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Monday, March 5, 2007

Thing 5: National Museum of Women in the Arts

National Museum of Women in the Arts I was all set to go to the Mall this afternoon and dip into a Smithsonian at random. But it was much colder than I thought it was going to be and I hadn't brought my coat out with me, so halfway to the Mall I made slight detour and dipped into the National Museum of Women in the Arts instead. What great luck! It was a Free Community Day (the first Sunday of every month) and I didn't have to pay the $8 admission fee.

The NMWA is a gorgeous space -- the foyer often hosts gala dinners or weddings. Its marble floors, sweeping staircases and stately chandeliers create an elegant and beautiful setting. The building was originally built as a Masonic Temple at the beginning of the last century, ironically a boys-only club that is now a forum only for women artists. The collection began as a private one and has since grown into the foremost collection of women's art in the world. The museum boasts over 3,000 works in the collection and creative, thought-provoking visiting exhibitions.

I was a little bit disappointed to learn that the special exhibition galleries were closed as they set up for a new exhibition that will feature Italian women artists in the Renaissance and Baroque periods, opening later this month. This left only the selected works of the permanent collection to browse through. It's not a huge space, and the collection took less than an hour to wander through.

The rooms are organized by historical period, focusing on women artists' contributions to each artistic movement. As with most art, I was drawn to the more modern and abstract works, although there are a couple of rooms devoted to works from the 18th and 19th centuries with the photograph-like portraits and still lifes so popular during that time. They also have a collection of work by British women silversmiths, reminding us that when the more traditional roles of artists were only filled by men, women were expressing their creative talents through crafts and trades.

My favorite pieces were in the same vein as the male artists I enjoy -- the modern abstract sculptures and the paintings from the turn of the 20th century that really pushed art to a new place. There are some beautiful pieces by Frida Kahlo, Lee Krasner and Joan Mitchell, as well as some art that has a more explicit "feminist" perspective. Fun fact of the day: I learned that Mary Cassatt was an American artist, born in Pennsylvania. I had always thought her her a European artist. Below are some of my favorite pieces from the permanent collection.

The museum also celebrates women performing artists, with a variety of programs year-round that celebrate women musicians, writers, poets, filmmakers, singers and dancers.

Self Portrait, Alice Bailey Self Portrait, Alice Bailey

Acid Rain, Chakaia Booker Acid Rain, Chakaia Booker

Sale Neige, Joan Mitchell Sale Neige, Joan Mitchell


Jenny said...

I'm sold... can't believe I haven't been there yet.