Library Exhibitions

  • An open artist's book inspired by African textiles, featuring colorful, patterned textiles stitched together akin to a collage.
    Suzanne Coley, All I Have, 2018; Artist’s book; Courtesy of the artist; On loan from Private collection
  • A long, open artist's book that resembles an accordion; the pages are colorful and vertically striped.
    Sarah Matthews, transient, 2014; Artist’s book; Courtesy of the artist
  • A long, open artist's book featuring a stark white, black, and blue painting of mountains and a warm, golden painting of mountains against a blue sky.
    Magdalena Cordero, Poems by Gabriela Mistral, Translations by Ursula K. Le Guin, Long Chilean Gaia, 2016

Within the Betty Boyd Dettre Library and Research Center, special exhibitions illustrate the accomplishments and history of women in the arts through the display of primary source materials from the library's collection.

Exhibitions showcase artist correspondence, sketches, ephemera, photographs, posters, rare books, museum archival material, and artists’ books.

The Library and Research Center is open Monday–Friday, 10 a.m.–12 p.m. and 1 p.m.–5 p.m. and is closed on major holidays.

Current Exhibitions

MAR 08–JUL 31 2020

Linda Nochlin: The Maverick She

Linda Nochlin (1931–2017), award-winning scholar, art historian and critic, devoted her career to forging a new appreciation for the contributions of women in the arts. Her 1971 essay, “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?,” shifted the critical discourse to a place from which feminist artists, thinkers and activists have never looked back. NMWA’s Library and Research Center and the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art will collaborate to showcase a selection of Nochlin's papers and ephemera that illuminate her remarkable contributions to art and culture.

Past Exhibitions

NOV 04 2019–MAR 04 2020

DMV Color

Washington, D.C., and its surroundings have long been home to a rich community of artists of color, including those born and raised here and others who built connections to the region while attending area art schools and universities. DMV Color features an eclectic assortment of contemporary works by women of African American, Asian American, and Latina heritage with ties to the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia—known locally as the DMV. The artists’ books, graphic novels, photobooks, and zines depict intimacies of family life, legacies of enslavement, dislocation tied to immigration, changes resulting from rampant development, and other topics that illustrate facets of life in the DMV.

APR 01–OCT 31 2019

Power in My Hand: Women Poets, Women Artists, and Social Change

A shared yearning for free expression has animated an enduring solidarity between women poets and artists. Using words and images, brimming with passion and determination, they communicate with and inspire one another across geographic boundaries and historic eras. Such devotion is evident in Muriel Rukeyser’s honor poem for the German artist Käthe Kollwitz and in Judy Chicago’s Dinner Party homage to Emily Dickinson. The critic Lucy Lippard has argued that “making poetry out of politics, making art from lives lived outside of power, and making politics out of that art and poetry—these are the three solid dimensions, the third power of the women’s liberation movement.” This collection of printed poems, artists’ books and art objects celebrates these creative and social bonds.

JUL 30 2018–MAR 29 2019

Full Bleed: A Decade of Photobooks and Photo Zines by Women

Although digital images dominate visual culture today, the photobook remains a meaningful and thriving form. A deliberate, ordered, and sometimes narrative arrangement of photographic images bound in a book with little or no text, the photobook is an intimate presentation from photographer to viewer, one on one. This selection of photobooks and photo zines, created by an international group of women artists in the last ten years, embodies essential truths told through eclectic visual vocabularies. The images encompass coldly objective photographs of American locations of mythic importance, digital photos snapped through a car window, and prints resulting from experiments with expired photo paper.

MAR 26 2018–JUL 27 2018

Making a Living: Women Artists Illustrating Books

Many women artists in the first half of the twentieth century found work illustrating books. Working for large or niche publishing houses, creating cartoons or caricatures, or writing and illustrating their own books, these women managed careers as illustrators while also working for recognition as painters and printmakers. Featuring books and archival documentation, the exhibition includes artists such as Edna Reindel, Vanessa Bell, and Loïs Mailou Jones.

NOV 20 2017–MAR 23 2018

Hard to Define: Artists’ Books from the Collection

“What are artists’ books?” is a common question and can be hard to answer. Some look like books, but others don’t. Some are made from paper; others aren’t. Some have words; others don’t. But all artists’ books combine form and content in a way that conveys information. On view are selected artists’ books that are, by turns, magical, strange, awe-inspiring, confusing, or humorous.

SEPT 17 2017–JAN 05 2018

Inside the Dinner Party Studio

This exhibit explores the creation of Judy Chicago’s monumental and radical work The Dinner Party through archives, documentation and film. Over the course of nearly five years and with the help of hundreds of volunteers, Chicago executed one of the most iconic artworks of the 20th century, confronting the erasure of women from history using elaborate research, craft and presentation. The extraordinary complexity of The Dinner Party’s process is illustrated through test objects, designs, documentation and revealing behind-the-scenes footage shot by filmmaker Johanna Demetrakas. From nascent ideas in a sketch book to test plates and a textile template, visitors will see the historic record of this unique creation process.

JUL 17–NOV 17 2017

Wonder Women!

From the Guerrilla Girls righting the wrongs of the art world to painter Edna Reindel’s tough WWII riveters, to vintage feminist comic books—it’s the celebration of the Wonder Women! Explore images of the powerful woman, real and fictional, in a wide-ranging selection drawn from the special collections and artists’ archives of the Betty Boyd Dettre Library and Research Center.

JAN 06–AUG 12 2017

From the Desk of Simone de Beauvoir

Consider the influence and intellect of writer Simone de Beauvoir in an interpretation of her Paris studio alcove. This installation invites visitors to reflect on Beauvoir’s impact, not only in her time and not only as a feminist, but in our own time and in the areas of literature, philosophy, and popular culture. A zealous writer, speaker, and lover of all sensations life had to offer—what does Beauvoir say to you?

MAR 20–JUL 14 2017

The Women Arrive: From Masonic Temple to Women’s Museum

No one visits the National Museum of Women in the Arts without wanting to know more about the wedge-shaped building with the glamorous Great Hall. On the occasion of the museum’s 30th anniversary, explore 110 years through archival photos that track the building from its earliest days as a Masonic Temple, to movie theater, and finally to its dramatic renovation into our world-class museum. Accompanied by a selection of artists’ books from the collection on the subject of landscape.

NOV 21 2016–MAR 17 2017

Bold Broadsides and Bitsy Books

From the public nature of broadsides to the intimacy of a tiny handmade book, the Library and Research Center revels in contrasts of delightful collection items. The “Dead Feminists” broadside series presents eye-catching typography and layouts profiling international feminist heroes, while miniature artists’ books demonstrate intricate, hand-held craft, meant to be easily carried and privately enjoyed.

MAY 16–NOV 18 2016

Priya Pereira: Contemporary Artists’ Books from India

Based in Mumbai, India, book artist Priya Pereira (b. 1967) trained as a graphic designer. Isolated from other book artists, Pereira began creating artists’ books six years before she knew that the genre had a name. She published works under the imprint Pixie Bks for the last 22 years, exploring subjects including Indian culture, time, and language through creative structures, use of type, and hand-drawn images. The artist describes The Book of F as “dotted with ditties that popularize the ‘F’ word without once mentioning the most used and abused word,” and The Wise Man and His Long Beard represents a folktale through a beard made out of lamp wicks. This exhibition showcases 10 of Pereira’s artists’ books.

NOV 16 2015–MAY 13 2016

Womanimal: Zine Art by Caroline Paquita

Caroline Paquita (b. 1980) is a Brooklyn-based artist, zinester, and founder of Pegacorn Press. Her first self-published zine, Brazen Hussy, used xerography like other punk zines of the 1990s, but it already shows evidence of Paquita’s distinctive aesthetic, which features strong line work. Paquita’s recent work has focused on envisioning “Womanimals”—half-woman/half-animal creatures that seek to interject a queered whimsy and irreverence into distracted modern culture. This exhibition showcases Paquita’s punk art zine-making over the past 18 years.

MAY 11–NOV 13 2015

Vanessa Bell’s Hogarth Press Designs

Vanessa Bell (1879–1961) was an English painter, designer, and important member of the Bloomsbury group, a cluster of culturally influential figures in early 20th-century London. Throughout her career, she designed many book jackets and illustrations for Hogarth Press, a British publishing house founded by Bell’s sister, author Virginia Woolf, and Leonard Woolf. This exhibition showcases several examples of Bell’s exquisite, yet simple, designs.

NOV 17 2014–MAY 08 2015

Doris Lee: American Painter and Illustrator

Doris Emrick Lee (1905–1983) was an American painter and illustrator best known for her painting Thanksgiving, which won the prestigious Logan Prize at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1935. In her wide-ranging career, she painted murals for the United States Post Office buildings, participated in annual exhibitions at the Carnegie Institute in Washington, D.C., created commissioned work for Life magazine, and illustrated children’s books. Lee’s art was also featured on greeting cards, calendars, menus, pottery, and fabric. This exhibition showcases photographs, sketches, and objects from the Doris Lee Papers housed in the Betty Boyd Dettre Library and Research Center.

MAY 12–NOV 14 2014

The First Woman Graphic Novelist: Helena Bochořáková-Dittrichová

Helena Bochořáková-Dittrichová (1894–1980) was a Czech graphic artist whose 1929 novel Z mého dětství (From My Childhood) is widely acknowledged to be the first wordless novel created by a woman. Bochořáková-Dittrichová’s appealing and warm woodcut style was influenced by pioneering Belgian graphic artist Frans Masereel. This exhibition showcases five of her published novels as well as her unpublished book Malířka Na Cestách (The Artist on her Journey), which contains 52 original woodcuts about a young woman artist studying abroad, mirroring Bochořáková-Dittrichová’s own life at the beginning of her career.

NOV 04 2013–MAY 09 2014

Equal Exposure: Anita Steckel’s Fight Against Censorship

Anita Steckel (1930–2012), a feminist American artist, countered the art-world establishment through depictions of heterosexual female desire. She sparked a media scandal in 1972 by refusing to self-censor an exhibition of her exuberant and shameless female and male erotic figures, instead creating the Fight Censorship Group. Personal papers, photographs, and art from the Betty Boyd Dettre Library and Research Center’s Anita Steckel Papers illustrate her boundary-pushing art and activism.

MAY 10–NOV 01 2013

Making Her Mark: Publishers’ Bindings by Women

In the 19th century, book publishers developed new bookbinding methods to respond to the desires of an increasingly educated general public. One of these shifts was using cloth to bind books instead of the more expensive leather and the less resilient paper bindings. This provided an avenue for women artists to make their mark on bookbinding design, and soon, they became some of the most successful designers.

NOV 01 2012–APR 30 2013

A Museum of Their Own: 25 Years of NMWA History

A Museum of Their Own: 25 Years of NMWA History illustrates the history of the museum through documents, printed matter, and photographs selected from the institutional archives.

MAY 01–JUL 31 2012

Mamacita Linda: Letters between Frida Kahlo and her Mother

A selection of intimate letters sent between Frida Kahlo and her mother, Matilde Calderón de Kahlo, in the years just before her mother’s death.

National Museum of Women in the Arts