National Museum of Women in the Arts Celebrates 20 Years
Washington -- Throughout its existence, the National Museum of Women in the Arts (NMWA) has been called on to justify its mission in a way that "other established museums don't have to," says Jordana Pomeroy, co-curator of the NMWA's new exhibition, "Italian Women Artists from Renaissance to Baroque."
(Media-Newswire.com) - Washington -- Throughout its existence, the National Museum of Women in the Arts ( NMWA ) has been called on to justify its mission in a way that “other established museums don’t have to,” says Jordana Pomeroy, co-curator of the NMWA’s new exhibition, “Italian Women Artists from Renaissance to Baroque.”
As the world’s only museum dedicated solely to the works of women artists, the NMWA is accustomed to critics who question the need for such a facility and who insist that art should not be viewed through the prism of an artist’s gender. But in interviews with USINFO, both Pomeroy and the NMWA’s director of communications, Howard White, said the museum is needed.
The obstacles that confronted women artists in the past have not disappeared entirely, they said. The NMWA performs a valuable service by offering women artists “a guaranteed place to display their art,” according to White.
“Historically, women had been notoriously underrepresented in museums and art galleries,” so female artists “had a hard time being taken seriously,” he said. “In the 1960s, with the advent of the women’s movement, things began to change.” The expansion of women’s rights “drew attention to the fact that women had been shut out by the male art establishment,” he added.
Although circumstances have improved, “it’s still harder for women to get commissions, and they still face a little bit of an artistic glass ceiling,” he said.
PAYING TRIBUTE TO TRAILBLAZERS
The NMWA is commemorating its 20th anniversary by staging an exhibition that honors the pioneering efforts of Italian women artists during the Renaissance and Baroque eras because that extended period represents “the first time in Western history where you can attach women’s names to particular works [of art],” said White. “For the first time, women artists were competing with men and achieving individual recognition.”
These women produced paintings, prints and drawings that encompassed a wide range of subjects and themes, including portraits, religious works and mythological allegories. Although their talent often was acknowledged and admired by their male peers, professional women artists had to struggle for wider community acceptance. Also, negotiating a commission was particularly challenging at a time when women did not have the legal standing to sign their own contracts. The fact that a number of women artists managed to thrive in a fairly hostile environment led to “a thawing of societal conventions” that helped pave the way for their successors, White observed.
In addition, “[w]e’re trying to present a broad spectrum of women in the arts, encompassing literary artists, filmmakers, potters and ceramicists, metalworkers and others, as well as painters and sculptors,” said White. “And we have an ongoing series of exhibits called ‘Women to Watch,’ featuring women artists whose careers are about to take off.”
The NMWA also exhibits the work of contemporary artists who have attained a significant following in mid-career. In 2006, for example, the NMWA staged a show highlighting the work of African-American sculptor Chakaia Booker. White said Booker uses recycled rubber tires to create “beautiful and very ethereal” abstract sculptures, some as high as 6.1 meters tall, “and her work has both an aesthetic message and an ecological message: that there are things you can do with materials that we casually throw away.”
Asked to name previous NMWA exhibitions that demonstrate the museum’s scope and ambition, White and Pomeroy agreed that three rank among their personal favorites. A 2000-2001 exhibition on the stagecraft of Julie Taymor, a renowned Broadway set and costume designer, was “magical,” they said. “Taymor is a three-dimensional genius, really brilliant,” recalled Pomeroy. “The show was fun; we incorporated a lot of interactive, high-tech items that appealed to kids and to people of all ages.”
The other exhibitions they cited were “Nordic Cool: Hot Women Designers” ( 2004 ), showcasing Scandinavian women designers who create distinctive furniture, textiles, utensils, fashion, jewelry and architecture, and “Dreaming Their Way: Australian Aboriginal Women Painters” ( 2006 ), featuring the work of indigenous female artists from across Australia. ( See related article. ).
WORKING WITH GLOBAL PARTNERS
White stressed that the NMWA always is interested in working with international partners to stage exhibitions that highlight the talents of women artists from around the globe. “We’d like to do something with Mexico or Turkey, for instance,” he said. “We’ll probably approach those countries’ embassies and ask them if they can suggest women artists who deserve more recognition.”
New domestic projects are under way, too. The NMWA has launched the first phase of a pilot program to help incorporate the arts into U.S. school curricula. Known as “ABC” ( arts, books, creativity ), the program targets economically disadvantaged schools that otherwise might not be able to introduce their students to artistic pursuits. Educators have discovered that “early exposure to the arts is not only a good thing in and of itself, [but] it also facilitates learning,” said White.
As the NMWA looks back on its first 20 years, the museum’s commitment to advancing the prospects of outstanding women artists remains of paramount importance, White indicated. “There’s still a bit of an old-boy network in the art world, but things are getting better,” he said. “After all, some of the best artists working today are women.”
More information about the NMWA is available on the museum’s Web site.
For more stories on the influence of artists in society, see The Arts.
( USINFO is produced by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov )
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