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The Feminist Movement in Art

In celebration of The Art League's 60th Anniversary in 2014, the Gallery is revisiting and reflecting upon the major art movements from the last six decades.

The Feminist Movement in Art

May 7–June 2, 2014
Amanda Jirón-Murphy, Gallery Director, Hamiltonian
Reception: Thursday, May 8, 6:30–8:00 pm

exhibit program (pdf) | Special Lecture: Martha Wilson

Woman Shoots Man - Claire Carroll

Woman Shoots Man, photograph by Claire Carroll — winner of the Amelia T. Clemente Award

Juror’s Dialogue by Erica Fortwengler

For those of us who didn’t have a front row seat to the protests and change of the 1960s and 70s, it’s difficult for us to wrap our heads around how different the world was for women even just a generation ago. Books and Hollywood provide us with a glimpse of the obstacles women had to climb to get us to today. We’ve read Betty Friedan’s “The Feminine Mystique” and are eternally grateful to her for ushering in the second wave of feminism, and helping us embrace “our complete selves.” We watch episodes of Mad Men, perplexed that such treatment of women in the workplace was acceptable, and how the role of women at home was so limiting and suffocating. We’ve seen Iron Jawed Angels, where Alice Paul, Lucy Burns, and the other suffragettes faced unspeakable horrors in their quest for the women’s right to vote, and we’re sickened and humbled by what they had to endure. To those who lived through those historical years and paved the way, thank you.

Over the last 100+ years, feminism, the collection of movements aimed at defining, establishing, and defending equal political, economic, cultural, and social rights for women, has transformed America. Initially, the May “The Feminist Movement in Art” exhibit at The Art League sought to pay tribute to the feminist movement that began in the art world in the 1970s, and to explore the issues facing equality today.

The works selected for the exhibit by Amanda Jirón-Murphy, Gallery Director at the Hamiltonian in Washington, DC, are certainly feminine, but not classically feminist. Jirón-Murphy wanted to select works that challenged the traditional definition of feminism, and hopes that viewers come away from the exhibit with a broader view of feminism.

Jirón-Murphy leaned toward quiet and powerful rather than “angsty and dark.” She was not drawn to works that were stereotypical “feminist” in content and imagery. Searching for that perfect combination of content and craftsmanship, a successful work needed to compel Jirón-Murphy to linger longer. As the exhibit came together, she found herself wondering, “What are the stories behind these pieces? What are the stories behind the women in these pieces? What is the story of the artist?”

A number of works depict women working in traditional female roles, like working in the kitchen. “These women look content, happy. Feminism is about choosing – to go to work, to stay home – choosing what you want to do.”

Many works in the exhibit quietly reexamine and challenge a variety of preconceived norms. Upon first look, Phil Puzick’s “Aunt Millies Got His Gun,” is a bright and colorful collage. Then the viewer notices the sweet, older woman holding a machine gun. “These aren’t two things that one typically thinks of as going together.” Another example is Trudy Levy’s watercolor “ERA March, August 1977.” “Here’s a civil rights protest, a bold subject, painted in watercolor, a delicate medium, usually thought of being used for painting flowers or still lifes. I love that.”

Best in Show was awarded to Claire Carroll for her “Woman Shoots Man” photograph. This photo immediately reminded Jirón-Murphy of Jeff Wall’s “Picture of Woman” (1979) which was inspired by Edouard Manet’s masterpiece “A Bar at the Folies-Bergères.” But in Carroll’s photograph, the roles have been reversed – the woman is in control as photographer, and the man is the model. Jirón-Murphy noted that she was drawn to the contrast.

Jirón-Murphy has been the Gallery Director at Hamiltonian in Washington, DC since 2012. She received her B.A. in Art History at John Cabot University in Rome, Italy and her M.A. in Modern and Contemporary Art and Connoisseurship from Christie's Education in London, England, where she received the Christie’s Alumni Award and the Robert Cummings Award. Following her studies, she was awarded an internship at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice, Italy and an internship in Programs and Lectures at The Phillips Collection in Washington, DC, where she worked for five years developing the museum's adult education programming. She has given numerous public talks, including speaking as a guest lecturer at the Hirshhorn Museum during "Suprasensorial: Experiments in Light and Space" in 2011, Smithsonian's Luce Foundation for American Art in 2012, and the National Museum of Women and the Arts in 2013 during "A World Apart: Anna Ancher and The Skagen Art Colony." In 2011 she curated "you make me nostalgic for a place I've never known" at Flashpoint Gallery in Washington, DC, for which she won a Kitchen of Innovation award. She was a DCAC curatorial mentee in 2012, where she organized a four-person show entitled "Microscapes."




Special Lecture


Eventbrite - Pop Art and Beyond: The Art of Tom Wesselmann

Martha Wilson and the Franklin Furnace
Thursday, May 22, 6:30–8:30 pm

Martha Wilson (b. 1947) is a pioneering feminist artist and gallery director, who over the past four decades created innovative photographic and video works that explore her female subjectivity through role-playing, costume transformations, and “invasions” of other people’s personae. Wilson will discuss her work and the work of the Franklin Furnace, an artist-run space that champions the exploration, promotion and preservation of artist books, temporary installation, performance art, as well as online works.

This talk is free, but space is limited — click here to register!

Promotional support for our 60th Anniversary has been generously provided by the Alexandria Marketing Fund.



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