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.

Art Fix Friday: May 6, 2016

In the U.S. “only 27% of the 590 major solo shows organized by nearly 70 institutions between 2007 and 2013 were devoted to women.” The Art Newspaper outlines how influential donors, prizes for women, and diversifying museum leadership can help rectify the gender imbalance.

Helen Molesworth, the chief curator of MOCA, says that although the art world is progressive, “that doesn’t set us apart from the larger cultural forces at play, which have for the past several hundred years promoted the idea that genius and men and power and money are all very intertwined with one another.”

Front-Page Femmes

Marisol Escobar, known in the 1960s for her wooden Pop Art sculptures, died at the age of 85.

Adriana Varejão’s hand-painted tile mural covers Rio’s 2016 Summer Olympics aquatics stadium.

Tauba Auerbach makes a large, geometric pop-up book.

Mona Hatoum’s survey includes endoscopic video of her internal organs.

Iranian cartoonist Atena Farghadani was released from prison.

A fire at German artist Rosemarie Trockel’s home damaged and destroyed more than $30 million worth of art.

Cornelia Parker installed a Hitchcock-inspired barn on the roof of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The Los Angeles Times traces 89-year-old artist Betye Saar‘s oeuvre through her recent and upcoming exhibitions.

Unnerving, surreal characters in Floria González’s photographs explore the impact of motherhood on her life.

Virginia-based teen Razan Elbaba uses photography to “break the stereotypes and significantly express the true goal of Muslim women.”

Art Basel visitors will help performance artist Alison Knowles toss a giant salad before it is served.

Heather Phillipson’s three-part installation for Frieze New York involves dog sculptures, video, trampolines, pillows and more.

The Guardian shares the @52museums Instagram project—highlighting one of NMWA’s posts.

“It’s so empowering for this generation to see a black ballerina doll that has muscles,” says Misty Copeland about the new Barbie made in her likeness.

NPR describes a new album by Anohni, formerly Antony Hegarty, as “a pop album that is simultaneously an act of dissent.”

Gabriela Burkhalter’s The Playground Project explores forgotten artistic playgrounds of the 20th century.

Sweet Lamb of Heaven, by Lydia Millet, is “an extraordinary metaphysical thriller.”

The New Yorker delves into two articles written by Harper Lee about the case that brought her to Kansas with Truman Capote.

The documentary Eva Hesse, structured around excerpts from her journals, provides a psychological portrait of the artist. Watch the trailer.

Shows We Want to See

Five women artists from the Electric Machete Studios collective locked themselves in their studio for 48 hours. The resulting works reflect the “complex identities of the women as feminists and artists.” Interventions: A Xicana & Boricua Guerrilla Perspective explores the relationship between art, feminism, and indigenous identity.

Abstract work by overlooked Victorian spiritualist Georgiana Houghton will be featured in London. The Guardian writes, “Houghton would host a seance, talk to her spirit guide and draw complex, colourful and layered watercolours.”

Carmen Herrera—now 101 years old—“distills painting to its purest elements.”

—Emily Haight is the digital editorial assistant at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Art Fix Friday: November 27, 2015

New York Times reporter Maureen Dowd interviewed over 100 men and women in the film industry, examined movie history, and relayed the experiences of female directors, showrunners, and actresses.

Women in the film industry recount stories of discrimination, stigmatization, and outright sexism. The article also shares several key statistics:

  • The six major movie studios only released three movies last year with a female director.
  • In 2013 and 2014, women were only 1.9% of the directors for the 100 top-grossing films.
  • Only two women have ever directed a $100 million big-action blockbuster
  • From 2007 through 2014, women made up only one-third of speaking roles in the 100 top fictional films.

Front-Page Femmes

The Creators Project discusses the work of French artist Prune Nourry, who created 108 Terracotta Daughters modeled after Chinese orphans.

artnet shares seven quotes by Kara Walker, in honor of the artist’s 46th birthday.

Janet Echelman uses unorthodox fiber art materials to make building-sized sculptures.

Campaigners in Scotland want a series of memorial sculptures commemorating the country’s forgotten and unsung heroines.

Food artist Prudence Staite rendered a Nativity scene entirely of cheese.

Elle lists 14 powerful women in today’s art scene, including 100-year-old painter Carmen Herrera.

NMWA artist Chakaia Booker creates a massive sculptural tire work for the Smithsonian’s Renwick Gallery.

The New York Times reports that Art Basel Miami Beach includes a significant number of women artists.

Angela Palmer engraves glass sculptures with details taken from MRI and CT scans.

London-based artist Celina Teague explores the statement that “people don’t have faith in female artists.”

Buzzfeed shares photos of German-born American painter and sculptor Eva Hesse.

Beijing banned an art exhibition about feminism and domestic violence.

Juliana Huxtable’s commissioned performance work at the Museum of Modern Art “weaves together a string of reference paths as varied as historical cosplay, club aesthetics, and Internet archeology.”

Performance artist Karen Finley impersonates the widowed Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis in The Jackie Look.

The Huffington Post outlines arguments for and against using the term “women artists.”

Boston’s mayor declared November 20, 2015 “Corita Kent Day” in honor of what would have been the late nun and artist’s 97th birthday.

The pop music of Los Angeles-based composer Julia Holter and Colombian musician Lucrecia Dalt confront expectations of female artists.

Amy Berg’s documentary, Janis: Little Girl Blue, “sustains a double vision of both the child and the hard-living folk-blues mama Joplin became.”

The Guardian writes “a wider range of female voices is finally being heard” and praises a new generation of women playwrights.

The New Yorker investigates the motivations behind Patricia Highsmith’s The Price of Salt.

Shows We Want to See

Public Works: Artists’ Interventions 1970s–Now features photos, prints, audio, video, and installations by 23 women artists who “explore the inherent politics and social conditions of creating art in public space.” The artists represented include Tania Bruguera, Tatyana Fazlalizadeh, the Guerrilla Girls, and Jenny Holzer.

Tracey Emin’s pensive exhibition, I Cried Because I Love You, will include sketches, embroidered works, and art created from neon lights and bronze.

Wild Girl: Gertrude Hermes is the first major exhibition in 30 years to showcase the sculptor’s works. Apollo Magazine says, “Hermes defied critical snobbery with sculptures made from found materials, including skittles from the local pub.”

—Emily Haight is the digital editorial assistant at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Tied in Knots: Eva Hesse

Perhaps in reaction to Minimalism, Eva Hesse once remarked, “What makes a tight circle or a tight little square box more of an intellectual statement than something done emotionally, I don’t know.”

While sculptors like Donald Judd and Tony Smith created repetitive and flawless geometric forms, Hesse’s sculptures embraced the imperfect. While Minimalists erased the hand of the artist, Hesse emphasized it through molding synthetic and commercial materials including latex, polymer resin, fiberglass, and rope into organic and individualized forms. Themes of opposing forces are often at play in Hesse’s work: masculine and feminine, hard and soft, liberation and confinement. While she used materials commonly associated with industrial plants and masculinity, her labor-intensive methods of twisting, winding, and wrapping were traditionally perceived as feminine. This contrast creates a sense of tension, which her sculptures consistently explore.

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

Like many sculptors, Hesse created three-dimensional studies for later works. Though these studies primarily laid the foundation for her final projects, they can also be considered on their own terms. Study for Sculpture, in NMWA’s collection, is one such work. This sculpture typifies Hesse’s style. She used unusual materials including Elmer’s glue, cord, and varnished Masonite to create a nine-by-nine-inch grid of hanging cords. Although the placement of the cords suggests an orderly arrangement of columns, they are spaced slightly unevenly. The limpness of the cords contrasts with the tightly-tied knots on the end of each. Viewers might sense the weight of those knots, physically pulling down the cords. The hand-worked feeling of the grid’s surface contradicts its dull gray finish, making it more dynamic and less uniform. Overall, Hesse’s sculptures are complicated and deeply nuanced. The more time viewers spend with them, looking closely, the more they reveal.

While feminism is often discussed in the context of Hesse’s art, she did not specifically identify as a feminist. However, her experience as a woman influenced her work, which, in turn, cleared a path for other women artists to follow. She inspired countless artists engaging with feminism in the 1960s and ’70s. Her work pushed boundaries by breaking open the mold of Minimalism and instilling it with a deeper psychology and depth. Today she is recognized as one of the most innovative sculptors working in the post-war period. Come spend some time with Eva Hesse’s Study for Sculpture in Pathmakers: Women in Art, Craft, and Design, Midcentury and Today, on view through February 28, 2016.

—Marina MacLatchie is the education and digital engagement intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

5 Fast Facts: Petah Coyne

Impress your friends with five fast facts about Petah Coyne (b. 1953), whose work is on view at NMWA.

Petah Coyne (b.1953)

Petah Coyne, Untitled #781, 1994; Wax, plastic, cloth, and steel, Gift of Steven Scott, Baltimore, in honor of the artist; © Petah Coyne, Courtesy of Galerie Lelong, New York

Petah Coyne, Untitled #781, 1994; Wax, plastic, cloth, and steel, Gift of Steven Scott, Baltimore, in honor of the artist; © Petah Coyne, Courtesy of Galerie Lelong, New York

1. Multitalented Maven

Although she is known for her sculptures, Coyne double-majored in photography and printmaking at the Art Academy of Cincinnati. Coyne reconnected with photography while traveling. Using handmade pinhole cameras, she creates abstract photographs focusing on subjects’ movements rather than their forms.

2. It’s Personal

Coyne’s personal experiences influence her work, but she also leaves them open to interpretation. When confronted with her sculptures, viewers often compare them to layer cakes, wedding gowns, chandeliers, overstated summer hats, bird cages, and more. What does her work evoke for you?

3. Little Women

Coyne views her sculptures as extensions of herself, and refers to them as “my girls.”

coyne-galleries

Untitled #781 in NMWA’s galleries

4. Sparking Interest

For her first wax work, Coyne constructed a hat for a friend using hot glue, wire, and candles. When she lit the candles, the glue ignited and the hat went up in flames!

5. Inspiring Company

Untitled #781 hangs in NMWA’s third floor sculpture gallery. When Coyne started working, she was inspired by two other artists who suspended large works from the ceiling: Eva Hesse and Louise Bourgeois.

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