National Museum of Women in the Arts

For three days this week I was able to wander around any museum or gallery in D.C. I felt the urge to visit. It was a complete dream come true. Ever since I went there for the rally for women’s health in the Spring I’ve wanted to go back. That day held so many beautiful things, the museums, the memorials, even just the weather. We didn’t have any grass or flowers in Rochester at the time so going to D.C. was like a little slice of heaven.

Thanks to my amazing mother who brought me along for her work trip I had three straight days of art, art, art. The American Art Museum, National Portrait Gallery, Freer Gallery, Sackler Gallery, African Art Museum, and even more. I got to spend hours learning about and just enjoying inspiring work.

And among these museums I was able to go to one that I was incredibly excited about: The National Museum of Women in the Arts.

The building used to be a Masonic temple. The exterior is lovely, but the interior is breathtaking.

The NMWA is the only museum in the world that focuses exclusively on women artists. The museum heavily emphasizes the role of women in the arts and recognizes so many women artists who have largely been left in the dark.

This museum has been on my radar for a while, and when my mom agreed to bring me along with her to D.C. I knew it would be the first place I would visit.

So on a ridiculously hot Sunday morning I took the train from Silver Spring to Metro Center (Which was a stressful mess. I always hate using new train systems!), exited the station, and promptly became lost. Even though the museum is located only two blocks away I wandered around in the wrong direction for at least a half hour before realizing my mistake.

But when I finally found the museum and walked into a refreshing blast of cool air all of the stress melted away. And for a reasonable admission fee ($8 for students and seniors and $10 for everyone else. I didn’t have my ID with me but the woman in the gift shop very kindly charged me the student fee.) I walked into the gorgeous main hall and glimpsed some of the artwork I would enjoy that day.

This isn't a great photograph of their main hall. I didn't take as many photos that day as I would have liked. Hopefully this gets across some of the sense of how elegant the interior is!

There was work by Lavinia Fontana, Clara Peeters, Vigee-Lebrun, and more. It was incredible! I’ve only seen their work in books, slides, and on the all knowing internet. I rarely see work by these artists in museums, so to see their work all together was a very fun and unique experience! So often these women are not recognized by museums and art history textbooks for their contributions to the world of art, so it’s wonderful to see their work being recognized and applauded.

One of the areas open to the main hall.

Angelica Kauffman's Cumaean Sibyl (1763)

 Not only was their collection of 16th-19th century work fantastic, they had more recent works from the 20th century onward. I saw work that day by O’Keeffe, Maria Izquierdo, Grace Hartigan, Lee Krasner, so many incredible artists. Their collection of paintings, drawings, prints, and more far exceeded my expectations. Everything is beautifully curated, they arrange works in a way that complimented each other wonderfully. They also manage to cover a range of styles and different artist backgrounds. It’s always great to see ethnic diversity in museums and it’s something that we should expect from more of them.

Elisabet Ney's Carrie Pease Graham (1895)

Elisabet Ney's Carrie Pease Graham (1895)

Maria Izquierdo's Retrato de Belem (1928)

Lee Krasner's The Springs (1964)

This is a partial view of the upper level of the building. Very nice set up.

 Not only did they cover artists from the distant and recent past, they have an amazing sample of contemporary women creating three dimensional works. This room was my favorite (although many contemporary 3D pieces were spread around the gallery, most were located here). I actually gasped when I walked in, which made me very glad that nobody was watching! But really, the artists they feature are incredible. Petah Coyne, Chakaia Booker, Kiki Smith, so many artists that I respect deeply but have not necessarily seen in real life. 

Magdalena Abakanowicz's 4 Seated Figures (2002). This piece wasn't in the room I mentioned, but it was nearby. Abakanowicz's work tends to portray the figure in interesting ways. If you're in Chicago I would recommend checking out Agora in Grant Park. Powerful work.

Chakaia Booker, I didn't get the title of the piece.

Kiki Smith's Mary Magdalene (1994)

Petah Coyne's Untitled # 781 (1994). This was probably one of my favorite pieces that I saw at the museum. Petah Coyne is a fantastic artist. Her work at Mass Moca (which I sadly did not see, but have seen on the interwebs!) is something I would recommend taking a look at.

Not only has the NMWA so far provided an extensive collection of artwork by talented women throughout the world and throughout time (sounds almost like a description of Doctor Who!), but they had an exhibit about the Guerilla Girls, a group of activists working for equality in the art world from the 80s onward. Their ability to use humor as a tool in fighting the blatant misogyny and racism of galleries, museums, and educational institutions of art is so impressive. They fought sexism in a way that easily connects with the audience. 

One of the most well known samples of their work.

The NMWA exhibit explains some of the history of the Guerilla Girls and provides examples of their posters, billboards, and other ads, flyers, tshirts, erasers, so on and so on. It’s a great crash course on what they do.

Here I’d like to say that the NMWA has addressed many of my questions. I have a stickynote on my desktop that looks like this:

Just as a quick reminder of things that I want to learn about or write about (You can see that I haven’t removed two of the Clarity Haynes links yet!). The NMWA has work by Frankenthaler and Krasner (who is the focus of a book review in their magazine) with a featured exhibit for the Guerilla Girls. You guys are answering all of my questions, and for that I thank you! 

With the many artists and artworks that they taught me more about and introduced me to, I would say that the National Museum of Women in the Arts is well worth the visit. It will blow your mind. Really. I will definitely try to visit again and if I ever live in the D.C. area I would certainly get a membership (which you should do if you live in the area! Or if you live somewhere else but are interested in supporting their mission!). In fact, the NMWA has an internship program that I would really love to participate in next summer. Their huge collection of works by women artists, the friendliness and extensive knowledge of everyone I spoke to who works there, and the fact that I loved D.C. with a passion make me want to work with and learn from them badly. Who knows, maybe if I work hard enough this year, create a killer writing sample and cover letter, and get great recs from my teacher it will happen. Or maybe in future years. I think that I’m going to just keep trying until I succeed!

I’ll close with this picture of me just hangin’ out with Kahlo. You know, only one of the most well known and respected women artists of all time. Respected for her thoughtful use of symbolism and innovative style. No big deal (Kind of a big deal!).

You can check out the NMWA’s website here.

And check out their blog here. I found this blog a month or two ago, and it’s a really great resource for learning about women artists. Check it out!

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