Nina Chanel Abney, Khaaliqua & Jeff, 2007; Acrylic on canvas, 61 x 63 3/4 in.
Washington, DC is filled with museums, from the Smithsonian’s National History Museum to the smaller independent exhibits across the district. But finding an exhibit dedicated solely to the works of women is difficult, even more so to find an entire museum. The National Museum of Women in the Arts is the only major gallery in the nation dedicated specifically to the work and often forgotten stories of women artists. A Woman’s Bridge interviewed Associate Curator Virginia Treanor about the museum and the upcoming NoMan’sLandexhibit, opening on September 30th.
As the only major museum dedicated solely to displaying artwork by women, the National Museum of Women in the Arts highlights the gender imbalance in the preservation of art history. Since its founding, what challenges has the museum faced gathering and preserving the works of women artists?
The National Museum of Women in the Arts (NMWA), in some ways, owes its existence to the lack of information available on women artists in the twentieth century. Our founder, Wilhelmina Cole Holladay, was inspired to collect art by women after being unable to find many traces of them in historical records in the 1960s and 70s. Since its inception, NMWA has been dedicated to collecting, preserving and documenting artwork by women. In addition to our object collection, we have a Library and Resource Center that contains books, manuscripts and artist files.
What kinds of pieces do you look for in your exhibits? Is there historical or cultural significance to every item? How does the museum treat works by artists of the past versus artists of the present?
NMWA’s mission is to champion women through excellence in the arts. This means we are committed to making sure that everything that becomes a part of our collection exemplifies creativity, innovation, and has a tangible impact on the broader history of women artists. All objects in our collection are cared for equally according to the strictest industry standards.
The No Man’s Land exhibit features pieces from 37 artists from various countries. What is the desire of this exhibit and why has the museum chosen to present this project?
NO MAN’S LAND: Women Artists from the Rubell Family Collection highlights and celebrates both well-known and lesser-known contemporary artists working today. It also seeks to redress the disparity between those who are making art and whose art is being exhibited: about 60 percent of art students today are women, yet they receive a fraction of the solo gallery shows their male peers do. For established artists, the odds are not much better, with large disparities in the number of solo exhibitions given to male vs. female artists at major institutions in the U.S. and Europe. This imbalance is also reflected in the display of many museums’ permanent collections. However, the trend of increasing visibility for women artists is encouraging. To sustain this overall upward trend, it will take dedication by all corners of the art world: teachers, galleries, patrons, museums, and curators.
What can other museums take away from your model and the contribution of women in the arts?
Hopefully, it makes them think critically about works by women they have in their collection and/or the number of exhibitions they give to male vs. female artists.
How would the museum like to see art history represented and recorded in the future?
The more representative the professions of gallerist, curator, director, critic, scholar, etc… are of the broader population as a whole, the more representative ‘mainstream’ art and artists and art history will be.
The exhibit runs from September 30th to January 8th. To learn more about the museum visit http://www.nmwa.org/ or attend an exhibit at 1250 New York Ave NW Washington, D.C. 20005.