Posts Tagged ‘New York Avenue Sculpture Project’

National Museum of Women in the Arts: You Rock

Monday, November 12th, 2012

I actually made it to Washington, D.C. for the semi-annual meetings at the National Museum of Women in the Arts. The museum was looking its best, in this its 25th Anniversary year. It tickles me every time I walk into the stunning marble lobby

to think that at one time this building housed a Masonic lodge, and women were not permitted inside. Now the building houses the world’s foremost collection of art by women, from the 16th century to the present.

As always, the NMWA’s current exhibitions are wide-ranging, and pulsing with both information and life. The exhibitions begin outside, before the visitor even reaches the museum’s doors. Featured along the median strip of New York Avenue is the monumental sculptural work of Chakaia Booker. Her unique oeuvre is formed from intricately sliced and formed re-purposed tires.

In Booker’s talented hands, this unlikely medium takes on a muscular life of its own. Booker is the second woman artist to have her work showcased in this outstanding street forum. Niki de Saint Phalle’s work was on display along The New York Avenue Sculpture Project space for the two years previously.

The NMWA promises an ongoing program of art along this city avenue median gallery – a visual feast of powerful sculpture by prominent women artists that will change every two years.

Inside the museum are exhibitions stretching over several centuries, from the work of British and Irish Women Silversmiths from the 17th and 18th centuries, to the glamorous photographic portraits of notable women artists shown in Fabulous! Portraits by Michele Mattei.

Of special note is the ground breaking exhibition Women Who Rock. Did you know that women artists like Ma Rainey were among the first actually to record their blues, country and rock-a-billy music on records? That early women artists like Wanda Jackson toured with and influenced Elvis Presley, among others? Yes, these women were rocking way back then. This exhibition has traveled to Washington as a first, from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. It was created, and debuted there after Cindi Lauper was given a tour of the existing Hall of Fame collection. She basically asked, “Where are the women?” The musical sisterhood collection on show encompasses everything from recordings, favorite guitars, photographs, album covers, clothing and (touchingly, to me) hand written lyrics (in pencil, in spiral bound notebooks), from such diverse greats as Billie Holliday, Mother Maybelle Carter, The Supremes, Judy Collins, Janis Joplin, Joan Jett, Patti Smith and Madonna, to Taylor Swift, Rihanna and Lady Gaga. ( I know, I know, I probably left out your favorites.) You all rock, ladies.

The Fall Gala at the museum, starring Melissa Etheridge, was apparently an enormous success. The NMWA’s 25th Anniversary year is proving to be quite the party.


Where Was I?

Saturday, June 9th, 2012

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.


The 25th Anniversary of the National Museum of Women in the Arts & the Silver Anniversary Campaign

Wednesday, January 25th, 2012

When we lived in London I helped to found, and then Chaired, Friends of the National Museum of Women in the Arts, UK. This independent British charity supports and advances art by women of all periods, past and present, with a connection to the United Kingdom. Friends of the NMWA, UK also forms part of a growing international network that supports the mission of the National Museum of Women in the Arts, in Washington, D.C., which is to bring recognition to art by women of all nationalities and periods.

In 2012 the National Museum of Women in the Arts celebrates its 25th Anniversary. This is a momentous occasion, and Friends of the NMWA, UK are commemorating this milestone by organizing  a Silver Anniversary Appeal in the United Kingdom.  This Appeal begins with a dazzling exhibition called Silver by Women, a curated showcase of  extraordinary silver by contemporary women makers, to be held in London on February 2nd, 2012.

Friends of the NMWA, UK has launched the year-long Silver Anniversary Appeal, hoping to raise funds to purchase New Bird II, a stunning piece  by gifted British sculptor, and Royal Academician,  Dame Elizabeth Frink  (1930-1993), which they hope to donate to the National Museum of Women in the Arts. As the NMWA’s Chief Curator Dr. Jordana Pomeroy says, Elizabeth Frink is the “archetypal British sculptor—virtually a national treasure.” Pomeroy also explains that, “Frink held her own with the men and worked large scale. Her influences are evident but she took Rodin (and, I believe, Giacometti) down a British path.”

Friends of the NMWA, UK hope to see British women sculptors, and Elizabeth Frink in particular, represented in the growing collections of the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

You too can help Friends of the National Museum of Women in the Arts, UK in their effort to add this significant piece of sculpture to the NMWA’s collections. Visit

to make your contribution to the Campaign.

You can also join in the celebration of the 25th Anniversary of the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, D.C. Visit the museum this year! There are several major celebratory events in the works, including An Evening in Monte Carlo, the NMWA’s inaugural anniversary event, to be held at the museum on February 3rd, 2012. Or follow womenswear designer and artist-in-residence Celia Reyer as she re-creates a Brunswick traveling cloak, inspired by fashions in historic portraiture,  for In the Galleries: Royal Dressmakers and Haute Couture.  Make sure to visit the installation of Chakaia Booker‘s monumental sculptures, for the visionary outdoor sculpture initiative known as the New York Avenue Sculpture Project.  These works, created from intricately sliced, carved and layered segments of discarded black rubber tires, will be dedicated on March 8th, International Women’s Day. Or join almost 300,000 supporters in the US and worldwide and become a member of the NMWA. Take advantage of Members Preview Day for Royalists to Romantics: Women Artists from the Louvre, Versailles, and Other French National Collections, to be held on February 23rd, 2012. Make your visit and make your donation. Promote art by women today, and, you can help to write the contributions of women artists back into the art history books, and help to hang their works on the walls of galleries and museums, where they belong.


NMWA Redux

Thursday, November 17th, 2011

I escaped my cares for two days in Washington, D.C., to attend the semi-annual National Advisory Board Meetings at The National Museum of Women in the Arts.

I traveled down by train, arriving in Washington’s magnificent Union Station. (To be honest, I was happy to be on a train going anywhere else.) Union Station is a cathedral of transportation if there ever was one.

The early November weather was spectacular, and I had the chance to walk around the city, enjoying the bright autumn light. St. John’s Episcopal Church in Lafayette Square looked particularly splendid, its buttery yellow stucco warmed by the afternoon sun.

The Occupy D.C. Protesters were camped out in McPherson Square, their raggedly tents forming a bright patchwork of color under the fall trees. One group of men gathered at the base of McPherson’s equestrian statue to play an impromptu drum concert.

Back at the National Museum of Women in the Arts all was activity as usual. The NMWA is a powerhouse among museums, as ‘the only museum in the world dedicated exclusively to recognizing the contributions of women artists’. The NMWA impresses by its commitment to furthering its mission by any and all avenues of ongoing outreach, not least through its multi-tiered involvement with other museums, artists, curators, collectors, and academics near and far. The NMWA is approaching its celebratory 25th Anniversary year, and there are many wonderful projects in the works. More on that.

As for the formal description of the unique mission of the NMWA: “To fulfill its mission, the museum cares for and displays a permanent collection, presents special exhibitions, conducts education programs, maintains a Library and Research Center, publishes a quarterly magazine and books on women artists, and supports a network of state and international committees. NMWA also serves as a center for the performing and literary arts and other creative disciplines.” The NMWA also has an enormous and loyal membership base, from all around the country, and all around the world. This is a particularly strong endorsement of the NMWA’s mission, for a museum of its relatively small size and 25 year track record.

Recent additions to the world famous collection, many of them gifts from devoted NMWA Patrons and committees, include works by Miriam Backstrom, Elena Brockmann, Dorothy Dehner, Anna Gaskell, Agnes Martin, Sam Taylor-Wood, Mickalene Thomas, Mary Vaux WalcottRose Wylie, and Catherine Yass, among them. These photographs, paintings, drawings, art books and sculptures join gorgeous works that span the centuries, from Lavinia Fontana‘s portraits of  the 1580’s, Rachel Ruysch‘s splendid botanical paintings from the mid-1700’s, to Angelica Kauffman (reputedly the most highly paid artist of her day) and Elizabeth Vigée-Lebrun’s mid-18th century portraits.

In one current exhibition, Trove: The Collection in Depth, the NMWA has taken works ranging throughout the entire time-line of the collection, and gathered them into five thematic groups, encompassing plants and animals, landscape, portraiture, family relationships, and memory. In this provocative exhibition the viewer finds Rachel Ruysch’s gorgeous  Roses, Convolvulus, Poppies and Other Flowers in an Urn on a Stone Ledge (ca. 1745) paired with a contemporary photograph, Vase of Flowers 1, by Amy Lamb, 1999, of a luxurious botanical arrangement designed to echo Dutch originals. (And for which, the curator shares with us, actual butterflies were chilled in a refrigerator, so that they would stay in place for a few seconds, to allow the photograph to be created at all.)

The NMWA’s collection teaches us a great deal about history as well as art (Hmmm, is that why they call it Art History?), and helps us to rediscover the ways that women have participated in the art world, and the unique stories they have told, through the centuries.

In honor of the NMWA’s 25th Anniversary celebrations in 2012, there are several landmark exhibitions in preparation.


The NMWA has announced that Chakaia Booker‘s intricate and layered sculptures, created from rubber tires, will be featured as the installation along the dedicated exhibition space, the New York Avenue Sculpture Project, outside the front doors of the museum.

Chakaia Booker is the second woman sculptor to be honored in this way, with a one-woman exhibition along D.C.’s New York Avenue. The first artist to be highlighted in this glorious public sculpture installation space has been Niki de Saint Phalle, in 2010-2011.

In 2012 the NMWA will also be opening the landmark French exhibition Royalists to Romantics: Women Artists from the Louvre, Versailles, and Other French National Collections. It is sure to be a blockbuster of an exhibition.

There is going to be so much to see, to learn and to enjoy during the NMWA’s 25th Anniversary year. Will I see you at the National Museum of Women in the Arts in 2012? I hope so.


First Ladies in Art

Friday, April 30th, 2010

I am getting back on the Bolt Bus, this time heading for Washington, D.C., to attend the dedication ceremonies for the opening of the National Museum of Women in the Arts’ New York Avenue Sculpture Project, an outdoor installation along the median strip of  New York Avenue in the District of Columbia.

I’ve been waiting for the bus in New York City, on the corner West 33rd Street and 7th Avenue – a.k.a. Fashion Avenue – standing under the Sbarro Italian Eatery sign. I’ve been watching the men watching the girls’ derrieres walk by. It’s a chilly day in April, so the girls still have their jackets on. Despite that, the guys seem to be enjoying Fashion Avenue’s leggings and boots look.

I love all the New York City looks, the pinstriped suits with Yankees baseball hats, the sharp coats, expensive sneakers and cool shades. Everyone is accessorized with that touch of city sophistication. Girls with sleek ponytails, wearing shorts with tights, carrying over-sized shoulder bags.

When the bus arrives, I present my boarding pass, stow my luggage, claim a seat, seat belt myself in, power up my laptop. I’m ready to travel.

As I mentioned, I am on my way to Washington, D.C. to visit the National Museum of Women in the Arts (NMWA). Did you know that the leading art history books in the country did not contain the name of a single women artist until comparatively recently? Not even prominent women artists such as Mary Cassatt, or Artemisia Gentileschi, or Frida Kahlo, Angelica Kauffman, Judith Leyster, Georgia O’Keeffe, or Elisabeth-Louise Vigée-Lebrun…. You get the picture. I studied art history from Janson’s History of Art in high school and college, and I never realized that the text did not contain the name of a single woman artist. And this was the case until the sixth edition was published in 1986. 1986. Now Janson’s also contains mention of the NMWA and its world famous collection of art by women; quite fitting, I think.

The National Museum of Women in the Arts was established by its inspirational Founder, Wilhelmina Cole Holladay,

in the 1980’s, in part to write women artists back into the history books. Its mission: to bring “recognition to the achievements of women artists of all periods and nationalities by exhibiting, preserving, acquiring, and researching art by women and by teaching the public about their accomplishments. “

So on Wednesday, Dr. Jill Biden, wife of the Vice President, is going to cut the ribbon, or break the champagne bottle, to dedicate the NMWA’s visionary new sculpture garden, on New York Avenue, just outside the doors of the museum, and very near the White House.

The first exhibit to be shared with the nation’s public will feature four larger than life, joyous, polychromatic sculpture groupings by artist Niki de Saint Phalle. They will set the avenue ablaze with color and life.

Perhaps we all need some joy in our lives. It turns out the sculptures are the talk of D.C.’s taxi drivers. They slow passing traffic on New York Avenue, attract spectators along the sidewalks, and put smiles on the faces of the office workers hurrying by with their take out lunches. Niki de Saint Phalle’s sculptures and the NMWA’s New York Sculpture Project are also sparking debate of the nature of public art. Well done Niki and the NMWA.