Super Natural

A detailed engraving portrays a large, black and tan lizard in precise detail. Facing right and positioned in front of a gray rock, the reptile extends its red, forked tongue. The reptile curls its lengthy tail into an O-shape suspended decoratively above its scaly torso.
Jun 05 to Sep 13, 2015

Super Natural focuses on historical and contemporary women artists’ unrestrained absorption with nature. Rather than merely document beauty, artists in the exhibition engage with the natural world as a space for exploration and invention.

Giving context to Organic Matters—Women to Watch 2015, also on view at NMWA, Super Natural comprises art from the museum’s collection and private lenders. Featuring works by 25 artists, including Rachel Ruysch, Kiki Smith, and Sam Taylor-Johnson, the exhibition underscores the way that old mistresses’ renderings of the natural world directly inspire artists today.

Because of their purported keen powers of observation and appreciation for beauty, women artists historically were encouraged to study plants. Like artists of any gender, however, women have always been attracted to nature’s diversity, peculiarities, and uncontrollable power. Lavishly detailed still-life paintings and botanical studies by historical artists are juxtaposed with contemporary photographs, prints, and a video depicting fruits and flowers at monumental scale or consumed by decay.

A second section of Super Natural explores women artists’ images of animals. Vivid prints by 17th-century artist-naturalist Maria Sibylla Merian depict insects she studied in Suriname, South America. Contemporary prints, artist’s books, and a sculpture made from customized motor scooters depict spiders, reptiles, and hybrid beasties that evoke both wonder and fear.

In historical art, the female form often stood as the allegorical representation of Spring or the Earth. A final section of Super Natural is devoted to works by Janaina Tschäpe and Ana Mendieta, whose dramatic performances and interventions in the landscape each present a new vision of Mother Earth.

A sculpture consists of two metallic-orange motor scooters manipulated to resemble male deer. Leather seats become haunches, dashboard dials resemble faces, and multiple rear-view mirrors morph into antlers. The serpentine, hybrid animal-machines appear to spar for dominance.

Patricia Piccinini, The Stags, 2008; Fiberglass, automotive paint, leather, steel, plastic, and rubber, 69 3/4 x 72 x 40 1/4 in.; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Heather and Tony Podesta Collection; © Patricia Piccinini; Photo by Graham Baring

Exhibition Sponsors

Super Natural is organized by the National Museum of Women in the Arts and generously sponsored by Belinda de Gaudemar, with additional support provided by the members of NMWA.