High Profile: Bettina von Zwehl

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.

Bettina von Zwehl (b. 1971, Munich, Germany)

Bettina von Zwehl, Profiles III, No. 6, 2005; Lambda print, 52 1/2 x 41 7/8 in.; Courtesy of the artist and Purdy Hicks Gallery; © Bettina von Zwehl

As a teenager, Bettina von Zwehl photographed friends for fun. Ever since she has been fascinated with the human form. Von Zwehl produces tight, focused portraits that seek to capture the spirit of her subjects. Although she initially favored eliciting natural responses from her sitters, von Zwehl shifted her focus toward carefully crafted profiles. The artist’s deep appreciation of classical portraiture found on medals, coins, and painted miniatures drives her photographs, combining traditional aesthetics and modern art forms. Striving to escape sentimentality, von Zwehl constructs portrayals that limit the view of her subjects’ faces without robbing them of their individual characteristics.

The Artist’s Voice:

“For almost a decade I have been researching the human profile and the hierarchic approach to portraiture that was applied during the Italian Renaissance. There is an uncanny quality to viewing a person in profile, related to what remains invisible and untold. This method of representation may have a cold, rigid aspect, with no indication of the subject’s true character or emotion. To me it is one of the most powerful ways of representing a person.”—Bettina von Zwehl, in an artist statement

Left to right: Installation of Bettina von Zwehl’s Profiles III , a photograph by Deborah Paauwe, and Bettina von Zwehl’s The Sessions; Photography by Lee Stalsworth, Fine Art through Photography, LLC

Revival Highlight:

Von Zwehl’s works in Revival demonstrate her capacity to work on both a small and a large scale. While three portraits from her series Profiles III (2005) loom over the viewer, presenting each child’s profile in extreme detail, The Sessions (2016) on the opposite wall displays 50 small, uniquely torn images of a young girl’s silhouette.

Von Zwehl upends traditional ideas about portraiture as a direct means for exposing character and emotion. Her larger-than-life images of toddlers in Profiles III seem to capture some personality traits, but their profile format keeps much information hidden. Viewers are unable to meet the child’s gaze in each portrait. Von Zwehl’s subjects appear independent, their existence separate from adults.

Left: A visitor studies The Sessions; Right: Bettina von Zwehl, The Sessions (detail), 2016; 50 gelatin silver prints, Dimensions variable; Courtesy of the artist and Purdy Hicks Gallery; © Bettina von Zwehl

Drawing inspiration from painted miniatures made in Victorian England, von Zwehl conceals her subject’s identity by depicting her in silhouette for The Sessions. Each torn profile reveals a different aspect of the girl, showcasing the complexity of her character through many variations on a single take. This work’s title and the 50 photographs composing it collectively refer to psychoanalytic sessions and the duration in minutes of each meeting. Inspired by Anna Freud’s pioneering work in child analysis, von Zwehl’s photographs embody Freud’s belief that the mental health of even the youngest child is complex, vital, and deserving of support. By rejecting the reduction of children to relational beings and preserving their autonomy, von Zwehl hints at society’s fragmented understanding of its youngest members.

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

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

Crocheted Creatures: Joana Vasconcelos

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.

Joana Vasconcelos, Tsarina, 2015; Rafael Bordalo Pinheiro faience, ceramic glaze, and Azores crocheted lace, 55 1/8 x 27 1/2 x 39 3/8 in.; Collection of the artist; © Joana Vasconcelos

Joana Vasconcelos (b. 1971, Paris, France)

Joana Vasconcelos grew up traveling to museums across the globe with her family and her work expresses sensibilities cultivated during that time. Vasconcelos is interested in expressing universal themes through techniques and materials that are traditionally identified as Portuguese. “My creative process is based upon the appropriation, de-contextualization and subversion of pre-existent objects and everyday realities,” says the artist. Vasconcelos combines the exaggerated scale of her sculptures with the delicacy of traditionally feminine handcraft. Her explorations of the paradoxical dichotomies between power and vulnerability captivate audiences, prompting them to engage with her work.

Left to right: A museum visitor with Joana Vasconcelos’s Viriato (2005), Senator (2017), and Tsarina  (2015) next to a hanging work by Sonia Gomes in Revival

The Artist’s Voice:

“The use of crochet and the compartmentalization of forms restates the idea that we often act and live divorced from our conscience, that we don’t question our perceptions enough. Lace is paradoxical in that it was used by Portuguese women to fill the emptiness of their lives; it was the only means of expression available, the sole response to an absolutely passive social situation.”

“Lace decorates and protects, but protection is another manifestation of imprisonment. It’s for the spectator to decide what the crochet means for him, whether it’s showpiece or dungeon.”—Joana Vasconcelos, in an interview published in Joana Vasconcelos: Versailles (LeYa, 2012)

Joana Vasconcelos, Senator, 2017; Rafael Bordalo Pinheiro faience, ceramic glaze, and Azores crocheted lace, 34 5/8 x 21 1/4 x 23 5/8 in.; Collection of the artist; © Joana Vasconcelos; Photo © Unidade Infinita Projectos

Revival Highlight:

Vasconcelos’s works in Revival question viewers’ assumptions about nature. She presents large, mass-produced forms of a German shepherd, an enlarged snail, and a larger-than-life wasp—their forms covered in patterned lace. Rather than simply delight viewers, the over-sized representations of these creatures unsettle, startle, and even frighten the viewer. The intricate crochet encasing them raises more questions. Does the lace protect or imprison these animals? Does lace adorn the creatures or hide something treacherous about them?

Vasconcelos combines mass-produced lawn ornaments made in Portugal with Azores lace. Although lawn decorations and crocheted works are often associated with domesticity, Vasconcelos transforms them into high art, challenging the art establishment’s traditional conceptions of artistic value. Within the ambiguity of her combined symbols, she reveals the face of domesticity, its double-binding nature of simultaneous entrapment and protection.

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

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

Every Rose Has Its Thorn: Alison Saar

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.

Alison Saar (b. 1956, Los Angeles, CA)

Alison Saar’s mother, acclaimed assemblagist Betye Saar, exposed her to the rich mythology of many non-Western traditions. She also learned from her father, a painter and art conservator. Her signature sculptures evoke German Expressionist work in robustness, reference Greek or African mythology in name or form, and often seek to address historical or contemporary social issues in the United States. A master of varied mediums, Saar places special emphasis on the tactility of handcraft, never afraid to experiment with finding new forms for her ideas.

Alison Saar, Tippy Toes, 2007; Wood and cast bronze, 59 x 23 x 23 in.; North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh, Gift of the Friends of African and African American Art, 2008.2 © Alison Saar

The Artist’s Voice:

“…It was really poignant to me, this idea that a work of art could, somehow, turn a page, or shed a light, or lead back to a source. And that’s one of the things that’s exciting about being an artist; that your work threads people to other places, and not necessarily in straight lines.”—Alison Saar, in an interview with BOMB Magazine

“I realized that by changing the function of objects, I could transform information and work ‘magic.’”—Alison Saar, in “The Saar System” in Mirabella (July 1992)

Revival Highlight:

The theme of hardship unites Saar’s works in Revival. The bodies of her figures often seem challenged, confined, or undermined by external obstacles or internal conflict, although they appear stoic in the face of suffering. Figures in many of Saar’s recent sculptures seem to suffer stabs of pain and loss by touching or consuming brambles. The motif speaks to broader themes of fertility, life cycles, human vulnerability, and hope.

Installation view of Alison Saar’s Barreness (2017)

Although the bramble’s thorns seem insidious at first, figures in works such as Tippy Toes (2007) and Barreness (2017) call that association into question. The brambles encircle and suspend the figure in Tippy Toes, uplifting while also trapping her. However, she appears calm, with her hands outstretched in a welcoming gesture. In Barreness, thorns germinate from the figure’s womb. The punning title of this sculpture plays on two words: “barrenness,” the incapability of producing offspring, and “baroness,” the title given to the wife of a baron, or to a woman who holds the title by her own right.

These suggestions of the “in-between” explore the conflicting identities often thrust upon women of color in an attempt to curtail or categorize them. As a biracial artist, Saar is interested in the complexity of personal history that rejects tidy categories.

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

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

“Bossy” Blue Gowns: Beverly Semmes

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 Beverly Semmes’s Blue Gowns (1993); Photo: Emily Haight, NMWA

Beverly Semmes (b. 1958, Washington, D.C)

Beverly Semmes currently resides in New York City. Semmes graduated from Tufts University with degrees in Fine Arts and History before pursuing an MFA in sculpture at Yale University. She currently teaches at the Steinhardt School of New York University and the Pratt Institute while continuing her art practice. Semmes works with a wide variety of media, including fabric, glass, drawing, photography, and performance.

Detail view of Blue Gowns

The Artist’s Voice:

“I’m looking for an open-upness quality in the forms, a place where the work is breathing. . . . Thinking about the big dress pieces, I see a certain crudeness in them. They probably end up looking quite refined, things made out of velvet or organza.”—Beverly Semmes, in conversation with Ian Berry

“Many of my sculptures from the ’90s were designed to take up space. The viewer is pushed way to the side; you can’t really walk into the room.”—Beverly Semmes, in an interview with Artforum

Revival Highlight:

Created using chiffon and crushed velvet, Beverly Semmes’s Blue Gowns (1993) aggressively fills a gallery in Revival. Pinned to the wall and flowing onto the gallery floor, these three over-sized dresses resemble cascading waterfalls or female bodies expanding in space. This relationship between the body and the landscape is further enhanced by the texture of the materials.

Visitors study Beverly Semmes’s work; NMWA, © Yassine El Mansouri

The artist’s dress installations epitomize a strong impulse that emerged among women artists in the 1990s to make work that was tactile, intimate, sensuous, messy, or excessive. Semmes tweaks conventional ideas about women, fabric, and craft by working on a monumental scale that emphasizes movement and sensation rather than dainty handwork and industriousness.

The installation also creates an immersive experience for the viewer. Semmes’s gowns force viewers to the periphery of the room, presenting the female body as dominant. The work challenges conventional expectations about how women occupy space.

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.

Humanly Possible: Patricia Piccinini

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 Patricia Piccinini’s The Young Family; © Yassine El Mansouri

Patricia Piccinini (b. 1965, Freetown, Sierra Leone)

Patricia Piccinini lives and works in Melbourne, Australia. She earned a degree in Economic History before studying painting at the Victorian College of the Arts. In 2016, she received a doctorate in Visual and Performing Arts from the University of Melbourne, where she currently teaches. Piccinini’s work primarily explores the relationships between the natural and constructed worlds, creating hybrid creatures and machines that are simultaneously beautiful and grotesque. Focusing on ideas rather than methods, Piccinini translates her thoughts through a variety of media, including drawing, painting, sculpture, video, sound, installation, and digital prints.

The Artist’s Voice:

“My work aims to shift the way that people look at the world around them, and question their assumptions about the relationships they have with the world. I am especially interested in things that fall outside of our traditional ideas of normal or beautiful, or that step across the boundaries that we erect between things. How does contemporary technology and culture change our understanding of what it means to be human? What is our relationship with—and responsibilities towards—that which we create?”—Patricia Piccinini, in an interview with The Condition Report

“My work is all imagined. It’s all imagined in a place that is not far ahead of the space we live in now. I often think it’s about the world we live in actually. . . . But sometimes people think that I’ve got the solutions to what’s going to happen in the future and that in fact my work is a sort of precautionary tale or something of that nature, when in fact I really don’t have the answers.”—Patricia Piccinini, in a video interview with Centenary of Canberra

Patricia Piccinini, The Young Family, 2002; Silicone, acrylic, human hair, leather, and wood, 36 x 65 x 50 in.; NMWA, Gift of The Heather and Tony Podesta Collection; © Patricia Piccinini

Revival Highlight:

Piccinini’s The Young Family (2002) depicts transgenic beings—organisms into which genetic material from an unrelated organism has been artificially introduced. The artist collaborates with specialists from various fields of contemporary industrial manufacture to make her ideas a reality. Constructed using silicone, acrylic, human hair, leather, and wood, the sculpture shares human and animal features, eliciting both disgust and empathy from the viewer. Piccinini’s imagining of these hybrid creatures takes the form of a mother figure nursing her young. The central creature seems to have a familiar, maternal gaze, but also appears to have much more alien physiognomy. This unsettling juxtaposition sparks conversation about society’s preparedness for the ethical and emotional results of genetic manipulations.

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.

Veiled Meaning: Deborah Paauwe

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.

Deborah Paauwe (b. 1972, West Chester, Pennsylvania)

Deborah Paauwe, Night Swimming, 2002; Chromogenic color print, 47 1/4 x 47 1/4 in.; NMWA, Gift of The Heather and Tony Podesta Collection

Deborah Paauwe’s interest in photography began when she took a series of self-portraits in her youth, delighting in the potential for self-revelation through tightly focused images. This fascination takes a seemingly paradoxical form in her work. Her subjects expose their bodies to the lens even as their faces remain hidden. By concealing their expressions and identities from the viewer’s gaze, Paauwe’s subjects seem both innocent and sensual.

Paauwe cites late Victorian figure painting and the tradition of concealing feelings through blank facial expressions among her sources of inspiration. The artist’s concealment of her subjects’ faces only heightens the ambiguous tension present in her work, exploring the space between friendship and hostility, innocence and sensuality, childhood and adulthood.

The Artist’s Voice:

“This sense of floating between stages is what fascinates me. As children we live in the moment but also look forward into the unknown. As adults we can drift back and forth between memory and the present…childhood always exists for us in memory. It is this state of ambiguity that surrounds identity that intrigues me.”

“I have at times both disturbed and delighted people with my images. Most of my works are constructed out of quite innocent and child-like experiences that some viewers have chosen to interpret in particularly dark and sexual ways. Though I quite readily acknowledge the validity of those interpretations it has never been my aim to create just overtly sexual imagery, it is the duality of the situations within my photographs that compels alternate readings.”—Deborah Paauwe, in an interview with Photofile

Deborah Paauwe, Tangled Whisper, 2004; Chromogenic print, 70 7/8 x 70 7/8 in.; NMWA, Gift of The Heather and Tony Podesta Collection; ; © 2017 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / VISCOPY, Australia; Photo by Lee Stalsworth

Revival Highlight:

Paauwe’s works Night Swimming (2002) and Lime Dream (2002) hone in on two pairs of legs, veiled by gauzy fabric. Rather than portraying her subjects as idealized, smooth-skinned objects of desire, Pauuwe often shows goosebumps dotting the girls’ legs and hangnails and blemishes on their hands. The girls portrayed are beautiful, but ultimately human. Pauuwe rejects any uncomfortable idealization or even fetishization of her subjects by embracing their imperfections.

Paauwe evokes the performative nature of social interactions between teenage girls in Tangled Whisper (2004) and Tender Locks (2004). The photographs portray two girls in what might be friendly, sensual, or tense situations. Contrast between the dark background and brightly lit subjects imbues the images with sinister undertones. Paauwe uses the body as a venue for possibilities and ambiguities, suggesting raw elegance in a state of liminality.

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

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

Growing Pains: Maria Marshall

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.

Maria Marshall (b. 1966, Bombay, India)

Although Maria Marshall began her career as a sculptor, her fascination with film led her to explore the short video as an art form. Marshall credits filmmakers with inspiring the lean visual narratives she so adeptly maneuvers. Despite frequently featuring her own children in fantasies inspired by parental fear, her video works and photography never quite fall into the category of autobiography. They straddle the division between personal and universal, serving as “concise metaphors” for the fear lurking in each viewer’s subconscious. Marshall’s surreal images promise narrative but deliver further intrigue. The often dreamlike atmosphere of her photos and video works hint at a setting where the imaginary blends with reality, and assumptions clash with truth.

Maria Marshall, Future Perfect, 1998; Iris print, 56 x 39 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Heather and Tony Podesta Collection, Washington, D.C.

The Artist’s Voice:

“My work is very constructed, and I have learned a great deal from filmmakers in this regard. . . . I also look for clean visual information. The language of film is full to the brim of seduction. I like beauty and I like to draw in the viewer, so I get very moved by certain sequences.”

“I purposefully try to create confusion, to muddle the boundaries. . . . I try to make films that go directly to the psyche, that probe it and manipulate it.”—Maria Marshall, in an interview published in Maria Marshall (modo Verlag, 2002)

Revival Highlight:

According to Marshall, her oeuvre stems from fear. Her works featured in Revival are no exception. Striking images of a toddler smoking, a boy in a fur coat, and a rat standing on a child’s head not only catch the viewer’s eye, but may also elicit outrage or concern. Through the portrayal of her own children in apparent moments of endangerment, Marshall plays on traditional conceptions of children as innocent or passive, asserting their personhood with unconventional tactics. Even as she plays on the audience’s expectations, however, she admits her own concerns as a mother unable to protect her children from the harsh realities of the outside world.

Future Perfect (1998) further reflects these complex feelings about growing children. While an adult might scrutinize rats due to the fraught associations they summon, the boy seems accepting of the live rat standing on his head. Whether this reveals his trusting, childish innocence, or a mature acceptance beyond what adults expect, Marshall reveals an incongruity between children and their parents, a dissonance that forms the core of her work in expressing anxiety while acknowledging a parent’s tendency to project. The title of the work alludes to the grammatical tense for a completed future action, hinting at an ambiguous but foregone conclusion.

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

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

Call of the Wild: Polly Morgan

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 Polly Morgan's Receiver in Revival

Installation view of Polly Morgan’s Receiver in Revival

Polly Morgan (b. 1980, Banbury, Oxfordshire, England)

Growing up in the countryside, Polly Morgan always had a pack of unusual pets keeping her company, forcing her to learn about living with animals. Only after she moved to London did she realize how fascinating their bodies became in death. Today, Morgan makes a career out of crafting haunting sculptures from taxidermy animal carcasses.

Morgan’s work straddles scientific and artistic disciplines. Although she follows in the footsteps of scientific convention, she endows even this process a meaning beyond preservation. Her work forces viewers to contemplate death even as she incorporates taxidermy animals into vibrant sculptures, marking a simultaneous rejection and acceptance of death’s place in life.

The Artist’s Voice:

“I’m not a morbid person, I’m actually really optimistic. I hate the fact that death hangs over us all our lives. I see [the aesthetic of the body] as a raw material to work with; with no soul left, the body becomes a beautiful ornament.”—Polly Morgan, interview in The Independent

“Taxidermy is an ultimately futile effort to harness nature, it allows us to manipulate and control the body of an animal in a way we would struggle, or in my case would not wish, to in life. . . . Most objects can be art; a urinal, a bed, etc. A dead animal presents a problem in that it decays and can therefore only exist a finite amount of time before being altered irrevocably. Taxidermy has thus allowed me to incorporate animals in my work the way other sculptors use ‘found objects.’”—Polly Morgan, interview in Broad Strokes

Polly Morgan, Receiver, 2009; Taxidermy quail chicks and Bakelite telephone handset, 9 x 2 1/2 x 3 1/2 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Ilene Gutman; © Polly Morgan; Photo by Lee Stalsworth

Polly Morgan, Receiver, 2009; Taxidermy quail chicks and Bakelite telephone handset, 9 x 2 1/2 x 3 1/2 in.; NMWA, Gift of Ilene Gutman; © Polly Morgan; Photo by Lee Stalsworth

Revival Highlight:

Receiver (2009), featured in Revival, illustrates Morgan’s capacity for duality in her work. In this piece seven chicks poke their heads from the receiver end of a telephone, beaks agape. Though their tiny heads and nestled bodies imply a tender helplessness in youth, the mere sight of their open beaks evokes a grating shrill in the viewer’s mind.

Morgan incorporates the natural into the artificial, drawing revealing parallels between the chicks and their unexpected nest. Despite representing the possibility of tender interpersonal connection, too often technology like the telephone becomes an outlet for aggression rather than affection, replacing compassion with confrontation. Even as the chicks evoke nurturing tenderness in the viewer, their implied proximity to the listener’s ear makes their pleas a confrontational disruption to gentler discourse. By combining the natural and artificial Morgan draws discomfort from what should represent convenience, calling into question the intention and functional use behind communicative technology such as the phone through deliberate visual dissonance. 

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

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

Falling into Place: Charlotte Gyllenhammar

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.

Charlotte Gyllenhammar (b. 1963, Gothenburg, Sweden)

Although Charlotte Gyllenhammar studied painting in art school, her work consists primarily of film and three-dimensional installations. Even after this shift in medium, a painterly sensibility continues to inform her work. Gyllenhammar often incorporates projections and sculptures to create spatial complexity. Her work invites the viewer into an emotionally charged dialogue through intense contrast between images. By employing the surreal, she masks the familiar in an unfamiliar guise, calling the viewer’s concepts of normalcy into question. Her pieces frequently engage with themes such as inversion, sight, and loss of innocence.

The Artist’s Voice: 

“My sculptures are sort of falling, and falling forward, or throwing themselves, and hanging, and hovering, and falling, so I think I have that kind of dynamic—these poles of the more passive, implicit and the more active, explicit.”

“I’m fascinated by that sort of living, sleeping, breathing, resting, and the sort of ultimate point, death. . . . And you don’t know when, you don’t know how, but we know that. But I find it very hard to accept that we are going to die. That’s kind of an unbearable thought that I tried to get used to.”—Charlotte Gyllenhammar, interview in The Parlor

Revival Highlight:

Unrest and repose become bedfellows in Charlotte Gyllenhammar’s Fall (1999), a two-screen video installation featured in Revival. Projected on the ceiling, the video shows a woman hanging upside down, her extravagant dress billowing around her. On the floor another projection shows two men sleeping in a narrow bed. Their occasional movement seems less like an acknowledgement of her frustrated struggles and more like a mundane nighttime reflex.

Charlotte Gyllenhammar, Fall, 1999; Video installation, dimensions variable; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Heather and Tony Podesta Collection; © Charlotte Gyllenhammar; Installation photos by Stefan Bohlin

Charlotte Gyllenhammar, Fall, 1999; Video installation, dimensions variable; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Heather and Tony Podesta Collection; © Charlotte Gyllenhammar; Installation photos by Stefan Bohlin

Rather than employ traditional narratives, Gyllenhammar seeks meaning in contradiction and contrasting visions. While the woman appears trapped by her suspension, the unconventional angle makes it seems as though she is floating freely. Her solitary struggle contrasts with the men’s peaceful companionship, lending a sense of complicity to their rest. Yet even as this unawareness becomes an accomplice in her discomfort, their innocence shields them from even acknowledging her.

Gyllenhammar’s fascination with sight and seeing comes into play as well. The screens function as windows, allowing viewers to observe the characters like voyeurs. What visitors see reverses the dynamics of vulnerability. Although the hanging woman appears vulnerable through the unwilling exposure of her body, she retains agency in the camera’s concealment of that exposure. The men slumber in a safer environment, yet suffer complete exposure to the audience, completely open and vulnerable in their lack of awareness. Attentive to the unseen as well as the seen, Gyllenhammar crafts a scene that leaves viewers hanging, unsettled but ultimately intrigued.

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

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

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.