Back in April, before our move, I managed to slip away to Washington, D.C. for a few days, to help celebrate the 25th Anniversary of the National Museum of Women in the Arts. (Note to self: sometimes short escapes are necessary to maintain personal sanity.)
Momentous things have been happening in Washington. The opening of the NMWA’s fabulous exhibition Royalists to Romantics: Women Artists from the Louvre, Versailles, and Other French National Collections for instance. This is a blockbuster of a show, with a treasure trove of canvases from national collections all over France. Many of these works have never before been seen in the United States. They have not been exhibited together in France either. I was in equal parts dazzled, impressed and educated by the show, which – with stunning breadth and depth – showcased the talent of women artists working in France between 1750 and 1850. This was a period of great prominence and tremendous financial success for women artists in France, and the show includes works by such famous names as Élizabeth Louise Vigée-LeBrun and Angelica Kauffman, a founding member of the Royal Academy of Arts, and one of the most popular and highly paid portraitists of her era. This exhibition of artworks literally ‘paints a picture’ of the changeable times, both enlightened and deeply troubled, in which these artists lived and worked.
Outside the museum, along New York Avenue, another transformation has taken place. The Sculpture Project, a private-public partnership spearheaded by the NMWA and Downtown DC, has installed a striking body of sculptural art works, by noted sculptor Chakaia Booker. Chakaia Booker’s compelling exhibition follows the initial installation of monumental figural sculptures by Niki de Saint Phalle.
Booker’s powerful sculptures are intricately constructed of cut and layered black rubber tires. The material must be heavy and resistant, and yet Booker slices it into delicacy and bends it to her will.
The sculptures are by turns organic, animal, and alien. They are built of the cast offs of modern society and the literal wheels on which it moves, and yet they invoke an African heritage, are infused with a sense of universal religious ceremony, and perform a sort of ritual dance.
These sculptures are massive yet fine.
These sculptures sway, they dance, they promise, and they threaten.
Chakaia Booker’s work is like nothing you have ever seen, and yet it echos images from deep in your psyche. Get yourself to Washington, and visit The Sculpture Project outside the NMWA on New York Avenue. (Note to you: sometimes short escapes are necessary to maintain personal sanity.)
Happy 25th Anniversary, National Museum of Women in the Arts.