It was a good day to get out of Bethesda ...
(click to enlarge; all photos by C. G. Wagner unless otherwise noted)
... so I finally got myself downtown to the National Museum of Women in the Arts. I signed up for membership about a year ago or so, and even donated them some extra money recently. Figured it was about time I saw what they were all about. And I even remembered to bring my membership card! I couldn't find my Philips Collection card, so that decided things.
NMWA is an easy subway ride: exit at Metro Center via 13th Street, and it's just a couple of blocks up to New York Avenue. You'll know you're in the right neighborhood when you see this:
which is the New York Avenue Sculpture Project featuring the whimsical figures by Niki de Saint Phalle.
Since I hadn't done any homework before going, I planned to just take the exhibitions, permanent and otherwise, as they came (or as I came to them). And the first thing was a neat display of the jewelry of Paloma Picasso, with a video featurette wherein she describes her experience choosing stones to work with at Tiffany's. I loved how she talks about the warmth of the gold and the joy of the colors that all come from the earth, explaining that the craftsmanship of working with the stones and metal is what connects us to them and gives them warmth.
As objects meant to be worn, these pieces of jewelry are functional. Viewing these reminded me of the objects over at the Freer Gallery that I visited a few weeks ago (and haven't gotten around to writing about or posting photos - sorry), in that you can trace the history of civilizations through how we feel about the objects in our lives and how they make us feel. What is jewelry for, exactly? Its beauty brings joy, and we borrow its beauty to enhance our own joy.
What I really liked about this museum was its graceful spaciousness (and also the fact that it wasn't jam-packed with tourists. They are still in line at the restrooms at the Air and Space Museum, as far as I know). I also appreciated the great diversity of the collections.
Here are just a few of the highlights of the main collection. I'll get to the photography exhibit in a minute.
Vivienne (1998, mixed media) and detail, by Shonagh Adelman (Canadian, born 1961)
(Left) White Column (1959, painted wood) by Louise Nevelson (American, 1899-1988)
(Right) Untitled #781 (1994; wax, plastic, cloth, and steel) by Petah Coyne (American, born 1953)
I liked that the galleries were curated/organized around subject matter and not just by medium or style: still lifes, streetscapes, abstracts, landscapes, etc. Stepping into portraiture, I wondered if I would see anything by Alice Neel, whose work I got to see with my mom at an exhibit in Minneapolis a few years ago. What distinctive style! And sure enough, I recognized the artist immediately:
T.B. Harlem (1940, oil on canvas) by Alice Neel (American, 1900-1984)
Any prejudgment about women's art being homey, sweet, and sentimental should be gone. Like Neel's unflinching portait of the impact of poverty, Frida Kahlo (clearly the celebrity of the Museum) paints with political inspiration.
Self-Portrait Dedicated to Leon Trotsky (1937, oil on masonite), and detail, by Frida Kahlo (Mexican, 1907-1954).
Interestingly, the abstracts had a softer touch from the female hand than I'm used to ...
(Left) Bacchus #3 (1978, acrylic and charcoal on canvas) by Elaine de Kooning (American, 1920-1989)
(Right) Orion (1973, oil on canvas) and Iris, Tulips, Jonquils, and Crocuses (1969, acrylic on canvas) by Alma Woodsey Thomas (American, 1891-1978)
... so even the Lee Krasner piece that clearly aligns with the Jackson Pollack style is somehow less disturbing.
The Springs (1964, oil on canvas) by Lee Krasner (American, 1908-1984)
Okay, I'll stop posting my poor photos of great art. The highlight of my excursion was the photography exhibit on the second floor, Eye Wonder: Photography from the Bank of America Collection.
It was great to see a range of visual artists besides the ones you'd expect, like Margaret Bourke-White and Dorothea Lange. My big complaint here is that there was no exhibition catalog! The handout available at the entrance to the exhibit doesn't include all of the pieces on display, and is only slightly more useful than the About the Exhibit page linked above. This is such a shame for people like me who just don't have memory for details, like the unfamiliar German and Dutch names in the captions.
And no, I did not take pictures of the pictures; in the other galleries, I photographed the caption information along with the art so I could have a record of what I saw and enjoyed - after the Renwick debacle last year, where the book about the museum was decades out of date, I vowed not to lose the basic information about my experiences. It's the same reason I keep the programs from all the plays I attend.
The best I can do to share the experience is to use the press photos from the museum. So here are just a few of the many wonderful images I got to see today:
Snow Halter, Salina County, Kansas (December 22, 1990, Chromogenic print) by Terry Evans. Credit: Bank of America Collection
Automat, 977 Eighth Avenue (1936, Gelatin Silver Print) by Berenice Abbott. Credit: Bank of America Collection
Magnolia Blossom (1925, Gelatin silver print) by Imogen Cunningham. Credit: Bank of America Collection
Backlit Radishes, Iwate-ken, Japan (1986, Gelatin silver print) by Linda Butler. Credit: Bank of America Collection
Revenge of the Goldfish (1981, Cibachrome print) by Sandy Skoglund. Credit: Bank of America Collection
If I had an exhibit catalog (or if I'd been able to take a picture of the caption information), I could tell you how she got that picture. Sigh.
eta, sorry for the messed-up spacing; Photobucket went wack-o on the last two pix and I had to switch to the blogger uploader - which I've never been able to position correctly. Not my day for technology...