Urgent Museum Notice

NO MAN’S LAND: Women Artists from the Rubell Family Collection Special Exhibition

Abstract painting that depicts a reclining female nude using various shades of pink and white.
Featuring 37 contemporary women artists exploring images of the female body and the physical process of making

WASHINGTON—The National Museum of Women in the Arts (NMWA) is pleased to present the exhibition NO MAN’S LAND: Women Artists from the Rubell Family Collection on view from Sept. 30, 2016, through Jan. 8, 2017. Born in 16 countries across five continents, 37 contemporary artists use their aesthetically diverse work to address varied political and intellectual themes. The presentation is organized by the Rubell Family Collection/ Contemporary Arts Foundation (RFC), Miami, in collaboration with NMWA. The exhibition in Washington, D.C., centers on the process of making as well as images of the female body—both topics that extend from the feminist art movement of the 1970s.

Among the celebrated artists whose work is featured in the exhibition are Cecily Brown, Marlene Dumas, Isa Genzken, Yayoi Kusama, Wangechi Mutu, Elizabeth Peyton, Dana Schutz, Mickalene Thomas and Rosemarie Trockel.

This highly focused selection of 59 works concentrates on painting and sculpture. These mediums are among the oldest and traditionally most revered fine art forms, yet in the hands of many contemporary artists, they are avenues for experimentation, play and subversion.

NO MAN’S LAND brings together artists new to the Rubell Family Collection and those whose works they began collecting decades ago.

Speaking about the D.C. iteration of the exhibition, Mera Rubell states, “It is especially meaningful for us to have NO MAN’S LAND open in our nation’s capital around the time when women’s leadership in all arenas is front and center in the public consciousness.”

“We are thrilled to be the first traveling venue for NO MAN’S LAND, which premiered in Miami last December,” said NMWA Director Susan Fisher Sterling. “We have truly enjoyed collaborating with the Rubell Family Collection—one of the largest and most diverse privately held contemporary collections in the world. From the original exhibition, which extended over 45,000 square feet, our curators worked with the RFC to create a tightly focused exhibition centered on the body and the process of making. These themes define some of the most compelling works made by contemporary women artists.”

“Sharing our collection through traveling exhibitions and championing emerging artists at the forefront of contemporary art are key to the mission of our Foundation,” said RFC Director Juan Roselione-Valadez. “We are pleased to bring these works to D.C. and to work on NO MAN’S LAND with the National Museum of Women in the Arts, the only major museum in the world solely dedicated to women in the arts.”

The artists in the exhibition are:Nina Chanel Abney, Tauba Auerbach, Amy Bessone, Kerstin Brätsch, Cecily Brown, Miriam Cahn, Mira Dancy, Karin Davie, Marlene Dumas, Isa Genzken, Sonia Gomes, Jennifer Guidi, Cristina Iglesias, Hayv Kahraman, Natasja Kensmil, Yayoi Kusama, Li Shurui, Helen Marten, Suzanne McClelland, Josephine Meckseper, Dianna Molzan, Wangechi Mutu, Maria Nepomuceno, Celia Paul, Solange Pessoa, Elizabeth Peyton, Rozeal, Jennifer Rubell, Analia Saban, Dana Schutz, Shinique Smith, Aya Takano, Mickalene Thomas, Rosemarie Trockel, Kaari Upson, Mary Weatherford and Anicka Yi.

The Female Body

Many artists in NO MAN’S LAND approach the female body directly. While examples of women portraying female nudes in previous centuries exist, it was not until the feminist art movement of the 1960s and ’70s that women forcefully reclaimed the body’s visualization and interpretation. Artists in the Rubell Family Collection stand at the forefront of the latest chapter on images of the female body.

The depiction of women’s bodies in popular culture is fertile territory for artist Isa Genzken (b. 1948, Bad Oldesloe, Germany). Genzken fabricates her assemblage series “Schauspielers” (actors) from plastic mannequins, dressing them with garments and everyday objects that echo the ready-made sculptures of Marcel Duchamp. Genzken adapts Dada’s language of the absurd to comment on social expectations of women and girls, particularly in regard to their appearance.

To similar ends—and with similar materials—conceptual artist Jennifer Rubell (b. 1970, New York City) applied her signature combination of food and humor to Lysa III (2014). Inspired by a gag nutcracker of Hillary Clinton, Rubell’s life-size and fully functional nutcracker sculpture made from a recumbent mannequin engages with the popular caricatures of women as sexualized objects or aggressively anti-man.

Mickalene Thomas (b. 1971, Camden, New Jersey) uses the visual language of 1970s Blaxploitation films to reconsider the sexualization of the black woman in popular culture. The women in her paintings express ease and self-assurance, staring assertively at the viewer and evoking the studio dynamic in which Thomas’s models gazed at her. She finds this exchange more powerful and provocative than the conventional paradigm of the male painter and female model.

Cecily Brown (b. 1969, London) explicitly references the ubiquitous odalisque in art. In contrast to historical painters who romanticized and fetishized the female body, Brown sometimes truncates the nude figure, rendering it with vigorous brushstrokes and intense hues to express the energy of bodies in motion and the capriciousness of human folly, which she considers one of the “big subjects” in art.

In the vein of earlier feminist artists, many contemporary painters use self-portraiture as a profound space for self-expression and the exploration of identity. Each figure in paintings by Hayv Kahraman (b. 1981, Baghdad) represents the artist acting out elements of the immigrant experience, a theme informed by her own peripatetic biography.


Painters and sculptors in the Rubell Family Collection disrupt conventional ideas about women and handcraft. Their labor-intensive techniques—or bold statements about that type of process—yield objects that alter the notion of “women’s work,” a popular subject in earlier feminist art. Many sculptors and painters who focus on process also create abstract work, a mode historically associated with male artists.

Cristina Iglesias (b. 1956, San Sebastián, Spain) built half-arch-shaped sculptures from rough-hewn concrete and slabs of iron and zinc. The sculptures appear simultaneously time-worn and industrial, as if they came from another realm. Leaning against the gallery wall and seeming to support it, Iglesias’s works dramatically transform the space they occupy.

Wool paintings by Rosemarie Trockel (b. 1952, Schwerte, West Germany) are knitted by machine and stretched on wood frames. They form an ironic response to stitchery as a feminine pastime as well as the historically limited place of women abstract painters. Similarly, Tauba Auerbach (b. 1981, San Francisco) upends the idea that a stretched canvas primarily supports layers of paint. Auerbach eschews pigment altogether, weaving strips of canvas over stretcher bars to form intricately patterned and highly textured surfaces.

In depicting what cannot be easily seen (space or eternity), Infinity Net paintings by Yayoi Kusama (b. 1929, Matsumoto, Japan) represent an intellectual construct. Yet the canvases, which Kusama covers with hundreds of arcs of pigment applied with a soft brush, are also products of her personal compulsions and transcriptions of her hallucinations, which she has experienced since childhood.

Assemblages and sculptures in NO MAN’S LAND, in particular, are characterized by a spirit of performance and play. A cloth collage by Shinique Smith (b. 1971, Baltimore) vividly conveys the way that fashion, speech and writing define both our sense of self and public face. Colorful fragments of Smith’s friends’ clothing and household textiles are twisted, knotted and draped over a canvas support, with photographs, script-covered paper and secret notes tucked into the fabric folds.

An organic sculpture by Solange Pessoa (b. 1961, Ferros, Brazil) emphasizes density and proliferation. Dozens of sewn and stuffed cloth sacks, ranging in shape from long and tubular to round and plump, are strung together and stretched across a corner of the gallery. Resembling organs or growths, the pouches are coated with red clay, characteristic of the terrain in southeastern Brazil where Pessoa lives and works. The soil and organic forms combine to symbolize a life-giving force.

Similarly, Maria Nepomuceno (b. 1976, Rio de Janeiro) seeks to visualize “the essential force that is in everything that lives.” She uses indigenous straw-weaving techniques to create biomorphic sculptures that sprawl across the gallery floor. With spiraling tubes, elliptical bulges and cup-like forms, the sculptures suggest umbilical cords, trailing plant life and even galaxies.

This exhibition is organized by the Rubell Family Collection, Miami. Presentation of the exhibition at NMWA is made possible through the generous support of the Clara M. Lovett Emerging Artists Fund. Additional funding is provided by the Judith A. Finkelstein Exhibition Fund, Stephanie Sale, and Share Fund.


With 117 artists of 28 different nationalities, the exhibition catalogue for NO MAN’S LAND is a sweeping survey of some of the most compelling art being made today. The 270-page catalogue highlights exceptional artists whose work communicates a variety of messages—from negotiating identity on a global scale to addressing the physical world through a digital, post-analog lens. NO MAN’S LAND includes essays by San Antonio Museum of Art curator Anna Stothart and Israeli curator Tami Katz-Freiman. It will be available in softcover for $29.95 in the Museum Shop and online at http://shop.nmwa.org/.

Rubell Family Collection

Established in 1964 in New York City, the Rubell Family Collection (RFC) is one of the world’s largest privately owned contemporary art collections. In Miami, Florida, since 1993, the RFC is exhibited within a 45,000-square-foot repurposed Drug Enforcement Agency confiscated goods facility and is publicly accessible. The Contemporary Arts Foundation (CAF) was created in 1994 by Don and Mera Rubell with their son Jason to expand the RFC’s public mission inside the paradigm of a contemporary art museum. Each year the Foundation presents thematic exhibitions, which often travel to museums around the world. The Foundation maintains an internship program as well as an ongoing educational partnership with Miami-Dade County Public Schools. In addition, the Foundation has a public research library containing over 40,000 volumes.

National Museum of Women in the Arts

The National Museum of Women in the Arts (NMWA) is the world’s only major museum solely dedicated to celebrating the creative contributions of women. The museum champions women through the arts by collecting, exhibiting, researching and creating programs that advocate for equity and shine a light on excellence. NMWA highlights remarkable women artists of the past while also promoting the best women artists working today. The museum’s collection includes over 5,000 works by more than 1,000 women artists from the 16th century to the present, including Mary Cassatt, Frida Kahlo, Alma Thomas, Lee Krasner, Louise Bourgeois, Chakaia Booker and Nan Goldin.

NMWA is located at 1250 New York Avenue, NW, Washington, D.C., in a landmark building near the White House. It is open Monday–Saturday, 10 a.m.–5 p.m. and Sunday, noon–5 p.m. For information, call 202-783-5000 or visit nmwa.org. Admission is $10 for adults, $8 for visitors 65 and over and students, and free for NMWA members and youths 18 and under. Free Community Days take place on the first Sunday of each month. For more information about NMWA, visit nmwa.org, Broad Strokes Blog, Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.