Museum  October 30, 2019  Megan D Robinson

Cincinnati Art Museum Honors History's Overlooked Female Artists

Cincinnati Art Museum

Chiyo Mitsuhisa (attr., active late 16th Century), Japan, Presentation of a Prince, Momoyama period (1573–1615). Color and gold leaf on paper. Cincinnati Art Museum; The Thoms Collection; Given by Mrs.Murat H. Davidson in Honor of her Grandfather, Joseph C. Thoms.

The Cincinnati Art Museum is currently celebrating the often unsung and unrecognized contributions of women in art and the art world, with Women Breaking Boundaries, the Museum’s contribution to an 18-month long initiative, Power of Her. A collaboration between dozens of Greater Cincinnati area arts organizations spearheaded by ArtsWave, Power of Her celebrates women artists and female leadership during the centennial of women’s suffrage in the US. Exhibitions honor the voices and contributions of women, from female-centric theater productions and opera penned by women composers to voter registration initiatives and women-centered art exhibitions.

© Barbara Kruger courtesy Mary Boone Gallery, New York

Barbara Kruger (b. 1945), United States, Untitled (My face is your fortune), 1982. Gelatin silver print. Cincinnati Art Museum; Gift of RSM Co.

Women Breaking Boundaries juxtaposes art by women artists from the 17th century to current times. This creates an interesting dialogue between works of different times and places about women's common issues and perceptions. “What I love about this exhibition is the way the works create conversation,” says Ainsley M. Cameron, PhD, Curator of South Asian Art, Islamic Art & Antiquities. “We’ve interspersed works from our historic collection alongside works by contemporary, living artists. By creating these unexpected pairings and juxtapositions–works that wouldn’t normally feature in the same gallery–I’m hoping our visitors pause and take notice. Self-identified female artists have been confronting the imbalance of power based in gender, social and racial politics throughout history. That’s not a new narrative. But the way we’re talking about it is.”

Using work from the permanent collection, Women Breaking Boundaries brings together a cross-departmental selection of 38 artworks from Europe, North America and Asia. The exhibition features a variety of media, including oil on canvas, metalwork, ceramics, prints, photography and fashion.

Cincinnati Art Museum

Maria van Oosterwijck (1630–1693), The Netherlands, Flower Still Life, 1669. Oil on canvas. Cincinnati Art Museum; Bequest of Mrs. L.W. Scott Alter.

The disparate brilliance of these diverse artists is obvious. Maria van Oosterwijck’s meticulous and vibrant Flower Still Life, 1669, shows a mastery of oil painting in the 17th century Dutch Master’s style comparable to any more well known male painter. A dragonfly perches on the crinkled petals of a lush white peony while a startling variegated red and white tulip reaches skyward and orange poppies arch in the background.

© 2019 Courtesy of Shahzia Sikander Studio, New York

Shahzia Sikander (born Lahore, Pakistan 1969; active United States), A Slight and Pleasing Dislocation, 1993. Gouache and gesso on board. Cincinnati Art Museum; Alice Bimel Endowment for Asian Art.

In contrast, A Slight and Pleasing Dislocation (gouache and gesso on board, 1993) by Shahzia Sikander, is a powerful abstract piece.  The wonderfully organic pale shape, reminiscent of the female form, hovers against a dark background. It has the fluid magic of an undersea creature, with many connected string-like shapes for arms and feet.

The Cincinnati Art Museum has long been associated with strong female arts activists and considers promoting diverse artistic representations incredibly important. The Cincinnati Women’s Art Museum Association, founded in 1876, passionately promoted the importance of a public art museum, presiding over the construction of “The Art Palace of the West” in 1886.

Women Breaking Boundaries runs through April 12th and includes a free gallery map highlighting works by female artists and strong female subjects.

About the Author

Megan D Robinson

Megan D Robinson writes for Art & Object and the Iowa Source.

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