The History of Washington D.C.’s National Museum of Women in the Arts – 华盛顿哥伦比亚特区美国国家妇女艺术博物馆的历史

A sticker of Camille Claudel is on my collar and a woman is pounding at a wall; another, with dirty feet and a red party dress, is crawling the walls and slithering over shelves. In the next gallery, a house sprouts from a marble woman. Meanwhile, men in heavy-framed glasses and 1970s suits shake their heads, as if passing judgment on all that surrounds me. I’m at the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, D.C., in ‘Women House’. The exhibition takes Judy Chicago and Miriam Schapiro’s seminal experiment in immersive art education ‘Womanhouse’ as its starting point. Back in 1972, Chicago and Schapiro started a Feminist Art Program at CalArts in a dilapidated house that became both classroom and exhibition space. A documentary about the course shows the work with performances limning out the monotonous expectations of a woman’s life, and the students in seminars-as-encounter-groups and feminist consciousness-raising, while the men in their suits respond with skepticism.

‘Women House’ explores the same realms of the domestic as the original project and explodes the notion that women’s art is somehow always about domesticity. The home is, indeed, the theme here, but there is nothing obviously maternal in the work. All 36 artists tackle the weight of such expectations; together, they make me think of Richard Serra’s work, as if the exhibition’s subject itself is as monumental a material as his Corten steel – as if the vehemence directed at the home, the pounding and the implosions have as much power as his sculptures tried to muscle into being.


The History of Washington D.C.’s National Museum of Women in the Arts - 华盛顿哥伦比亚特区美国国家妇女艺术博物馆的历史

 Lilla Cabot Perry, Lady with a Bowl of Violets, 1910. Courtesy: National Museum of Women in the Arts

The exhibition is part of NMWA’s 30th anniversary. When the museum opened in 1987, I was a suburban teenager with pink hair, a black wardrobe and a list of heroes who weren’t exactly standard rebellious teen fair: Linda Nochlin, Adrienne Rich and John Ruskin. I grew up outside DC, believed in Marxist feminist art history and had an aunt who gave me the NMWA’s inaugural poster. Hung in my bedroom amid posters of DC punk bands and Siouxsie Sioux, the image always broke my heart a little. It featured type and a reproduction of Lilla Cabot Perry’s Lady with a Bowl of Violets (1910). A Whistler-like composition, the woman poses in three-quarter view and a diaphanous dress. She’s luminescent with fantastic cheekbones but, painted as it was in 1910, this ‘lady’ weighed on me. ‘Why paint like that in 1910?’ I wondered. It was as if Cabot Perry had missed the teleology, the chronology, of modernism. Despite all I knew about women’s art and history, about why there were no great women artists, I was disappointed in the poster and the institution’s staid goals and its grand empty entrance with its pink marbleized columns. The pink felt like an affront – and I wasn’t the only one let down.

The New York Times sent three different women to cover the opening: Roberta Smith (‘leaves much to be desired’), Grace Glueck (‘born with a silver spoon in its mouth and bred to be noncontroversial’). Ann Beattie wrote of the dangers of ‘segregation’ and worried the museum would ‘make such a strong statement’ that it would cross some line.

It’s hard to believe now that a museum dedicated to women’s art might be seen as a step too far. The 1987 edition of H.W. Janson’s History of Art (first published in 1962) had included women for the first time, and Glueck quoted other curators whose remarks seem shocking. Lowery Sims from the Metropolitan Museum of Art: ‘One wants to believe there is already enough integration of women and minorities into the art establishment.’ John Wilmerding of the National Gallery of Art: ‘We like to consider art in terms of its merits, rather than its makers.’ Even Schapiro, who was responsible for ‘Womanhouse’ and whose Dollhouse (1972) is a centerpiece of the current show, was ‘ambivalent […] the code here is Junior League,’ she said, calling out the NMWA’s conservative plans (according to Glueck politics and abortion were off limits). Chicago, however, said she’d support the museum and donated a piece to its collection. Smith pronounced that it was important to give the institution, ‘a grace period of a few years’.


The History of Washington D.C.’s National Museum of Women in the Arts - 华盛顿哥伦比亚特区美国国家妇女艺术博物馆的历史

Amy Sherald, It Made Sense … Mostly in Her Mind, 2011. Courtesy: the artist and National Museum of Women in the Arts

Flash forward not three years but three decades and the grand entry is still pink and the museum’s founder, Wilhelmina Holladay, towers over the entrance in a portrait traditional enough to make the Cabot Perry look experimental. But, a woman pounds the walls in Monica Bonvicini’s Hammering Out (an old argument) (1998) and another presses her body into the limitations of walls and spaces in Lucy Gunning’s video Climbing Around My Room (1993) and the institution now has collection of 4,500 works (ten times what it opened with). 

Susan Fisher Sterling started at the NMWA in 1988 as a curator in modern and contemporary. Now she is the director. Her office is scruffy, scattered with papers, as if trying to contain all her ideas. A Grayson Perry tea towel is draped over the windowsill. ‘Hold your beliefs lightly,’ it reads. A Jenny Holzer paperweight declares: ‘Use what is dominant in a culture to change it quickly.’

In grad school Fisher Sterling had asked her professor: ‘Could we look at work by Joan Mitchell or Louise Bourgeois or Lee Krasner?’ and he replied: ‘Oh yes, we can throw them in. They can be comparative source material.’ She tells me this story, repeats ‘source material’ and shakes her head. It’s the kind of comment which, like those from Wilderming and Sims, can make that time seem like a distant realm. Now Washington has free federally supported museums such as the National Museum of American Indian and National Museum of African American History and Culture. But, nothing for women. When Wilhelmina Holladay founded the museum, she didn’t call it the Holladay Collection but the NMWA, as if the ‘national’ could channel a larger goal. But the institution is still private, still requires an entrance fee (hence my Claudel sticker) and is still the only museum dedicated to women in the world, even if that world has changed. Fisher Sterling says: ‘I used to think in ten years the problem would be solved and women artists would receive this equality we were working for and we’d become part of the Smithsonian.’ She laughs. ‘Fast forward and it’s a 100-year project.’


The History of Washington D.C.’s National Museum of Women in the Arts - 华盛顿哥伦比亚特区美国国家妇女艺术博物馆的历史

Judy Chicago addresses a gathering of volunteers in the Dinner Party studio, 1978. Courtesy: Judy Chicago Visual Archive and Betty Boyd Dettre Library & Research Center, National Museum of Women in the Arts; photograph: Amy Meadow

She talks too about how parity remains a chimera. ‘You still get two to seven percent women artists exhibited even as you head into modern and contemporary sections of museums and when you look at Forbes, with the top 500 CEOs, they’re still less than five percent women. Museums are not alone. This is where women are in culture. It’s a systemic issue.’ She says that in the art market, of the top 100 artists only two to three are women. ‘You can’t get away from the art market as you think of how women are valued.’

Downstairs the permanent collection is hung thematically. One gallery is organized around the natural world. Anne Truitt’s sculpture Summer Dryad (1971) – a minimalist tower in two bold grassy greens named for a forest nymph – stands next to engravings of insects and butterflies by an 18th-century naturalist, Maria Sibylla Merian. The painter Lee Krasner is adjacent to a radiant Alma Thomas canvas, Iris, Tulips, Jonquils, and Crocuses (1969). Both are a few feet from Clara Peeter’s creepy Still Life of Fish and Cat (ca 1620). It hangs just below Sharon Core’s photograph Early American Tea Cakes and Sherry (2007) but with more food, which adds to the strangeness. Core restages and reinterprets the still life with photography, and Peeter’s cat comes off as more menacing. Together the works add up to something powerful, a bit like how the work in ‘Women House’ did as it tackled domesticity. Peeters and Core both seem to tug at the seams of the still life tradition to question it. ‘Chronology,’ Fisher Sterling says, ‘is the enemy of women and people of colour.’

Chronology eliminates them and begins to look like teleology, in the way I had thought of Cabot Perry. Chronologies make it easy to overlook anyone who doesn’t hew to their lines or seem to be moving on to this or that next great thing. Thematic hangings give a weight and anchor to all the work. You can see how women have grappled with a subject like nature to which they were often relegated.

‘It doesn’t look like portrait, portrait, portrait, still life. This is all women traditionally were allowed to do,’ Sterling says. It wasn’t that way at the museum’s start. The inaugural exhibition, ‘American Women Artists 1830-1930’ reiterated the assumption that women were stuck in the crevices and sidelines – instead of exploring the way those crevices could yield to a deep seam of study over centuries.

In the permanent collect Cabot Perry now hangs near May Stevens’s Soho Women Artists (1978). Laid out like a history painting, the women form a frieze across the canvas with two old men, Soho locals, blurred on the side. In the centre, Sarah Charlesworth holds her bicycle next to Louise Bourgeois wearing a sculpture. There’s Miriam Schapiro, Joyce Kozloff, Harmony Hammond, Lucy Lippard and May Stevens. Across the room hang two Amy Sheralds and two plaid abstractions by Andrea Higgins. They riff on the modernist grid but are both portraits; one is simply called Hillary (2002). After staring at it for a while, I realize that the weave is taken from Hillary Clinton’s pantsuit; likewise, Jackie (Dallas) (2002) is a reference a pink Chanel. In those poles between Cabot Perry and the plaids, the world has changed, though clearly not enough.

Published in Frieze Masters, issue 7, 2018, with the title ‘Pounding the Walls’.

Main image: May Stevens, Soho Women Artists, 1978. Courtesy: the artist, National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, and Ryan Lee Gallery

Jennifer Kabat

Jennifer Kabat is a writer based in upstate New York, USA. She teaches at New York University and the New School and is working on a book of essays titled Growing Up Modern.

Issue 7

First published in Issue 7

September 2018

Features /

Jennifer Kabat
Women Artists
National Museum of Women in the Arts
Washington D.C.
Art History
Art Education
Frieze Masters 7

我衣领上贴着卡米尔·克劳德尔的贴纸,一个女人在墙上摔来摔去;另一个女人穿着脏脚和红色礼服,在墙上爬来爬去,在架子上滑去。在下一个画廊,一个房子从大理石女人发芽。与此同时,戴着重框眼镜和70套西装的男人摇摇头,似乎对我周围的一切都做出了判断。我在D.C.华盛顿的美国国家妇女艺术博物馆,在“妇女之家”。展览以朱迪·芝加哥和米里亚姆·夏皮罗在沉浸式艺术教育“妇女之家”中的开创性实验为出发点。早在1972年,芝加哥和夏皮罗在CalArts的一个破旧的房子里开始了一个女权主义艺术计划,这个房子既成了教室,也成了展览空间。一部关于这门课的纪录片展示了这部作品的表演,勾勒出一个女人生命的单调期望,参加研讨会的学生是作为遭遇小组和提高女权主义意识的,而身着西装的男生是持怀疑态度的。“妇女之家”探索了和原始项目相同的家庭领域,并打破了妇女艺术总是关于家庭生活的观念。这里确实是家的主题,但在工作中没有明显的母性。所有36位艺术家都处理了这种期待的重量;他们让我联想到理查德·塞拉的作品,就好像展览的主题本身就像他的科腾钢铁一样具有纪念意义——就好像对家的强烈、猛烈的撞击和撞击一样有力量。他的雕塑试图使之成为现实。KABAT-OTER -1.JPG WPA6021602IMG LILA卡伯特佩里,女士有一碗紫罗兰,1910。礼貌:美国国家妇女艺术博物馆是NMWA第三十周年纪念活动的一部分。1987年博物馆开馆时,我是一个郊区的青少年,粉红色的头发,黑色的衣橱,还有一列不是标准叛逆少年展的英雄:琳达·诺克林,艾德里安·里奇和约翰·罗斯金。我在DC以外长大,信仰马克思主义女权主义艺术史,有一位姨妈给了我NMWA的就职海报。在我的卧室里挂着朋克乐队和Siouxsie Sioux的海报,这张照片总是让我心碎。它的类型和复制的Lilla Cabot Perry夫人与一碗紫罗兰(1910)。一个惠斯勒式的构图,女人在三分观和一个透明的裙子。她有着奇特的颧骨发光,但1910岁的时候,她画的这个“女士”使我感到沉重。为什么要在1910的时候画画呢?我想知道。就好像Cabot Perry错过了现代主义的目的论,年表。尽管我对女性艺术和历史都了如指掌,对为什么没有伟大的女性艺术家,我对海报、学校的固定目标、以及它那粉红色大理石柱的空旷的入口感到失望。粉红色感觉像是一种侮辱——我不是唯一一个失望的人。《纽约时报》派了三位不同的女性来报道开场白:罗伯塔·史密斯(“还有很多东西要期待”)、格雷斯·格鲁克(“出生时嘴里叼着一把银勺子,被培养成无争议的人”)。安·贝蒂(Ann Beattie)写到“种族隔离”的危险,并担心博物馆会“做出如此强烈的声明”,以至于会越过一些界限。现在很难相信一个致力于女性艺术的博物馆可能被认为是一个太远的步骤。1987年出版的H.W.Janson的《艺术史》(1962年首次出版)首次包括女性,Glueck引用了其他策展人的评论,这些评论似乎令人震惊。大都会艺术博物馆的LowwerySims:“人们希望相信妇女和少数民族已经充分融入艺术机构。”国家美术馆的约翰·威尔默丁(John Wilmerding)说:“我们喜欢从艺术的优点而不是创造者的角度来考虑艺术。”皮罗负责制作《女宅》,娃娃屋(1972年)是当前节目的中心人物。她说,她对《少年联盟》的编号感到矛盾,并大声疾呼NMWA的保守计划(根据格鲁克政治和人工流产是禁止的)。然而,芝加哥表示,她将支持博物馆并捐赠一块来收藏。史米斯宣称给予该机构“几年的宽限期”是很重要的。KabAT-Toer-2.JPG The History of Washington D.C.’s National Museum of Women in the Arts - 华盛顿哥伦比亚特区美国国家妇女艺术博物馆的历史艾米谢尔德,这是有意义的…主要是在她的脑海里,2011。礼仪:艺术家和国家妇女艺术博物馆闪烁着不止三年而是三十年的光辉,宏伟的入口仍然是粉红色的,博物馆的创始人威廉米娜·霍拉迪(Wilhelmina Holladay)高耸立在入口处的肖像足以使卡博特·佩里(Cabot Perry)看起来像传统的肖像。实验性的但是,在莫妮卡·博纳维奇尼的《敲打墙壁》(一个古老的论点)(1998年)中,一名妇女敲打墙壁,另一名妇女在露西·甘宁(Lucy Gunning)的《绕着我的房间爬行》(1993年)的视频中,将她的身体压入墙壁和空间的限制中,这个机构现在收藏了4500件作品(这是它打开的十倍)。苏珊.费舍尔.斯特林于1988开始在NMWA担任现代和当代的策展人。现在她是导演了。她的办公室衣衫褴褛,零散地堆满了文件,仿佛要把所有的想法都藏起来。格雷森的佩里茶巾被覆盖在窗台上。“把你的信仰放轻松,”它写道。珍妮·霍尔泽的一张纸镇上写道:“利用文化中占主导地位的东西快速改变它。”在研究生院里,费希尔·斯特林曾问她的教授:“我们能看看琼·米切尔、路易斯·资产阶级或李·克拉斯纳的作品吗?”他回答说:“哦,是的,我们可以把它们扔进去。”它们可以是比较的素材。她告诉我这个故事,重复“素材”,摇摇头。这是一种评论,就像来自威尔德明和西姆斯的评论一样,可以使这段时间看起来像是一个遥远的国度。现在,华盛顿有免费的联邦政府支持的博物馆,如美国印第安人国家博物馆和非洲裔美国人历史文化国家博物馆。但是,对女人来说什么都没有。当Wilhelmina Holladay创建博物馆时,她并没有称之为Holladay收藏,而是称之为NMWA,好像“国家”可以引导一个更大的目标。但是这个机构仍然是私人的,仍然需要门票(因此我的克劳德尔贴纸),并且仍然是世界上唯一一个专门为女性服务的博物馆,即使那个世界已经改变了。费希尔·斯特林说:“我过去认为,十年后,这个问题就会得到解决,女艺术家将得到我们所追求的平等,我们将成为史密森家的一员。”她笑道。“快进,这是一项百年工程。”1978年,朱迪·芝加哥在晚宴工作室向志愿者集会致辞。礼貌:朱迪·芝加哥视觉档案馆和贝蒂·博伊德·德特尔图书馆&研究中心,国家妇女艺术博物馆;照片:埃米·梅多·她也谈到了平等如何仍然是一种幻想。当你走进现代和现代的博物馆时,仍然有2%到7%的女性艺术家被展出,而当你看《福布斯》杂志的500位CEO时,她们仍然不到5%的女性。博物馆并不孤单。这就是女性文化的所在。这是一个系统性的问题。她说,在艺术市场中,前100名艺术家中只有两到三是女性。“当你想到女人的价值时,你离不开艺术市场。”楼下的永久藏品主题地悬挂着。一个画廊是围绕自然世界组织的。Anne Truitt的雕塑DauleDyyad(1971)——一个极简的塔楼,由两个粗壮的绿色植物命名为一个森林若虫——紧靠十八世纪的博物学家玛丽亚·西比拉·梅里安的昆虫和蝴蝶的雕刻。画家Lee Krasner毗邻辐射的阿尔玛托马斯画布,鸢尾花,郁金香,琼斯,和藏红花(1969)。两者都是从Clara Peeter的鱼和猫的令人毛骨悚然的静物(CA 1620)几英尺。它挂在Sharon Core的早期美国茶饼和雪莉(2007)的照片下面,但更多的食物,这增加了陌生感。核心重演并用摄影重新诠释静物,Peeter的猫更具威胁性。这些作品合二为一,有点像“妇女之家”在处理家庭事务时所做的工作。皮特斯和铁杆似乎都在回避静物传统的质疑。Fisher Sterling说,年表是女性和有色人种的敌人。年表消除了它们,从我对Cabot Perry的看法开始看起来像目的论。年表很容易忽略那些不了解他们的台词或者似乎正在继续做下一件大事的人。主题悬挂为所有的工作提供了砝码和锚。你可以看到女人们如何与一个经常被降级的自然主题进行斗争。它看起来不像肖像、肖像、肖像、静物。这是所有妇女传统上被允许做的事情。博物馆开始的时候不是这样。“美国女性艺术家1830-1930”的首次展览重申了这样一种假设,即女性被困在裂缝和边线上——而不是探索这些裂缝在几个世纪以来可能屈服于深层研究的方式。在永久收藏Cabot Perry现在挂在五月史蒂文斯的SoHo区女艺术家(1978)附近。像一幅历史画一样,女人们在画布上和两个老人,SoHo区当地人,在一边模糊。在中心,Sarah Charlesworth拿着自行车在路易斯·布尔乔亚旁边穿着雕塑。有Miriam Schapiro、Joyce Kozloff、和声哈蒙德、Lucy Lippard和May Stevens。在房间里挂着两个Amy Sheralds和两个格子抽象的Andrea Higgins。他们在现代主义的网格上,但都是肖像,一个简单地称为希拉里(2002)。盯着它看了一会儿,我意识到织布是从Hillary Clinton的手中夺走的。


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