NMWA’s Nordic Cool

In honor of A World Apart: Anna Ancher and the Skagen Art Colony, on view through May 12, 2013, we’re researching other delightful, innovative, and interesting Danish women in the arts. Click here to learn more about NMWA’s current exhibition.

Some of the earliest seeds for NMWA’s current exhibition, A World Apart: Anna Ancher and the Skagen Art Colony, were planted nearly a decade ago when curatorial staff members visited Scandinavia to research Nordic Cool: Hot Women Designers. This exhibition, on view at NMWA during April–September 2004, was a hit, and although it was NMWA’s first-ever design exhibition, it opened the curators’ eyes to Scandinavian women artists such as fascinating Danish painter Anna Ancher.

Women in the Arts magazine cover, Spring 2004, with Nanna Ditzel's "Bench for Two," 1989

Women in the Arts magazine cover, Spring 2004, with Nanna Ditzel’s “Bench for Two,” 1989

Several of the Danish designers whose work was on view at NMWA were creating domestic-use products that addressed gender roles—such as Johnna Sølvsten Bak’s tablecloth with “iron burns incorporated into the design” as Jordana Pomeroy described in the spring 2004 issue of Women in the Arts magazine. Another example, “Danish industrial design team PAPCoRN (Lene Vad Jensen and Anne Bannick)…created compostable dinnerware from corn by-products.”

Of furniture by Nanna Ditzel—pieces with “curvilinear structures [that] would be as comfortable in a gallery as in a living room”—Pomeroy said, “Ultimately design is highly personal, often bearing traces of the artist’s hand, reflecting the proportions of the designer’s body, and deriving from the most intimate emotional memories. Ditzel’s designs flow with the human body while simultaneously drawing on other natural sources: seashells, coral, flowers, and butterflies.”

—Elizabeth Lynch is the editor at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Chakaia Booker: Evocative, Dynamic Works in the New York Avenue Sculpture Project

Chakaia Booker, Gridlock, 2008; Rubber tire and stainless steel, 2 pieces, 100 x 48 x 20 in. each; Image Franck Espich, Courtesy Marlborough Gallery, New York

Chakaia Booker, Gridlock, 2008; Rubber tire and stainless steel, 2 pieces, 100 x 48 x 20 in. each; Image Franck Espich, Courtesy Marlborough Gallery, New York

Chakaia Booker’s creative process involves exploring and exploiting the full artistic potential of rubber tires. She carefully selects tires with easy-to-cut, worn-out treads in order to transform them into her desired shapes. To fabricate her largest sculptures, Booker uses computer-aided design software, creates detailed models, and constructs armatures from pressure-treated wood and steel rods. Just as Saint Phalle merged seemingly dichotomous techniques to create her Nanas, Booker complicates the conventions of femininity by combining traditionally feminine pursuits, weaving and handiwork, with industrial technology, typically seen as a masculine domain. She uses saber saws, band saws, reciprocating saws, miter saws, and drills to form the rubber loops, shards, knots, and folds on the surfaces of her sculptures. Varying her technique—chopping, slicing, shredding, curling—Booker transforms the rigid, dense material into pliable, evocative works.

Though her sculptures are meticulously and beautifully crafted, Booker intends for her art to exist and be understood beyond aesthetics. For her, tires are a means of communicating her ideas about society, human behavior, and expression. For example, in wheels, Booker sees a paradox of human perception. Wheels suggest mobility and progress, but also the way humankind confines itself to old ideas and attitudes. Tires are analogous to the cycle of life: people start out like freshly-treaded tires, but are eventually worn down with time and experience. Tires are also a source for environmental, political, and cultural metaphors.

Chakaia Booker, Take Out, 2008; work being installed on New York Avenue outside NMWA

Chakaia Booker, Take Out, 2008; work being installed on New York Avenue outside NMWA

Booker’s abstractions may be seen as a statement of racial identity, with tread patterns evoking African motifs used in fabrics and other artwork. But they are also intended to represent cultural diversity. Through the rust stains, textures, remaining treads, movement, and coloration of the sculptures, Booker challenges preconceived notions that tires are uniformly black, encouraging people to reexamine presumptions about subject matter, human beings, and perceptions. The evocative titles of her sculptures (such as Serendipity, Spirit Hunter, and Dialogue with Myself) are based on situations that have occurred in the artist’s own life and in the lives of others. As Booker says, “My sculptures are about the recognition of a universal experience, an emotional exchange between people, and the spiritual.”

Chakaia Booker at NMWA with Acid Rain, 2001; Image Max Hirschfield

Chakaia Booker at NMWA with Acid Rain, 2001; Image Max Hirschfeld

The Sculpture Project will showcase four works by Booker, three of which she sculpted in 2008. Gridlock—a symbol of human journey and life—shows an interplay of concave and convex spaces. The title references travel patterns, which fittingly suits New York Avenue’s bustling traffic. Take Out is a whimsical piece embellished with large, looping, swirling tendrils of tire. Evoking photographs and reflections through its frame- or mirror-like rectangular shape, Take Out invites viewers to explore and engage in the New York Avenue cityscape. The smoother, more subtle Pass the Buck is inspired by Madam C. J. Walker, a National Women’s Hall of Fame honoree and early-twentieth-century businesswoman and philanthropist, best known for developing a successful line of hair-care and beauty products for black women. A tight sphere of intricate, interlocking pieces of rubber, the work symbolizes upward mobility, the pursuit of success, and giving back to society—it meaningfully underscores NMWA’s own commitment to recognizing the efforts of women artists. A fourth piece, called Shapeshifter, which Booker has specifically designed for the New York Avenue Sculpture Project, will be unveiled to the public for the first time this spring.

—Orin Zahra is a curatorial fellow at the National Museum of Women in the Arts. This article is an excerpt from “Art is Storytelling: Chakaia Booker’s work in the New York Avenue Sculpture Project,” which originally ran in the winter/spring 2012 issue of Women in the Arts magazine, NMWA’s triannual institutional publication. To receive Women in the Arts and stay up-to-date on NMWA news and exhibitions, join as a member at www.nmwa.org or call 866-875-4627.

The New York Avenue Sculpture Project is currently funded through support from NAB member Medda Gudelsky and the Homer and Martha Gudelsky Foundation. In-kind support is provided by Michelin North America Inc.

Georgia O’Keeffe’s “Jack-in-Pulpit—No. 2”: On view now at NMWA!

In a 1922 interview with the New York Sun, Georgia O’Keeffe (1887–1986) stated, “Nothing is less real than realism. Details are confusing. It is only by selection, by elimination, by emphasis that we get to the real meaning of things.”1

Image of Georgia O’Keeffe, Jack-in-Pulpit—No. 2, 1930

Georgia O’Keeffe, Jack-in-Pulpit—No. 2, 1930; oil on canvas, 40 x 30 in.; Alfred Stieglitz Collection, Bequest of Georgia O’Keeffe; Image courtesy the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

O’Keeffe’s “Jack-in-Pulpit” paintings were inspired by the flowers she saw around her summer home on Lake George in New York’s Adirondack Mountains. No. 2 depicts a literal step backward from No. 1, with a broader view, increased surrounding foliage, and the entire flowering portion visible. In No. 2, O’Keeffe’s color choices are less true to life, and she begins to manipulate both size and composition. O’Keeffe simplifies the flower, dramatizing its striped surface. Green leaves at the painting’s border pull back to reveal and frame the flower, functioning like a natural version of a theatrical curtain. The dark, tubular form of the jack emerges from the stem at the center of the painting. Its prime positioning suggests importance, and indeed, as the series progresses, O’Keeffe removes all extraneous elements and lets the jack stand alone.

As she implied in her 1922 interview, O’Keeffe associated the process of abstraction with a search for truth. In regard to this series, she said that the jack is “the thing that makes you interested in that flower . . . so I painted just the jack.”2 By stripping away the surrounding leaves of other plants and even the jack-in-the-pulpit’s own flower and stem, O’Keeffe reveals the essence of the flower by the final painting in the series.

While Jack-in-Pulpit—No. 2 is not as pared down and streamlined as the subsequent works in this series, it represents an important step in her process of modernist simplification. O’Keeffe often used serial paintings to work through a motif, rethinking a natural object in increasingly abstract terms with each new interpretation. She also tended to explore minute natural elements in grand scale. This had to do not only with the process of abstraction but also with building her reputation. In a statement for a 1939 exhibition, O’Keeffe explained the scale of her flower paintings: “So I said to myself—I’ll paint what I see—what the flower is to me but I’ll paint it big and they will be surprised into taking time to look at it—I will make even busy New Yorkers take time to see what I see of flowers.”3

O’Keeffe’s use of exaggerated scale and abstraction had another effect, one that dealers and art historians have analyzed and debated intensely. Her paintings, no longer instantly recognizable as their original sources, have been the subject of a variety of anthropomorphic interpretations. O’Keeffe’s flowers and even her skyscrapers have been compared to both female and male anatomy. Her husband, photographer and gallerist Alfred Stieglitz, encouraged such Freudian readings. He saw her work as representative of the essence of femininity, famously proclaiming upon seeing her work for the first time: “At last, a woman on paper!” He often exhibited her paintings alongside nude photographs he took of her, as if O’Keeffe’s body and work were intrinsically connected. However, O’Keeffe staunchly resisted these suggested interpretations. In the same 1939 exhibition statement, O’Keeffe wrote, “When you took time to really notice my flower you hung all your own associations with flowers on my flower and you write about my flower as if I think and see what you think and see of the flower—and I don’t.”

The “Jack-in-Pulpit” progression was O’Keeffe’s last significant flower series. While she still spent time at Lake George through the mid-1930s, she began traveling more frequently to New Mexico, where she painted subjects inspired by the desert landscape.

Jack-in-Pulpit—No. 2 and four of the other five paintings from this series remained in O’Keeffe’s personal collection until her death in 1986. She bequeathed this painting and three others to the National Gallery, and it has been shown in exhibitions of her work around the country.

—Catherine Southwick was graduate curatorial fellow at the National Museum of Women in the Arts in fall 2011. This article originally ran in the fall 2011 issue of Women in the Arts magazine, NMWA’s triannual institutional publication. To receive Women in the Arts and stay up-to-date on NMWA news and exhibitions, join as a member at www.nmwa.org or call 866-875-4627.

Notes

1. “I Can’t Sing, So I Paint! Says Ultra Realistic Artist; Art is Not Photography—It Is Expression of Inner Life!: Miss O’Keeffe Explains Subjective Aspect of Her Work,” New York Sun, December 5, 1922, quoted in Jonathan Stuhlman, Georgia O’Keeffe: Circling Around Abstraction (Manchester, VT: Hudson Hills Press, 2007), p. 22.

2. As quoted in the Whitney Museum of American Art’s Watch and Listen Audio Guides, “Georgia O’Keeffe, Jack-in-Pulpit—No. 2, 1930.”

3. Georgia O’Keeffe, “About Myself,” Georgia O’Keeffe: Exhibition of Oils and Pastels (New York: An American Place Gallery, 1939), n.p.

Women in the Arts: Take a Look at the Fall issue to Learn about Current Exhibitions and Programming!

Pick up a copy of NMWA’s fall issue of Women in the Arts for information about exhibitions, programming, and events, and preview the amazing artwork that will be on view throughout the museum’s upcoming 25th anniversary in 2012!

On the cover, Amy Lamb’s Vase of Flowers I (1999) is currently on view in Trove: The Collection in Depth (on view through January 15), an exhibition that provides a fresh focus on NMWA’s collection, exploring subjects that have been frequently depicted in art. This color-saturated, highly detailed work by Lamb, a contemporary photographer, reflects one of Trove’s themes, “Flora and Fauna.”

Maria Sibylla Merian, Plate 70 (from "Dissertation in Insect Generations and Metamorphosis in Surinam", second edition), 1719

On view in Trove: Maria Sibylla Merian, Plate 70 (from “Dissertation in Insect Generations and Metamorphosis in Surinam”, second edition), 1719; Hand-colored engraving on paper, 11 x 16 1/8 in.; Gift of Wallace and Wilhelmina Holladay

Vase of Flowers I is presented near an 18th-century oil painting by Rachel Rusych that also portrays flowers in a container, prints by 17th-century artist Maria Sibylla Merian that emphasize plants’ and animals’ intricate anatomy, and artists’ books that show how the written word can be consumed as sustenance. These juxtapositions showcase the diverse mediums and methods that women artists have used to depict plants and animals over time.

Trove also includes works that respond to themes of landscape, portraiture, family relationships, and memory. Each section—the show incorporates painting, sculpture, photography, artists’ books, silver, works on paper, and more—highlights universal themes and unique artistic responses, and celebrates, as Curator Kathryn A. Wat describes, “the richness of the museum’s collection.”

Lilian Miller, East Mountain, Kyoto Dusk, c. 1928

Lilian Miller, East Mountain, Kyoto Dusk, c. 1928; Ink on paper, 10 5/8 x 9 5/8 in.; Scripps College, Claremont, California; Gift of Robert and Marilyn Ravicz

Also featured in the fall issue, Visions of the Orient: Western Women Artists in Asia 1900–1940 (on view through January 15) is organized by the Pacific Asia Museum with the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art. Curator Kendall Brown contributed an article to Women in the Arts to describe the exhibition, which features striking imagery by four women artists—Helen Hyde, Bertha Lum, Elizabeth Keith, and Lilian “Jack” Miller—who went to Asia to learn techniques like woodblock printing and then created prints and paintings for Western audiences. As Brown describes, the show “addresses Orientalism, diverse creative reactions to Asia, and women artists’ struggles to build careers in the early 20th century.” The work reflects each artist’s personal interpretation of Asia: Hyde’s work often depicts serene, domestic settings; Lum’s pieces are full of ghostly and magical “exotica,” Keith sought to construct an “authentic” Japan by presenting its customs and costumes, and Miller’s version of Asia is powerful and atmospheric.

May Stevens, Soho Women Artists, 1978

On view in 25 x 25: May Stevens, SoHo Women Artists, 1978; Acrylic on canvas, 78 x 142 in.; Museum purchase: The Lois Pollard Price Acquisition Fund

Also in the fall issue, you’ll read about 25 x 25, a presentation of donated artwork that highlights the growth of the collection over the past quarter century. Another special work that NMWA visitors will see when they visit the museum in its 25th-anniversary year is Georgia O’Keeffe’s Jack-in-Pulpit—No. 2, on loan from the National Gallery of Art. In addition, an article by Director of the Library and Research Center Heather Slania showcases one of the LRC’s special collections, the works of artist Doris Lee.

To read the full text of these intriguing articles, as well as to discover museum news and events information, pick up a copy of Women in the Arts by visiting NMWA or becoming a member today!

—Elizabeth Lynch is the editor at the National Museum of Women in the Arts

Check out NMWA’s Summer Magazine for Interviews, Artwork, and Exhibition Information!

NMWA’s summer issue of Women in the Arts, free to members and NMWA visitors, is a great resource for information about the museum, recent events, and current exhibitions. On the cover, Jaune Quick-to-see-Smith’s Modern Times (1993) is currently on view in Pressing Ideas: Fifty Years of Women’s Lithographs from Tamarind (on view through October 2). Quick-to-see-Smith is one of the many significant women artists who have gone to Albuquerque, New Mexico, to learn the medium of lithography from the Tamarind Institute’s master printers.

Pressing Ideas also includes lithographs—reflecting a huge variety of genres and styles—from Kiki Smith, Dorothy Dehner, Margo Humphrey, Fay Ku, Polly Apfelbaum, and Diane Reyna. The Tamarind Institute has revived lithography as a medium; it was founded by the recently deceased artist June Wayne, whose “Dorothy Series,” 1975–79, was featured at NMWA in 2010. This exhibition showcases more than 70 of most impressive, creative lithographs created at the institute over the past five decades.

Image of the Guerrilla Girls, Horror on the National Mall!, 2007

Guerrilla Girls, Horror on the National Mall!, 2007; (c) Guerrilla Girls

Also featured in the summer issue, the current Guerrilla Girls exhibition, The Guerrilla Girls Talk Back (on view through October 2) was organized from two portfolios of posters, postcards, newsletters, stickers, and other objects that were donated to the museum by Steven Scott. Kathryn A. Wat, NMWA’s curator of modern and contemporary art, says that this dynamic presentation of the anonymous artist-activists’ work “illustrates the Girls’s mission to ‘make trouble’ in order to promote social change.” As Wat describes, the Girls have provoked substantive changes within the art world, but they are determined to continue shedding light on bias and discrimination: “Wielding facts, fake fur, and a ferocious commitment to exposing injustice, they fight on to promote inclusiveness in our global community.”

Susan Swartz: Seasons of the Soul at NMWA

Susan Swartz: Seasons of the Soul at NMWA

NMWA’s third special exhibition, Susan Swartz: Seasons of the Soul (on view through October 2), is highlighted through an interview: Raphael Fitzgerald, curator of exhibitions, queries Susan Swartz about her artwork, her career, and the personal stories that motivated her to feel so passionately about environmental activism. As Swartz says, “If I can make people pause and see what is real during this busy age when we all hurry through our lives, if I could make people see the unsentimental beauty of nature for one moment, then I will have met my goal. Nature is what sustains us. We seem to have forgotten this truth.”

Gail Levin, author of Lee Krasner: A Biography, discusses the book at NMWA

Gail Levin, author of Lee Krasner: A Biography, discusses the book at NMWA

In another interview in this season’s Women in the Arts, Chief Curator Jordana Pomeroy speaks with Gail Levin, the author of the first full-length biography of Lee Krasner. Levin, who visited NMWA in the spring to discuss her book, describes, “I met Krasner when I was a 22-year-old graduate student in art history, and, as our relationship developed, had the chance not only to interview her about Jackson Pollock and herself, but also to ask her questions that a young woman might ask a mentor. I asked Krasner a lot of personal questions and she discussed some things with me that she rarely talked about with anyone else.”

For the full text of these illuminating articles, as well as information about education events at the museum, shop merchandise, and upcoming exhibitions, pick up a copy of Women in the Arts by visiting NMWA or becoming a member today!

—Elizabeth Lynch is the editor at the National Museum of Women in the Arts

Hot off the Press: Winter/Spring 2011 Women in the Arts Magazine

The Winter/Spring 2011 Women in the Arts magazines are here. Stop by the museum to pick up a copy and peruse our spring exhibitions!

Cover Story:

*Eye Wonder: Photographs from the Bank of America Collection: Eye Wonder presents more than one hundred photographs made between 1865 and today that demonstrate how women photographers have long embraced the subjectivity—even the quirkiness—of the camera’s eye. By Kathryn A. Wat

Features:

*Extraordinary Women: Celebrating Art History: The first annual Feminist Art History Conference at American University honored the legacies of art historians Norma Broude and Mary D. Garrard. By Virginia Treanor

*The Art of Travel: Picturesque View of Europe by Richenda Cunningham: Cunningham exemplified the diligence of a woman who pursued her passion and enjoyed success as an artist in nineteenth-century England. By Raphael Fitzgerald

*P(art)ners: Gifts from the Heather and Tony Podesta Collection: The Podestas—speakers at the inaugural TEDWomen conference—have worked together to build a renowned collection of contemporary art, which has a focus on art by women. By Kathryn A. Wat

Also:

*Arts News: Elizabeth Turk and Susan Philipsz win big; Sylvia Sleigh and Dr. Margaret Burroughs remembered; A Musick-al tribute in Arkansas

*Culture Watch: Julie Carr, Stacy Schiff, and Jean-Dominique Rey’s new books reviewed

*Dedicated Donor: Carol and Climis Lascaris: Our endowment co-chairs talk about how supporting NMWA supports the community.

*On View: Kiki Smith, Mary Magdalene: Smith renders a sublime and invigorated rendition of a primitive woman.

Subscribe to Women in the Arts magazine by joining NMWA today! All membership levels receive unlimited free admission to the museum, a subscription to Women in the Arts, discounts in the Museum Shop and Mezzanine Cafe, and invitiations to special Member events. Call 866-875-4627, email member@nmwa.org, or visit www.nmwa.org for more information!

Hot Off the Press: Fall Issue of Women in the Arts Magazine

One of the many benefits of membership to NMWA is a subscription to Women in the Arts magazine. Last week, NMWA members received the fall issue, featuring articles about the fall exhibitions and the latest news about what is happening at NMWA and in the art world:

*The Mask as Muse: The Influence of African Art on the Life and Career of Loïs Mailou Jones, by Cheryl Finely: Loïs Mailou Jones observed, experienced, and contributed to the changing eras in the history of art of the twentieth century. The exhibition Loïs Mailou Jones: A Life in Vibrant Color is the first major retrospective of the artist, designer, and educator. Also features an article by Museum of Arts and Design curator Lowery Stokes Sims about Jones’s design career and aesthetic, and an interview with art historian David Driskell, a former student of Jones, about Jones’s teaching methods.

*History Meets Art at the DAR Museum, by Rebecca Park: The Daughters of the American Revolution Museum elects a new President General and celebrates women’s craft.

*Books Without Words: The Visual Poetry of Elisabetta Gut, by Krystyna Wasserman: Elisabetta Gut crafts artists’ books, collage-poems, object-poems, and book-objects from her dreams, memories, and love for music and poetry.

*Dearest Frieducha: The Letters of Guillermo Kahlo to His Daughter Frida, by Annette B. Ramírez de Arellano and Servando Ortoll: Guillermo’s letters reveal a relationship based on affection, respect, and a father’s desire to protect his daughter from the personality flaws they shared. Annette B. Ramírez de Arellano and Servando Ortoll look into the Nelleke Nix and Marianne Huber Collection: The Frida Kahlo Papers, donated to NMWA in 2007.

*Helping Teachers Help Students, by Deborah Gaston: The inaugural weeklong Teachers Connect Summer Institute for Washington-area teachers helps arts learning methods find their way into classrooms.

*A Series of Fortunate Decisions: Adélaide Labille-Guiard, Portrait of an Unknown Sitter, by Jordana Pomeroy: From its inscrutable hiding place in a British chimney to a comfortable home in a knife drawer to NMWA’s galleries, Adélaide Labille-Guiard’s little painting owes its existence to the guardianship of a couple for whom the smiling sitter was long at first sight.

*Lynn Hershman Leeson Documents a Revolution: Artist and Filmmaker Lynn Hershman Leeson gives us an insider’s look into the feminist art movement in her film !Women Art Revolution! A (Formerly) Secret History.

Memberships start at $40, and members receive a subscription to Women in the Arts, free museum admission, special invitations to member previews and other events, and discounts in the shop and cafe. Call toll free 866-875-4627 or email member@nmwa.org for more information!