Fabric of History: Sonia Gomes

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.

Sonia Gomes, Untitled, from the “Torção” series, 2015; Fabric, wire, thread, and beads, 80 x 123 x 14 in.; Rubell Family Collection, Miami; Courtesy of Rubell Family Collection, Miami

Sonia Gomes (b. 1948, Caetanópolis, Brazil)

After beginning her career at the age of 45, Sonia Gomes quickly gained recognition in the global art scene, participating in exhibitions around the world and influencing a younger generation of Brazilian artists. Gomes uses a range of fabrics, thread, and rope—often gifted or found—to create multi-dimensional sculptures. These structures twist, spiral, converge, and taper in organic and graceful ways that recall biological forms and sacred objects. Her use of fabrics carries collective and personal stories embedding the idea that something passed could be brought back to life again. Gomes’s works are inspired by her family, including her maternal grandmother, whose traditional dress and rituals as an indigenous spiritual healer and midwife influenced her, and her father’s family that worked in a textile factory.

The Artist’s Voice:

“Sometimes I think my work might look like my insides because it’s extremely visceral. . . . And I make art by necessity. I think if I haven’t been doing what I do, I would have gone crazy or I might have been in trouble because I can’t live without it…so I discovered life through art.”

“For me, art is about truth. I don’t get politically involved in Afro-Brazilian movements. I participate through my work and now that I’m starting to receive recognition I think it’s important to give my contribution.”—Sonia Gomes, in a video interview with Arterial

Sonia Gomes, Untitled from the series “Torção,” 2015; Fabric, wire, thread, and beads, 95 x 42 x 12 in.; Courtesy of Rubell Family Collection, Miami

Revival Highlight:

Courtesy of the Rubell Family Collection, four sculptures by Gomes are on display in Revival. These sculptures project from the wall, hang from the ceiling, and, in some cases, wander onto the floor. In an untitled work from 2015 from her series “Torção,” Gomes uses fabric, wire, thread, and beads. She binds, knots, and sews together opaque and shear fabrics that evoke the domestic realm while simultaneously forming symbolic re-creations of the body.

Gomes explores issues of identity and memory. Historically, black women have been at the bottom of Brazil’s social strata experiencing limited visibility. Addressing this subject figuratively, Gomes’s sculpture hangs from the ceiling, hovering before the viewer as an insistent placeholder for the absent or unseen body.

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

—Roseline Odhiambo is the summer 2017 digital engagement intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Wonder and Whimsy: Anna Gaskell

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.

Anna Gaskell (b. 1969, Des Moines, Iowa)

Installation view of three of Anna Gaskell’s photographs next to a Louise Bourgeois sculpture

Installation view of three of Anna Gaskell’s photographs next to a Louise Bourgeois sculpture; Photo: Lee Stalsworth

Anna Gaskell studied at Bennington College for two years before attending the Art Institute of Chicago, where she received a BFA in 1992, and later earned an MFA from Yale University in 1995. Gaskell is renowned for her work referencing mythology, Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and Brothers Grimm fairy tales. Her carefully staged photographs contain ambiguous narratives with no clear beginning or end. Viewers may detect a sense of anxiety, pleasure, or mischief in her works. Gaskell’s background in filmmaking and performance are evident in her use of dramatic lighting, awkward body distortions, and severe camera angles.

The Artist’s Voice:

“Trying to combine fiction, fact and my own personal mishmash of life into something new is how I make my work. . . . I try to insert a degree of mystery that ensures that the dots may not connect in the same way every time.”—Anna Gaskell, in NMWA’s See for Yourself card

“My muses have always been characters from novels or films or iconic figures from the past. I was drawn to these people for different reasons—because of their wisdom, intelligence, sense of humor or sense of adventure. . . . Over time I gathered them for inspiration, sometimes conjuring them back to life again for companionship.”—Anna Gaskell, letter in This Is Tomorrow

Anna Gaskell, untitled #26 (override), 1997; Chromogenic print print mounted on Plexiglas, 15 1/4 x 23 5/8 in.; NMWA, Gift of The Heather and Tony Podesta Collection; © Anna Gaskell

Revival Highlight:

Five chromogenic prints, drawn from her series “override” (1997) and “wonder” (1996-97), as well as untitled #104 (A Short Story of Happenstance) (2003) are on view in Revival. In “override,” the scenarios are drawn from Gaskell’s own imagination and portray several manifestations of Alice. In untitled #26 (override), the model pictured in her blue pinafore and yellow cotton dress appears to plot a revenge or escape, seeming both innocent and spiteful, a duality that mirrors the emotional confusion often experienced by adolescents.

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

—Roseline Odhiambo is the summer 2017 digital engagement intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Returning the Gaze: Lalla Essaydi

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.

Lalla Essaydi, Bullets Revisited #20, 2014; Chromogenic print mounted on aluminum, 30 x 40 in.; Courtesy Miller Yezerski Gallery © Lalla Essaydi

Lalla Essaydi, Bullets Revisited #20, 2014; Chromogenic print mounted on aluminum, 30 x 40 in.; Courtesy Miller Yezerski Gallery © Lalla Essaydi

Lalla Essaydi (b. 1956, Marrakesh, Morocco)

Born and raised in Morocco, Lalla Essaydi now lives and works in New York. She received her MFA from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts at Tufts University in 2003 and has since participated in several major exhibitions around the world.

Essaydi’s intricately staged photographs not only draw the viewer in with their scale and beauty, but go further to challenge 19th century Orientalist mythology, which portrayed Arab women as sexual objects for male fantasy. While she often imitates the poses of Orientalist painters, she controls the gaze. Essaydi portrays her subjects clothed and covered in henna calligraphy. This stylistic choice challenges the tradition of calligraphy as a male-dominated art form.

The Artist’s Voice:

“In my art, I wish to present myself through multiple lenses—as artist, as Moroccan, as traditionalist, as Liberal, as Muslim. In short, I invite viewers to resist stereotypes.”—Lalla Essaydi, artist’s website

“There are so many layers to my work, and some of them are just for me. If the viewer does not discover it on their own, I’m not going to talk about it because I have always been told how to behave, what to say, how to see things, how to think, and I don’t want to impose that on the viewers by stating everything. I do what I do for myself, before anything else. ”—Lalla Essaydi, interview in Africa is a Country

Lalla Essaydi, Bullets Revisited #3, 2012; Triptych, chromogenic prints on aluminum, 150 x 66 in.; Courtesy of the artist, Miller Yezerski Gallery, Boston, and Edwynn Houk Gallery, NYC

Lalla Essaydi, Bullets Revisited #3, 2012; Three chromogenic prints mounted on aluminum, 66 x 150 in. overall; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Purchased with funds provided by Jacqueline Badger Mars, Sunny Scully Alsup and William Alsup, Mr. Sharad Tak and Mrs. Mahinder Tak, Marcia and Frank Carlucci, and Nancy Nelson Stevenson; © Lalla Essaydi

Revival Highlight:

Two of Essaydi’s photographs from her “Bullets Revisited” series are on view. A recent acquisition into NMWA’s permanent collection, the triptych Bullets Revisited #3 (2012) portrays a reclining woman, whose skin and garments are covered in henna calligraphy, against a background embellished in silver and gold bullet casings. By presenting this photograph in a triptych format, the fragmentation of the body denies a voyeuristic view of the figure. In Bullets Revisited #20 (2014), she cocooned her seated model with a cape encrusted with similar casings. Essaydi explains her use of bullets as a commentary on violence against women in a new post-revolutionary era following the Arab Spring.

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

—Roseline Odhiambo is the summer 2017 digital engagement intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Delicate & Dangerous: Cathy de Monchaux

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.

Cathy de Monchaux, Clearing the Tracks Before They Appear, 1994; Mixed media, 33 x 33 x 3 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Heather and Tony Podesta Collection; © Cathy de Monchaux; Photo by Lee Stalsworth

Cathy de Monchaux, Clearing the Tracks Before They Appear, 1994; Mixed media, 33 x 33 x 3 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Heather and Tony Podesta Collection; © Cathy de Monchaux; Photo by Lee Stalsworth

Cathy de Monchaux (b. 1960, London, England)

Although at first glance Cathy de Monchaux’s work seems to mimic bodily forms, closer inspection reveals an act of fusion at work. With obsessive attention to detail, de Monchaux joins soft, vulnerable, seemingly organic components with sharp metallic points or hooks. The marriage of paradoxical materials elicits contradictory feelings from her audience. While the flesh-like material evokes an uncomfortable recognition, the cruel, protruding metals inspire an awed fear; if the soft, voluptuous shapes summon lust, the jutting spikes repulse empathy. 

The Artist’s Voice:

“I use the erotic as a metaphor for angst. A lot of people’s angst comes from how they relate to other human beings, and a lot of that is to do with attraction and repulsion. Every relationship becomes fraught after the first burst of enthusiasm, and I suppose I use the whole erotic thing as a metaphor for that fraught-ness.”—Cathy de Monchaux, in an interview with The Telegraph

Revival Highlight:

Rather than rely on representation, de Monchaux uses the power of suggestion to draw in her viewer, promising manifold possibilities within a singular form. Her luxurious wall pieces Don’t Touch My Waist (1998) and Clearing the Tracks Before They Appear (1994) lure the viewer in with appearances evocative of sumptuous, feminine clothing. But the former’s jagged hooks and the latter’s subtle metal teeth keep any would-be-wearers at bay, promising pain in place of any decorative pleasure that might otherwise be derived. Blending pain and pleasure, distance and proximity, injury and protection, de Monchaux simultaneously evokes the joys and the fears of femininity, revealing how eroticism encompasses the whole spectrum of danger and safety.

Cathy de Monchaux, Red, 1999; Brass, copper, velvet, leather, canvas, steel, graphite, and thread, 14 x 46 x 34 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Heather and Tony Podesta Collection; © Cathy de Monchaux; Photo by Lee Stalsworth

Cathy de Monchaux, Red, 1999; Brass, copper, velvet, leather, canvas, steel, graphite, and thread, 14 x 46 x 34 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Heather and Tony Podesta Collection; © Cathy de Monchaux; Photo by Lee Stalsworth

A floor sculpture featured in Revival, Red (1999), contains fewer elements of dangerous elegance, opting instead for a more subtle approach. It appears less threatening and direct than both hanging works, lacking sharp blades or hooks. Instead the work contains a cascading center that blossoms into tender, fleshy velvet folds. But for all its sumptuousness, the central structure seems contained within the base, suggesting constriction that the surrounding belts only complement. Red’s foreboding presence underscores de Monchaux’s capacity for creating disquieting work in all shapes and forms.

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

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

Reading Between the Lines: Fanny Sanín

The exhibition Equilibrium: Fanny Sanín, on view through October 29, 2017, presents studies and finished paintings by abstract artist Fanny Sanín (b. 1938, Bogotá, Colombia). The exhibition features compositions on paper and canvas spanning 56 years of the artist’s career.

Installation view of Equilibrium: Fanny Sanín

Installation view of Equilibrium: Fanny Sanín

Sanín began her artistic practice at the University of the Andes before attending the University of Illinois, and the Chelsea School of Art and the Central School of Art in London. She moved to the U.S. in 1971 and currently lives in New York and travels regularly to Bogotá.

Sanín’s practice focuses on geometric structure, color, order, and harmony; all elements she executes meticulously on both small and large surfaces. After her exposure to abstract art during her final years in school, she chose to pursue abstraction as a way to focus on color and form.

Fanny Sanín , Composition No. 1, 2016; Acrylic and pencil on paper, 25 1/2 x 40 in.

Fanny Sanín, Composition No. 1, 2016; Acrylic and pencil on paper, 25 1/2 x 40 in.; Courtesy of the artist

Through the range of works featured in the exhibition, viewers gain insight into Sanín’s artistic process—just as remarkable as her finished products. Creating between four and eighteen studies before working on a final composition, Sanín refines her color choices and structure, altering minute details to convey her intended meaning.

Fanny Sanín, Small Study No. 4, 1973; Gouache on paper; Courtesy of the artist

Fanny Sanín, Small Study No. 4, 1973; Gouache on paper; Courtesy of the artist

In a series of four small studies from 1973, Sanín primarily paints vertical lines of different weights and colors, stimulating visual interest through the juxtaposition of complementary and contrasting colors. These studies mark a pivotal transition in Sanín’s art toward her signature color-blocking technique. Her more recent studies and finished paintings demonstrate the maturity of her color palette and her eye for symmetry, order, and balance. The exhibition also displays some of the artist’s early works in watercolor from 1960, 1961, and 1968, in which she worked in a more gestural abstract style before turning to geometric abstraction.

These non-objective abstract works by Sanín demonstrate her intellectual creativity and curiosity. Historically, women artists were judged to be most skilled at copying the natural world rather than inventing original compositions. Even in the field of abstract art, they have been seen as imitators or followers of their male peers. The significant and dynamic contributions of women such as  Sanín to abstraction have only recently begun to be fully recognized.

This exhibition explores abstraction from the preliminary stages of the artist’s process to the final works. Equilibrium: Fanny Sanín is on view in the Teresa Lozano Long Gallery of the National Museum of Women in the Arts. Visit the museum to see Sanín’s works in person!

—Roseline Odhiambo is the summer 2017 digital engagement intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Wonder Women in the NMWA Library

This summer the blockbuster film Wonder Woman has already earned more than $724 million. The NMWA Library and Research Center staff could not resist swinging their own golden lasso by presenting Wonder Women!, a celebration of women who are fearless, adventurous, and larger than life. Drawn from the wide-ranging holdings of the library’s special collections, this exhibition features women of both fact and fiction demonstrating great bravery and taking action against the wrongs of the world.

The Wonder Women! exhibition was inspired by the NMWA Library’s recent acquisition of the first regular monthly issue of the feminist Ms. magazine, founded by Gloria Steinem and Dorothy Pittman Hughes, which hit newsstands in July 1972. In an effort to visually differentiate Ms. from other women’s magazines, the staff selected an image of Wonder Woman for the cover, fighting for “peace and justice in ’72.”

Cover of the first regular monthly issue of Ms. magazine

The illustration was by Murphy Anderson, a longtime artist for DC Comics. The banner “Wonder Woman for President” likely references Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm’s bid for the Democratic Party’s nomination for president that year. Anderson also reflects the country’s anxiety about the war in Vietnam as a giant Wonder Woman strides with urgency down a main street in America, rescuing part of the town with her golden lasso, while shielding the street from a raging jungle battlefield placed uncomfortably close behind the shop fronts.

The cover was also timely as a reboot of the Wonder Woman comic book was due to be published in 1973—this time with its first woman editor, Dorothy Woolfolk. Ms. magazine featured Wonder Woman on the cover again for its 40th anniversary issue in 2012. The 2012 issue featured Wonder Woman bounding down Pennsylvania Avenue, the site of famous women’s rights marches for more than a century.

The article inside, “Wonder Woman Revisited” by Joanne Edgar, quotes the character’s originator, Charles Moulton: “Wonder Woman has force bound by love and, with her strength, represents what every woman should be and really is. She corrects evil and brings happiness. Wonder Woman proves that women are superior to men because they have love in addition to force.” The combination of strength and love is apparent in the materials featured in Wonder Woman!, from Judy Chicago shedding the patriarchy of her given name, to lighthouse keeper Grace Darling who risked her life on a night in 1838 to save victims of a shipwreck.

Visit NMWA’s Betty Boyd Dettre Library and Research Center to celebrate the legacy of wonder women!

—Sarah Osborne Bender is the director of the Betty Boyd Dettre Library and Research Center at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

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.

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.

Color Blocking & Blending: Polly Apfelbaum’s Prints

Polly Apfelbaum (b. 1955) is best known for her large-scale installations and “fallen paintings,” compositions of dyed synthetic fabrics that she places directly on the floor. The exhibition Chromatic Scale: Prints from Polly Apfelbaum, currently on view in the Teresa Lozano Long Gallery, presents a focused survey of Apfelbaum’s recent prints.

Installation view of Chromatic Scale: Prints by Polly Apfelbaum; Photo: Lee Stalsworth

Installation view of Chromatic Scale: Prints by Polly Apfelbaum; Photo: Lee Stalsworth

In more recent years, Polly Apfelbaum revisited printmaking, a process she explored as an art student at the Tyler School of Art in Pennsylvania. Creating most of her prints at Durham Press, Apfelbaum often collaborates with master printmaker Jean-Paul (J.P.) Russell to create her colorful, abstract works. Her works reference abstract, minimalist, and Pop art. She was influenced by artists including Helen Frankenthaler, Morris Louis, and Jackson Pollock, but Apfelbaum’s work differs in style by incorporating energy, playfulness, and wit, as well as her love of popular culture and affirmative view of femininity.

Because of her prints’ clean-edged shapes and even color, one might assume that Apfelbaum’s works are mechanically produced. However, they are meticulously handmade. Apfelbaum works closely with master printers to cut woodblocks from plywood in shapes based on her hand-drawn doodles. The blocks are then inked by hand in a broad but ordered spectrum of colors. “Many times these are a vocabulary of shapes that fit into each other perfectly, but also interchangeably,” explains Apfelbaum. “This allows for a wildly fast and intuitive process, where it would be impossible for me to work like this by myself.”

Polly Apfelbaum, Little Dogwood 66, 2012; Woodblock print on handmade paper, 20 x 20 in.; Courtesy of Durham Press; © Durham Press and the artist; Printed and published by Durham Press

Polly Apfelbaum, Little Dogwood 66, 2012; Woodblock print on handmade paper, 20 x 20 in.; Courtesy of Durham Press; © Durham Press and the artist; Printed and published by Durham Press

Her “Dogwood” prints are the result of woodblocks made from from slices of dogwood tree branches sourced in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, where Durham Press is located. “The ‘Dogwood’ prints were made from the wood of a dogwood tree, the Pennsylvania state tree. I grew up in Pennsylvania, Durham Press is in Pennsylvania on Dogwood Lane, and a dogwood fell down on their property. So we put it to work,” says the artist. Apfelbaum’s arrangements are generally improvisational, though she cites a dress from the Finnish design firm Marimekko as inspiration for the dogwood prints like “Little Dogwood 66” (2012).

Polly Apfelbaum, Byzantine Rocker 6, 2014; Woodblock print on handmade paper, 24 1/8 x 37 in.; Printed and published by Durham Press; Image courtesy of Durham Press, © Durham Press and the artist

Polly Apfelbaum, Byzantine Rocker 6, 2014; Woodblock print on handmade paper, 24 1/8 x 37 in.; Printed and published by Durham Press; Image courtesy of Durham Press, © Durham Press and the artist

“Byzantine Rocker 6” (2014) is a prime example of Apfelbaum’s fondness for blending colors through a “split-fountain” or “rainbow roll” technique, in which multiple colors are partially mixed on a block to achieve a gradient effect when printed. “In the print world the technique is considered really cheesy, and that makes me like it even more. As far as the process goes, we lay out two-color and three-color combinations, which get rolled onto the shapes. I then place the blocks face-up until I’m satisfied with the composition.” The title of this work implies a back-and-forth movement, mimicking the way the eye moves across the bands of color.

Visit the museum to see Chromatic Scale: Prints from Polly Apfelbaum before the exhibition closes on July 2, 2017.

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