An Artistic Tribute: Women Painting Women

Artists May Stevens and Faith Ringgold highlight other prominent women artists through paintings currently on display in the museum’s third-floor galleries. Stevens and Ringgold chose their subjects for their impact on the arts as well as broader social issues. Stevens’s SoHo Women Artists and Ringgold’s Jo Baker’s Bananas share common themes: women celebrating women, artists honoring artists, and women reclaiming their places in history.

May Stevens, Soho Women Artists, 1978; Acrylic on canvas, 78 x 142 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Museum purchase: The Lois Pollard Price Acquisition Fund

May Stevens, SoHo Women Artists, 1978; Acrylic on canvas, 78 x 142 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Museum purchase: The Lois Pollard Price Acquisition Fund

In SoHo Women Artists (1978), Stevens includes a self-portrait along with depictions of artist Miriam Schapiro and critic Lucy Lippard—two other members of the collective and feminist journal Heresies: A Feminist Publication on Art and Politics. In addition, Stevens depicts other friends and neighbors who helped shape the 1970s feminist art revolution in New York City, including artists Harmony Hammond, Joyce Kozloff, Louise Bourgeois, and Sarah Charlesworth.

Stevens’s frieze-like composition is reminiscent of traditional western history paintings, which praised important thinkers but often excluded women. Through depictions of her contemporaries, Stevens emphasizes her friends’ influential roles in advancing the feminist movement. Working from candid snapshots of her friends, Stevens captures their respective personalities. Although each figure is distinct, they are layered to form a cohesive unit. Overall, the monumental painting embodies a sense of collaboration, friendship, and celebration.

Installation view of Faith Ringgold’s Jo Baker’s Bananas; Photo: Madeline Barnes, NMWA

Installation view of Faith Ringgold’s Jo Baker’s Bananas; Photo: Madeline Barnes, NMWA

Ringgold’s Jo Baker’s Bananas (1997) honors the world-famous dancer Josephine Baker (1906–1975), who gained renown in her adoptive country of France during the 1920s. Ringgold captures Baker’s vivacious personality through five iterations. Each of the five portrayals shows Baker with a wide smile, expressive gestures, and costumed in her iconic skirt made up of artificial bananas. The overlapping, sequential arrangement of the figures across the canvas makes it seem as though Baker is in motion, performing one of her signature dances. Through these images, along with depictions of musicians, audience members, and boldly colored patterns, Ringgold creates an atmosphere of celebration.

Jo Baker’s Bananas references nostalgia for the jazz age, but also pays homage to Baker. Upon her return to the U.S., Baker refused to perform for segregated audiences and became a civil rights leader. Ringgold has portrayed Baker several times, including in the painting Jo Baker’s Birthday and the mosaic mural Flying Home Harlem Heroes and Heroines.

Because women artists have often been overlooked and ignored in the history of art, it is rewarding to see women artists celebrated by other women artists. May Stevens and Faith Ringgold recognize and praise the significant social and artistic contributions made by other great women.

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

Art Fix Friday: January 20, 2017

Women artists made headlines this week through a series of projects responding to the Presidential Inauguration. The Nasty Women Art Exhibition, which was held at the Knockdown Center in Queens, New York, raised more than $42,000 in proceeds for Planned Parenthood. The Guardian and the Huffington Post explore how the exhibition came together. Mutual Art shares stories of the famous “nasty women” of art history and their pivotal works. Artemisia Gentileschi, Faith Ringgold, and Yoko Ono make the list.

Françoise Mouly, art director of The New Yorker, and her daughter, Nadja Spiegelman, received more than 1,000 submissions for RESIST!. The 40-page tabloid newspaper of comics and cartoons will be available around the country.

The We Make America group prepares for the Women’s Marches on Washington and New York by making signs, props, and banners to carry. War on Women, a self-described “feminist hardcore punk band,” inspires a series of protest postersArtist Coralina Meyer asks for contributions of used women’s underwear to make a quilt to fly at the Women’s March on Washington. Hyperallergic calls the project a “welcoming beacon for those hoping to air the nation’s dirty laundry.”

Front-Page Femmes

NO MAN’S LAND artist Jennifer Rubell created a five-foot-tall orange cookie jar resembling one of Hillary Clinton’s iconic pantsuits. The sculpture, Vessel, will be filled with cookies made using Clinton’s oatmeal chocolate chip cookie recipe.

Mickalene Thomas discusses her portraits of Michelle Obama and Solange Knowles.

In a tribute to President Obama, artist Emily Spivack opens the retail store “Medium White Tee”—a one-month installation at the Honolulu Museum of Art.

artnet shares a list of women artists whose works top the auction charts.

Hyperallergic says works by Elizabeth Murray “are so alive they leap off the wall.”

The Creators Project explores Pat Steir’s “Waterfall” series.

The documentary film Girl Power explores the lives of more than 25 women graffiti writers.

The Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film shows that only 7% of all directors working on the 250 highest-grossing domestic releases last year were women—2% less than the year before.

The New Yorker delves into Zadie Smith’s fifth novel, Swing Time.

Shows We Want to See

A focused exhibition featuring the work of American artist Barbara Kruger closes this Sunday at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.

Georgia O’Keeffe: Living Modern, opening March 3, 2017 at the Brooklyn Museum, will examine O’Keeffe’s “enduring influence.”

In advance of her retrospective, Lubaina Himid discusses how black British art evolved over the past three decades. Himid says, “I was trying to place black people into historical events, to make the invisible more visible.”

Terrains of the Body, on view at London’s Whitechapel Gallery, consists of photographs and a video work on loan from the National Museum of Women in the Arts. The Telegraphs calls the exhibition a “quiet, intelligent protest.”

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

Art Fix Friday: December 9, 2016

NO MAN’S LAND artist Helen Marten wins the 2016 Turner Prize. Marten also won the inaugural Hepworth Prize for Sculpture this month.

The Guardian and ARTnews discuss Marten’s successes. The London-based sculptor vowed to split the money from both prizes with her fellow nominees. Tate Britain director Alex Farquharson says that Marten’s work “reflects the condition of the world and particularly the condition of the visual world, one that is always accelerating, especially under the influence of the internet.”

Front-Page Femmes

Two-person art collective Soda_Jerk receives the $100,000 Ian Potter Moving Image Commission.

Lorraine O’Grady lip-syncs to Anohni’s “Marrow” in a new music video.

Faith Ringgold says, “You can’t have art of any kind without freedom of speech.”

Palestinian artist Inas Halabi’s award-winning video Mnemosyne features 17 members of her family telling the story of her grandfather’s scar.

A new study finds that “women are consistently earning less than men in the arts.

Dorothea Lange’s censored photographs of Japanese internment camps were largely unseen and unpublished until 2006.

Lydia Polgreen is named editor-in-chief of The Huffington Post.

FKA twigs documents dance workshops she held with 400 dancers from the Baltimore area.

Natalie Frank and Zoe Buckman use politicians’ sexist statements from the last 20 years to make a mural.

A towering cedar sculpture by Ursula von Rydingsvard was blamed for the hospitalization of over a dozen FBI employees, though there is no known evidence to link the two.

Becca Klaver‘s collection of poetry, Empire Wasted, “taps into the current zeitgeist.”

The Creators Project highlights works by women photographers at Art Basel Miami.

The New Yorker highlights Zora Neale Hurston’s life and work.

Emily Dickinson wrote on “scavenged paper: the flap of a manila envelope, the backs of letters, chocolate wrappers, bits of newspaper.”

New works by writers Dava Sobel and Siri Hustvedt “examine how women have succeeded in the arts and sciences, often through channels men weren’t interested in taking.”

Nina Collins publishes a book of short stories written by her late mother, filmmaker Kathleen Collins, titled Whatever Happened to Interracial Love?

Beyoncé is the woman artist with the most Grammy nominations of all time.

Shows We Want to See

The exhibition Beyond Mammy, Jezebel, & Sapphire: Reclaiming Images of Black Women “deconstructs the limiting categorizations mainstream culture allows black women.”

“Sophistical symbol user” Betye Saar showcases assemblages from her 50-year career in Betye Saar: Uneasy Dancer.

The Museum of Contemporary Art in Denver features more than 60 works by Kim Dickey, including biomorphic objects and ceramic representations of garden mazes. The exhibition “subtly and surprisingly highlights the influence that objects and architecture have in shaping perception,” writes Hyperallergic.

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