Museum Review: “Woman as Image”
Photo Credit: University of Richmond Museums.
On display from March 29 to May 25, 2012, at the Lora Robins Gallery of Design from Nature, University of Richmond Museums, the exhibition “Woman as Image: Museum Studies Seminar Exhibition” features more than forty-five prints, drawings, sculptures, and photographs selected from the University Museums’ permanent collection. The exhibition explores varying approaches to depicting women in art.
The selection of works reflects traditional, feminist, and other attitudes towards women and their roles in society, primarily from a Western perspective. The artworks range in date between the 15th to the 21st century, and incorporate themes of power, sexuality, morality, and aesthetic beauty. Featured artists include William Hogarth (British, 1697-1764), Käthe Schmidt Kollwitz (German, 1867-1945), Reginald Marsh (American, 1898-1954), Pierre-Auguste Renoir (French, 1841-1919), Andy Warhol (American, 1928-1987), and Jean-Antoine Watteau (French, 1684-1721).
A figure study by American artist Florence Eustace Gretter (American, 1867-1957) represents an idealized female form at the turn of the 19th century. Gretter probably made the drawing while she was a student at the Cooper Union in New York, where she took classes. The model’s body is rendered smooth, even porcelain like, and her hair, pinned loosely on top of her head, suggests the Gibson girl hair style which was popular at the time. Although this image, created by a female artist, does not suggest any sort of sexualized content, the hair style and the sensitively rendered female form nonetheless reveal pressures upon women at the time to aim towards perfection.
In contrast to Gretter’s feminine ideal, the 1935 print, Makeshift Kitchen, by Will Barnet (American, born 1911), shows a woman bent over a bathtub, washing dishes in a small bin in the bathtub and crowded by laundry hanging above her. The feeling of oppression is conveyed by the overall dark and somewhat claustrophobic setting and by the woman’s bent-over back. Barnet often depicted people living in New York’s tenements before World War II and the sole figure in this print suggests a quiet dignity in the face of economic and social challenges during the Depression era.
Additional works highlighted in the exhibition include: Untitled (Female Head), a 1991 color lithograph by Ruth Bolduan (American, born 1947); Dale Steinberger, a 2004 screenprint based on a comic by R. Crumb (American, born 1943); Singer, Cotton Club, a 1939 pen and ink drawing by Luther Coleman Wells (American, 1912- 2010); and Madonna and Child, a circa 1641 print by Stefano della Bella (Italian, 1610- 1664).
A few prints should be of interest to LGBT communities as they depict androgeny. A Polaroid by Warhol depicts a portrait only identified as “Frau Buch.” Frau is an androgynous person that was a popular “type” in much of Warhol’s work. Gender benders like Frau were rarely included in mainstream society or depicted in artwork. The artist created several series focused on drag queens, most famously Ladies and Gentlemen (1975), which featured transvestites recruited from the streets of New York to be sitters for his photographs.
Another print by contemporary artist Yasumasa Morimura depicts a drag performance of Marylin Monroe. Morimura casts himself as iconic images from art and popular culture. He simultaneously satirizes and creates homage to these source materials. This digitally manipulated print, which features the artist’s own body, was inspired by a 1949 photograph by Tom Kelly of Marilyn Monroe, published as the centerfold in Playboy’s first issue in 1953. Morimura recreates Kelly’s original photography through intensive makeup and mimicking Monroe’s pose atop red velvet.
The Museum Studies Seminar is a course in the Department of Art and Art History designed to teach students about the history and functions of museums.
Jon Henry comes from the small town of Washington, Virginia. Xe finished xes degree at the University of Richmond and was named GayRVA.com's Out.Spoken. Richmonder of the Year for 2011. When not in class, xe is either in the studio or rabble rousing with other queer activists. Follow xem on Twitter.
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