To Future Women and Beyond

Visitors write letters for the To Future Women project at The Phillips Collection. Photo: Rhiannon Newman

To Future Women, Georgia Saxelby’s interactive piece honoring the one-year anniversary of the 2017 Women’s March, debuted at The Phillips Collection in February. The warm pink alcove papered with red and gray visitor responses and the circle of matching pink, high-backed writing desks presented a stark contrast to the earth-toned, heavy-framed Cubist works from the last century that lined the walls around it. Though the Valentine-heart color scheme evokes almost stereotypical notions of a “feminine” aesthetic, the presentation is anything but passive and soft. The conceptual prompt asked participants to consider what they would like to say to future women in the context of the recent and current socio-political environment that birthed the Women’s March and corresponding activist movements. Artistically, the installation speaks to the iconoclastic role of women in the modern and contemporary art world as well—a trend evidenced by recent Phillips acquisitions, several of which are currently on view.

Just outside the gallery where To Future Women was exhibited, visitors can currently see two works by feminist icon Georgia O’Keeffe. Different from her usual flowers and natural forms, both paintings feature architectural elements—an adobe chapel in New Mexico, and the painter’s own “shanty” at Lake George. About the latter, O’Keeffe was known to have joked that she painted it to prove that she could work in conventional, “dreary” colors as well as the men in her artistic circle. It is not hard to imagine her wry amusement at the fact that this uncharacteristically traditional composition in browns and greens earned the praise of her male critics who had been less than comfortable with the bold, vivid flowers that ultimately earned her a prominent place in the art world, not to mention at Judy Chicago’s Dinner Party.

Kara Walker, Crest of Pine Mountain, where General Polk Fell, 2005. Offset lithograph with silkscreening Sheet: 39 x 59 in. The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC, Gift of Julia J. Norrell, 2015

Of course, it goes without saying that women, like people of color and other minorities, have not received adequate recognition or representation in the art world. Apart from O’Keeffe, it can be difficult to find evidence of women artists among the 19th-and 20th-century impressionists, expressionists, and cubists. In one gallery, a single painting by Berthe Morisot hangs alone among works by Van Gogh, Gaugin, Monet, Bonnard, and Vuillard. However, among more recent acquisitions by the museum, art by women stands out and speaks loudly. Crest of Pine Mountain, Where General Polk Fell, a powerful work from Kara Walker’s Harper’s Pictorial History of the Civil War series, hangs in the same gallery as several panels from Jacob Lawrence’s iconic Migration Series. The faceless figures silhouetted in black against a background from a 19th-century issue of Harper’s Magazine about the Civil War speak volumes about both insidious stereotypes and the reality of African American experiences that still go unseen and unacknowledged to the detriment of American socio-political discourse. This is not just art by someone who happens to be a woman or a person of color—this is art that says something about the history and the experience of that identity.

Women are also well-represented in the collection of sculptural works on display at the Phillips right now. British artist Barbara Hepworth’s sculpture Dual Form provides a powerful focal point in the courtyard outside the museum café, and it is especially worth strolling up the central staircase to admire works by a number of contemporary sculptors—all women. Cuban-born artist Zilia Sánchez’s work Maquinista, Diptico, with its minimalist, mostly-white palette and subtle forms appears deceptively simple. At first, the play of shadows cast by the softly rounded shapes that rise to peaks like waves in a lake seems compelling, but non-representational. However, the pinkish-tan color suggests something more symbolic of the female body in a way that is conscious of itself and its natural shapes without being subject to external objectification. This impression is bolstered by considering the sculpture both in the context of the other works in the stairwell and in the context of Sánchez’s larger body of work. The Phillips will feature a solo exhibition of her work in 2019, and hopefully before the time capsule of Saxelby’s To Future Women letters are revisited in 20 years, many more groundbreaking women will find their art and their experiences represented in museums everywhere.

Rebekah Planto, Museum Assistant

 

Art + Fashion: Georgia O’Keeffe

Inspired by Markus Lüpertz’s dapper style when he was in town for the opening of his exhibition at The Phillips Collection, some of our staff decided to take a look at other artists known for their unique fashion sense. Today, we focus on Georgia O’Keeffe.

(left) Alfred Stieglitz, Georgia O’Keeffe, Prospect Mountain, Lake George, 1927. © Board of Trustees, National Gallery of Art, Washington (right) Bruce Weber, portrait of Georgia O’Keeffe, Abiquiu, N.M., 1984, gelatin silver print, 14 by 11 inches (35.6 by 27.9 centimeters). Bruce Weber and Nan Bush Collection

Georgia O’Keeffe was very deliberate in how she dressed—she resisted conventional attire of the time like corsets, and instead made her own clothing. While her paintings are largely colorful, O’Keeffe most often wore black and white swaths of fabric that some say leaned towards masculinity, which may seem odd since her work is often associated with the female body. However, Wanda Corn, the curator of Georgia O’Keeffe: Living Modern at the Brooklyn museum, believes that O’Keeffe “… created a signature body to go along with her signature art. She covered her body and head with abstract shapes, like she did her canvases.”

O’Keeffe resisted being labeled as a feminist, even though her husband, photographer Alfred Stieglitz, encouraged that interpretation of her paintings. O’Keeffe wasn’t trying to become a fashion icon, but instead simply wanted to forge her own path, both in how she dressed and how she painted. I certainly think she achieved that.

Remy Kauffmann, Stewardship Manager, Corporate Relations and Partnerships

STAFF SHOW 2016: ANNA E. KAMINSKI

In this series, Education Specialist for Public Programs Emily Bray highlights participants in the 2016 James McLaughlin Memorial Staff Show, on view through September 19, 2016.

Anna E. Kaminski, "code"

Anna E. Kaminski, “code”

Anna E. Kaminski

Anna E. Kaminski, Photo: Rhiannon Newman

Anna E. Kaminski, Photo: Rhiannon Newman

Tell us about yourself and your work.

As an artist and activist, my work stages elaborate scenes to create political narratives. Having started in photojournalism in the midst of the Iraq War, politics, religion, and human rights are central themes in my work. I work in the realm of photography, sculpture, installation, and performance. Through curating environments that have often lived at the intersection of photography and installation, I work specifically to make audiences uncomfortable and provide a space for questioning and contemplation about our collective roles on the political stage and within the capitalist spectacle.

My work aims to question the realities we know and complacencies we accept.  I have been involved in the activist community through organizations like CODEPINK, occupy, women against military madness, and worked in the realm of homelessness and housing at DC area shelters and policy organizations. These experiences deeply inform my work.  I am currently working on a long-term project re-envisioning power politics, issues of anonymity, and complacency in Washington, D.C. and also creating new work about drone warfare. Currently, I am one of the twelve individuals in the inaugural class at the S&R Foundation Fillmore Studios program for emerging artists in Washington, DC.

What do you do at The Phillips Collection? Are there any unique/interesting parts about your job that most people might not know about?

I just recently started at The Phillips Collection as a part-time Sales Associate in the gift shop. After working with various non-profits, I am so happy to finally be working in the realm of the arts again. I am so grateful to be working in a place that values artistic contributions and with some really creative and knowledgeable people.

Who is your favorite artist in the collection?

For many reasons I would have to say Georgia O’Keeffe. Her strength, independence, and resilience as a woman artist is something I deeply admire as a feminist. I think her work helped pave the way for women like myself in the arts. Ironically, I also value the work of Alfred Stieglitz, someone who broke O’Keeffe’s heart and I think provided so much emotion that is seen clearly in her work. Also perhaps more than certain images, I value his contributions to photography and determination in shaping it into a recognized art form.

What is your favorite gallery or space within The Phillips Collection?

My favorite space in the museum is the Laib Wax Room by Wolfgang Laib. For me, it is evocative of so much and can and does provide a symbolic core of the museum. For bees, the production of wax is essential to sustaining their colonies. I find strong parallels between the human need to produce and consume culture to sustain ourselves and a bee’s need to produce and consume honey. The single light bulb, an invention that has become such a marked symbol of the beginning of the modern era, illuminating the vibrant yellow wax, also illuminates the museums’ role as a cultural producer.

What would you like people to know about your artwork on view in the 2016 Staff Show (or your work in general)?

The three photographs hanging in the 2016 Staff Show are part of a larger series of six photographs shot with a 35 mm camera as an experiment for a performance piece that has yet to be performed.  The work draws inspiration from Post-humanism and meditates on technology’s complacency in the erasure of the human. Inspired by the binary code making up photographs from predator and killer drones as well as the binary code making up images of women in pornography, this series seeks to merge the themes of women under erasure as well as technology’s capacity to swiftly disappear us.

The 2016 James McLaughlin Memorial Staff Show is on view August 14 through September 19, 2016.