A Self-Guide to the Collection
Inspired by the bold vision of the many female photographers featured in the exhibition Girls on the Verge, this month’s self-guide honors and celebrates the voice of women artists.
Department of Islamic Art, Musée de Louvre (2005) by Zaha Hadid
The first woman to win the Pritzker Prize for Architecture in its 26-year history, Zaha Hadid has proven a true innovator in her field. The Iraqi-born, British artist has not only forged a successful career in the traditionally male world of architecture; she has also defined a radically new architectural vocabulary. Incorporating multiple perspective points and fragmented geometry, Hadid’s work creates what she calls “a new fluid, kind of spatiality” that evokes the chaos of modern life. With its undulating surfaces, gracefully torqued form, and dynamic sense of movement, Hadid’s design for the Department of Islamic Art at the Louvre is emblematic of her radical vision.
Cow’s Skull with Calico Roses (1931) by Georgia O’Keeffe
One of the most renowned American modernists, Georgia O’Keeffe trained at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and the Art Students’ League. She earned her reputation in New York but then turned her back on the American art establishment, moving west to New Mexico for a more authentic artistic experience. There, in the spare landscape of the Southwest, she created works like Cow’s Skull with Calico Roses, which in its lyric beauty evokes a timeless connection to the past. “To me they are as beautiful as anything I know,” O’Keeffe said of the sun-bleached bones and skulls she found in the desert. “To me they are strangely more living than the animals walking around.”
On a Balcony (1878/79) by Mary Cassatt
American painter Mary Cassatt was remarkable not only because she was one of the few woman artists to thrive professionally in her time, but also because she was the only American invited to exhibit with the French Impressionists. Working outside the academic mainstream provided Cassatt with exceptional liberty to develop her own distinct vision and voice. As she recalled, “At last, I could work with absolute independence without considering the opinion of a jury.” Though Cassatt’s great subject was the traditionally domestic world of women, she imbued her domestic spaces with touches of modernity. For instance, the woman in On the Balcony, though at home, is reading a newspaper and thus engaging with the contemporary world that lies beyond the balcony’s railing.
Zenobia, Queen of Palmyra (c. 1857) by Harriet Hosmer
“Calm, grand, and strong within herself”—this is how Harriet Hosmer described her portrayal of Zenobia, and it would be an apt description of the artist herself. Reared in unusual freedom by her widower father, the young Hosmer flaunted social conventions at an early age, wearing masculine clothing and becoming an excellent athlete. As the leader of a small group of female artists in Rome, Hosmer aimed in her work “to honor every woman who has strength enough to step outside the beaten path when she feels like her walk lies in another.” Zenobia, the defiant ancient queen imprisoned as a rebel by the Roman Empire, was such a woman. Hosmer’s regal portrayal contrasts with the dominant 19th-century conception of the queen as an unsuitably ambitious woman deserving of her downfall.
Seed Jar with Sikyatki Motifs (c. 1895/1910) by Nampeyo, Modern Pueblo, Hopi-Tewa
The Hopi-Tewa ceramic artist Nampeyo is credited with a revival of Hopi pottery between 1895 and 1910. After learning basic pottery techniques from her grandmother, Nampeyo was exposed to ancient Southwest ceramics uncovered in an archaeological dig near her home. She was inspired to develop her own new style based on these ancient designs. The resulting works, such as this seed jar with its elegant shape, curvilinear motifs, and symmetrical eagle feather design, became much in demand by tourists, collectors, and museums alike. Though Nampeyo’s eyesight began to fail her in the 1920s, her revived technique and traditions lived on through her daughters and granddaughters.
The Damas (Maids of Honor) Go from the Church to the Reception in a Ford Explorer Limousine at Rosie’s Quinceañera, Huntington Park, California (2001) by Lauren Greenfield
Contemporary documentary photographer, photojournalist, and filmmaker Lauren Greenfield has become one of the foremost chroniclers of what she calls “girl culture.” Exploring issues of gender performance, body image, and eating disorders, Greenfield’s work illuminates the overwhelming pressures girls and women face in contemporary society. With this photograph she turns her keen documentary eye to the rituals of a quinceañera, the Latin American celebration of a girl’s 15th birthday and her transition from childhood to maturity. Join Greenfield on January 31 at 6:00 as she discusses her life and work.