducing figures to this microscopic and unrecognizable level, Rovner diminishes notions of individual human identity. However, Rovner leaves traces of humanity in both of these works. In removing key associative details, she asks viewers to look again and look more deeply. Michal Rovner operates in the realm of human experience and her concepts function as a wondrous marriage between magic, mad science, and art. Rovner’s removal of detail allows viewers to open their minds. As scholar Sylvia Wolf explains, in “. . . seeing less, we imagine more.”¹

Rovner sees her video and photographic works as operating outside accepted reality. Commenting on her own inspirations for her projects, she notes:

I am looking for a point of departure from concreteness. But I don’t want to totally lose the presence of something, or even the meaning of what it was, or used to be, or could have been . . . And maybe it has potential—energy, information, visual information – to make a very strong statement about a specific reality, which an exact recording of that reality wouldn’t have. ²

Visit NMWA on Wednesday, July 23 at noon for a weekly staff-led gallery talk and hear from Curatorial Assistant Stephanie Midon as she discusses Rovner’s Data Zone, Cultures Table #3. Because doesn’t everyone deserve a little magic on their lunch break? We think so.

—J. Rachel Gustafson is a curatorial fellow at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Notes:
1. Sylvia Wolf, “The Space Between,” in Michal Rovner: The Space Between, Sylvia Wolf, ed., (Chicago: The Art Institute of Chicago, 2001), 68.
2. Michal Rovner as quoted in “Michal Rovner and Leon Golub in Conversation, 20 March and 1 April 2001,” in Michal Rovner: The Space Between, Sylvia Wolf.

Meret Oppenheim’s “Schoolgirl’s Notebook”

On view in Meret Oppenheim: Tender Friendships, the artist’s early work Schoolgirl’s Notebook (Cahier d’une Écoliere) provides insight into her spirit and ambition as a young artist, as well as her inclination toward Surrealism.

memory of Rosemary Furtak, from her collection; Photograph by Lee Stalsworth; Image courtesy of Lisa Wenger and Martin A. Bühler, Meret

Schoolgirl’s Notebook (Le Cahier d’une Écolière), 1973; Etching on paper,
embossed and printed in rust, gray, green, and black; Original blue paper-covered
stiff wrappers, 11 x 8 ½ (closed); Edition 41/100; NMWA; Gift of Thomas Hill in
memory of Rosemary Furtak; Photograph by Lee Stalsworth; Image courtesy of Lisa Wenger and Martin A. Bühler, Meret Oppenheim Estate

In 1930, when she was 16 years old, Meret Oppenheim created a collage in her mathematics exercise book for her father’s birthday. She did not like school, and her first Surrealist work was the absurd equation x = hare (or rather an image of an orangey-red hare or rabbit) was intended to convince her father that she was ill-suited for conventional education and should be allowed to become an artist and go to Paris. Her strategy worked, and in 1932 Oppenheim went to Paris, with her friend Irène Zurkinden, to study art.

In 1957, André Breton, leader of the Surrealist movement, published Oppenheim’s Schoolgirl’s Notebook in the magazine Le Surrealisme même. After Breton died, his wife Elisa returned the notebook to Oppenheim. It was published in 1973 in a limited edition of 100 copies.

The exhibition also includes a selection of Oppenheim’s correspondence, including a handwritten letter to Elisa Breton in which Oppenheim mentioned the notebook.

Meret Oppenheim: Tender Friendships is on view at NMWA through September 14. Exhibition curator Krystyna Wasserman will lead a tour of the show at noon on Wednesday, July 16.

Artist Spotlight: The Collaboration of Ingrid Mwangi and Robert Hutter

In 2005, spouses Ingrid Mwangi (b. 1975, Nairobi, Kenya) and Robert Hutter (b. 1964, Ludwigshafen, Germany) began working as a collaborative artistic force. Today, they exhibit their joint works under the combined name of Mwangi Hutter and aim to show their “shared vision . . . [to] overcome gender and ethnic boundaries.”¹

Mwangi Hutter, Neger Don't Call Me (installation view), 2000; DVD, speakers, four wood chairs, and Dolby surround sound; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Heather and Tony Podesta Collection, Washington, D.C., Image courtesy of the artists

Mwangi Hutter, Neger Don’t Call Me (installation view), 2000; DVD, speakers, four
wood chairs, and Dolby surround sound; National Museum of Women in the Arts,
Gift of Heather and Tony Podesta Collection, Washington, D.C., Image courtesy of
the artists

Mwangi Hutter’s Neger Don’t Call Me (2000) is one of the 10 video pieces in NMWA’s Total Art: Contemporary Video exhibition. To introduce the work and mark the opening of the show, Ingrid Mwangi visited the museum on June 6, 2014. She spoke with visitors about the production of Neger Don’t Call Me, and offered a preview of three of Mwangi Hutter’s most recent video collaborations.

Ingrid Mwangi at NMWA on June 6, discussing Mwnagi Hutter's video installation and (background) photographic series Shades of Skin

Ingrid Mwangi at NMWA on June 6, discussing Mwnagi Hutter’s video installation and (background) photographic series Shades of Skin

Ingrid Mwangi is the daughter of a German mother and a Kenyan father. Growing up between Germany and Kenya, Mwangi felt the constraints of finding her identity. During her lecture at NMWA, she explained that her dreadlocked hair in Neger Don’t Call Me acts signifies one aspect of her identity. The camera shows her face as it is covered and uncovered with sculptural masks made of her own dreadlocks, while the dialogue (in Mwangi’s own voice) recalls memories from her childhood related to the use of the German word neger, or negro, as it translates in English. “Many people can’t say the word because they are so wounded by it,” Mwangi shared, “. . . but for me, the more I used it, the history behind the word dissolved.”

In addition to the projected video, Neger Don’t Call Me includes four wooden chairs with speakers attached under their seats. The fragmented sentences offer insight into Mwangi’s experiences with stereotypes and discrimination after leaving Kenya for Germany. Her voice reverberates between the speakers mounted on the gallery walls and the chairs as they jump from source to source, suggesting a collective experience.

In a 2003 exhibition catalogue, Mwangi discussed the sound, dialogue, and language in Neger Don’t Call Me:

Using the example of the German word ‘Neger’ . . . a word in which the history of racist ideology still echoes, I explain the feeling of wrongness I sensed when faced with the use of discriminating words or ignorant action. With this piece I wish to show the constant dialogue which occurs between self and society, in this case especially dealing with the continuing problem of being judged and categorized due to skin-colour.²

At noon on Wednesday, July 9, Assistant Educator Ashley W. Harris will discuss Mwangi Hutter’s Neger Don’t Call Me during a 30-minute viewing and “Conversation Piece.” Join us during your lunch break to learn more about this emotionally-charged video.

—J. Rachel Gustafson is a curatorial fellow at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Notes:

1. Ingrid Mwangi as quoted at NMWA, June 6, 2014.

2. Ingrid Mwangi, “Neger Don’t Call Me/Coloured/Down by the River/To Be in the World/Your Own Soul/Wild at Heart/Static Drift: Selected Works and Texts by Ingrid Mwangiin Ingrid Mwangi: Your Own Soul (Saarbrücken: Stadtgalerie Saarbrücken, 2003), 9.

Artist Spotlight: Pipilotti Rist’s Red Room and Blue Bodily Letter

One of the nine gallery spaces in Total Art: Contemporary Video is vividly painted with an oblong white space centered on a red wall. This was not a random design decision, but rather a feature of the installation at the request of the artist, Pipilotti Rist (b. 1962, Rheintal, Switzerland), who created the video piece featured in the crimson gallery.

Pipilotti Rist, Blauer Liebesbrief (Blue Bodily Letter), 1992/98; Audio-video installation; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Heather and Tony Podesta Collection, Washington, D.C.

Pipilotti Rist, Blauer Liebesbrief (Blue Bodily Letter), 1992/98; Audio-video installation; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Heather and Tony Podesta Collection, Washington, D.C.

Rist’s Blauer Leibesbrief (Blue Bodily Letter) (1992/98) is part of a genre of video works that are as connected to the installation space as the projected imagery. NMWA’s installations of each of the ten works in the exhibition required specific parameters. The museum’s curatorial and design team worked with the Total Art artists and their galleries to ensure the installation of each video reflected the artist’s original thought process and the work’s integrity. Notably, Rist’s Blauer Leibesbrief—projected at an angle to overlap the oblong white space—was the only work to break from the traditional mode of straight projection and dark, movie theater-esque walls.

NMWA members looking at Rist's video installation and a series of her prints on Member Preview Day; Photo Laura Hoffman

NMWA members looking at Rist’s video installation and a series of her prints on Member Preview Day; Photo Laura Hoffman

The immersive qualities of video art are largely dependent on proper installation, and Rist’s video was no different. The looped imagery in Blauer Leibesbrief is shown through the progression of a handheld camera that sweeps over the artist’s nude body as she lays motionless in a wooded landscape with jewels adorning her body. The work is projected at a sharp right angle, forming a trapezoidal shape on the wall. This work was one of the artist’s first experiments in altering the projector’s orientation.

Pipilotti Rist’s practice aims to introduce viewers to unexpected new perspectives:

“Art’s task is to contribute to evolution, to encourage the mind, to guarantee a detached view of social changes, to conjure up positive energies, to create sensuousness, to reconcile reason and instinct, to research possibilities, to destroy clichés and prejudices. Most people don’t see it that way.”¹

However, there is more to Blauer Leibesbrief than its installation methods. The video’s content reinterprets the female nude motif and its traditional relationship to the viewer’s gaze in the art historical and cinematic canons. Rather than show Rist’s body from a distanced, full-length perspective, the artist obscures the viewer’s gaze, inhibiting an erotic reading by placing the camera as close to the body as it can get. In that sense, Blauer Leibesbrief follows Rist’s explanation of art’s function as it dismantles banality—both in method and content.

Visit NMWA on Wednesday, July 2, at noon for NMWA’s weekly staff-led gallery talks to learn more about Rist’s Blauer Leibesbrief (Blue Bodily Letter). Chief Curator Kathryn Wat will lead a 30-minute conversation and viewing of the work—come make the most of your lunch hour!

—J. Rachel Gustafson is a curatorial fellow at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Notes:

1.Pipilotti Rist as quoted in Hans Ulrich Obrist, “I rist, she rists, he rists, we rist, you rist, they rist, tourist: Hans Ulrich Obrist in Conversation with Pipilotti Rist,” in Pipilotti Rist (New York: Phaidon Press, Inc., 2001), 10.

Artist Spotlight: Dara Birnbaum—Video as Subject and Form

On view in Total Art: Contemporary Video, Dara Birnbaum’s Technology/Transformation: Wonder Woman (1978–79) opens with several minutes of footage showing intense explosions, transformations, and sampled disco tunes. Just as a viewer becomes comfortable with the repeating imagery, the camera turns to the super-heroine as she bumps into a surprised friend and says, “We’ve got to stop meeting like this.” It the only segment in the nearly six-minute video work in which the main figure speaks; the rest is all action.

Dara Birnbaum, Technology/Transformation: Wonder Woman, 1978–79; Single-channel color video and stereo sound, 5 min. 50 sec.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Elizabeth A. Sackler

Dara Birnbaum, Technology/Transformation: Wonder Woman, 1978–79; Single-channel color video and stereo sound, 5 min. 50 sec.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Elizabeth A. Sackler

Dara Birnbaum (b. 1946, New York) used this abbreviated dialogue in her single-channel video work with a specific goal in mind. As the earliest work in Total Art, Birnbaum’s video serves as an example of the genesis of the medium, but her work is distinct from that of other video artists. Rather than create new recordings with a video camera, Birnbaum repurposed footage from the CBS television show Wonder Woman (1975–79). Critics have often noted that many video artists use television’s technology and language to create works detached from the medium, but here Birnbaum directly incorporated television as both her subject and form.

Provocation is at the heart of Technology/Transformation: Wonder Woman. In highlighting the technological transformation and repeatedly showing the footage, Birnbaum awakens viewers to the sexualized and violence imagery that was shown in the television series but rarely questioned. In 1983, a few years after completing Technology/Transformation: Wonder Woman, Birnbaum wrote an article that expanded upon her video work and the goals. She states:

Much of the videowork completed from 1978 to 1982 had been an attempt to slow down ‘technological speed’ and to ‘arrest’ movements of TV-time for the viewer. For it is the speed at which issues are absorbed and consumed by the medium of video/television, without examination and without self-questioning, that remains astonishing…By dislocating the visual and altering the syntax, images were cut from their original narrative flow and then countered with additional musical texts. The viewer was to be caught in a limbo of alteration where he/she was able to plunge headlong into the very experience of TV—unveiling TV’s stereotyped gestures of power and submission, of self-presentation and concealment, of male and female ego.¹

The explosive Technology/Transformation: Wonder Woman asks viewers to take another look at the technologies and images that create such perspectives. To learn more visit NMWA on Wednesday, June 25, at noon, for one of our weekly staff-led gallery talks. Put your lunch break to good use and join Director of Education Deborah Gaston as she facilitates a 30-minute discussion and viewing of Birnbaum’s iconic Technology/Transformation: Wonder Woman.

 —J. Rachel Gustafson is a curatorial fellow at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Notes:

1. Dara Birnbaum, from “Watching Television: A Video Event Conference,” October 1983, as quoted in Robin Reidy, “Pop-Pop Video,” American Film (January/February, 1985), 61.

Hands as an Artist’s Tools: Meret Oppenheim

While living in France as an art student, Meret Oppenheim made many unusual sketches for gloves. She designed gloves covered with fur in 1934 and gloves showing the hand’s bone structure in 1936. Elsa Schiaparelli’s fashion house also commissioned her to create sketches of gloves and jewelry, which offered the young artist a chance to earn some money.

Meret Oppenheim, Gloves, 1985; From the limited edition of 150 pairs of gloves housed in the Deluxe Edition of Parkett magazine, no 4., 1985; 8 3/4 x 3 1/4 in. (each glove); Screenprint on goat suede, hand-stitched; Edition 107/150; NMWA, Gift of Thomas Hill in memory of Rosemary Furtak

Meret Oppenheim, Gloves, 1985; From the limited edition of 150 pairs of gloves housed in the Deluxe Edition of Parkett magazine, no 4., 1985; 8 3/4 x 3 1/4 in. (each glove); Screenprint on goat suede, hand-stitched; Edition 107/150; NMWA, Gift of Thomas Hill in memory of Rosemary Furtak; Photograph by Lee Stalsworth; Image courtesy of Lisa Wenger and Martin A. Bühler, Meret Oppenheim Estate

Bice Curiger, then editor-in-chief of Parkett art magazine, worked with Oppenheim to develop an edition of 150 pairs of Italian goat-suede gloves to be sold with a deluxe edition of Parkett issue no. 4, 1985. Oppenheim adapted a glove design she made in the early 1940s. The network of red veins silk-screened onto the gloves attest to Oppenheim’s interest in making the invisible not only visible but also prominent, and wearable.

Visit NMWA to see this and other Oppenheim works in Tender Friendships, on view through September 14.

Now on View: The Compelling Worlds of “Total Art: Contemporary Video” at NMWA

Why does the moniker “total art” apply to the medium of video? What elements can be incorporated, and how does the genre blur traditional lines between “fine art” and other artistic expressions such as cinema, documentary film, and even internet gifs? Which facets of video have been embraced by women artists?

Alex Prager, La Petite Mort, 2012; Film HD, shot on Red Epic camera with color and sound; Work and image courtesy of the artist, M+B Gallery, Los Angeles, and Lehmann Maupin Gallery, New York and Hong Kong

Alex Prager, La Petite Mort, 2012; Film HD, shot on Red Epic camera with color and sound; Work and image courtesy of the artist, M+B Gallery, Los Angeles, and Lehmann Maupin Gallery, New York and Hong Kong

Total Art: Contemporary Video examines such questions through a selection of video works (a broad term for moving-image artworks), as well as related photography, from 10 female artists. The exhibition, which opens today, will be on view at NMWA through October 12, 2014. It showcases the wide-ranging content explored through this medium, as well as varied installation and production methods.

Total Art called for an impressive reconfiguration of the gallery spaces to create distinct spaces for the work of each artist. All of the second-floor galleries were retrofitted, new walls were constructed, and projectors were installed to create intimate viewing spaces that allow the viewer to experience each video work to the exact installation requirements of the artists—this includes specific wall colors, audio parameters, sound panels, other installed materials, projection angles, and screen selection. Every detail of the spaces was considered and altered to create immersive—total—environments.

Mariko Mori, Miko no Inori, 1996; Color video and sound; Collection of Pérez Art Museum Miami, Courtesy of Dennis and Debra Scholl

Mariko Mori, Miko no Inori, 1996; Color video and sound; Collection of Pérez Art Museum Miami, Courtesy of Dennis and Debra Scholl

These curatorial decisions mark another important element of video art. Either consciously or unconsciously, museum visitors perform certain learned behaviors at art exhibitions that are upended in Total Art. For example, NMWA’s third-floor galleries feature paintings and sculptures from the museum’s collection. Viewers wander, often with companions, while talking about artworks—there is a certain level of interaction and discussion in the traditional exhibition space. However, in the darkened galleries of Total Art those traditional museum behaviors are exchanged with a new inward-directed subjectivity: viewers watch video works quietly, without speaking, and without group interaction.

Left: Margaret Salmon, Ninna Nanna, 2007; 3-screen installation of 16-mm films transferred to DVD; Collection of Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., Museum purchase through the contributions of members of the Contemporary Acquisitions Council and the Joseph H. Hirshhorn Purchase Fund, 2008

Left: Margaret Salmon, Ninna Nanna, 2007; 3-screen installation of 16-mm films transferred to DVD; Collection of Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., Museum purchase through the contributions of members of the Contemporary Acquisitions Council and the Joseph H. Hirshhorn Purchase Fund, 2008

Interestingly, these social norms are related to principles of theater etiquette that were popularized by Richard Wagner, the same German composer whose concept of gesamtkunstwerk, or “total work of art,” influenced the exhibition’s title. Before Wagner’s time, theaters were left illuminated, talking and shouting at performers was the norm, and the orchestra obscured the stage performance. Wagner instilled a quiet decorum, dimmed the house lights, and moved the orchestra into a sunken pit. These efforts created a total, cohesive viewing experience for audience members, in which varied arts were able to merge into one.

The concept of “totality” is likewise an inherent aspect of video, as many art forms coalesce to create the moving images exhibited in Total Art. The featured artists and works fuse performance, theater, music, and dance with a range of digital technologies to create compelling worlds that at once mesmerize and provoke.

Visit the exhibition web page for more on Total Art: Contemporary Video, a related video page, and a full schedule of related programs.

—J. Rachel Gustafson is a curatorial fellow at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Spotlight on Oppenheim: Inspiration, Repetition, and Surrealism

Meret Oppenheim often explored one subject through a variety of mediums. A favorite theme was the legend of the eighth-century queen Genevieve of Brabant, who was unjustly accused of adultery and sentenced to death. After her executioner took pity on her and released her, Genevieve survived in a forest for six years, giving birth to a son. Found by her guilt-ridden husband, she was forgiven and taken back to the royal palace.

Meret Oppenheim, Genevieve’s Mirror (Der Spiegel der Genoveva), 1967; Embossing, 10 x 6 ¾ in.; NMWA; Gift of Thomas Hill in memory of Rosemary Furtak, from her collection; Photograph by Lee Stalsworth; Image courtesy of Lisa Wenger and Martin A. Bühler, Meret Oppenheim Estate

Meret Oppenheim, Genevieve’s Mirror (Der Spiegel der Genoveva), 1967; Debossed print, 10 x 6 ¾ in.; NMWA; Gift of Thomas Hill in memory of Rosemary Furtak, from her collection; Photograph by Lee Stalsworth; Image courtesy of Lisa Wenger and Martin A. Bühler, Meret Oppenheim Estate

Oppenheim invoked Genevieve in a poem from 1933; a painting, The Suffering of Genevieve (1939); and a wood sculpture, Genevieve (1971). The queen’s fate served as a metaphor for Oppenheim’s experiences from 1937 to 1954, when she suffered personal and creative crises.

Rather than depict a beautiful queen in Genevieve’s Mirror, Oppenheim drew a hairy animal hoof and the lower part of a human face, joined to look like the handle of a portable mirror. The image may reflect Genevieve’s years living in the wilderness; according to legend, she and her infant son were fed with the milk of a doe.

Visit NMWA to see this and other Oppenheim works in Tender Friendships, on view through September 14.