‘Women’s Work’: SCMA Showcases Feminist Art

Photo courtesy of MassVacation.com | The Smith College Art Museum is currently featuring an exhibition of work by pioneering female artists called “Women’s Work.”

Photo courtesy of MassVacation.com | The Smith College Art Museum is currently featuring an exhibition of work by pioneering female artists called “Women’s Work.”


Tyra Wu ’19
Contributing Writer

Earlier this semester, the Guerrilla Girls’ talk highlighted the lack of representation of work by female artists in museums. During the question and answer section, a student criticized the Smith College Museum of Art (SCMA) for its lack of art by women. However, unlike most museums, the amount of work by female artists in the SCMA’s permanent collection is nearly equal to work by men artists in the museum. In particular, the SCMA is currently featuring an exhibition titled “Women’s Work”, which showcases pieces by pioneering women artists active during Second Wave Feminism.

“Women’s Work” is organized into five central themes – marginalization of women artists and their exclusion from the art historical canon; the female body and its representation; women’s work; sexuality and gender; and race and ethnicity. This exhibition, which will be on display until Jan. 3 was curated in response to students and faculty who advocated for greater representation of feminist art in the museum.

“Based on what we heard from students and faculty, we went out and actively sought to bolster our holdings in this particular historic period because it’s good to have context for feminism as a whole or feminist art as a whole,” said Linda Muehlig, curator of painting and sculpture and associate director for curatorial affairs.

“Current scholarship by a number of African American scholars really posits that artists of color were really there from the beginning,” Muehlig said. “They had their own groups and their own means and own ways. They were always part of the story.”

The museum has also showcased women artists in the past. From Jan. 30 to May 24 of 2015, it showcased the work of German artist Mary Bauermeister, focusing on the years in which she lived and worked in the United States. In Jan. of 2016, the museum will mount an exhibition of work by Käthe Kollwitz, Germany’s most notable female artist of the 20th century, entitled, “Mothers’ Arms: Käthe Kollwitz’s Women and War.”

Solo shows are by no means the only way to showcase women artists. “Basically any show that you do of contemporary art, unless you say, ‘this is a show of male contemporary artists,’ you have to include women,” Muehlig said. “It’s not a matter of contrivance, it’s simply that women are so important to contemporary art scene globally that you cannot accurately or fairly represent contemporary art without including women.” Currently on view in the museum’s new Video & New Media Gallery, is a piece by the Korean-born artist, Kimsooja. The video is entitled, “A Beggar Woman – Cairo.”

This focus on female artists is written into the museum’s collecting plan. The original collecting plan, proposed by the museum’s first director Vance Churchill in 1919, aimed to concentrate on collecting art from the modern era. Edward Nygren amended the collecting plan from 1989 to 1990 to ensure the museum emphasized and included work by women artists and artists of color. The “Women’s Work” exhibition is simply part of the museum’s process of meeting this goal.

“It’s such a rich period, and there were so many artists involved that this is simply the tip of the iceberg,” Muehlig said. “It reflects what we have in the collection in our ongoing efforts to sort of bolster up this representation.”

Students in particular have been crucial in focusing the museum’s efforts. In 2000, the Black Student Alliance purchased one of the pieces currently featured in the “Women’s Work” exhibition. After a successful fundraising conference, the organization approached the museum with the intention of purchasing a piece by a contemporary African American artist. After conducting research and speaking with the artist herself, the group decided on a piece by Emma Amos titled “One Who Watches.”

“That was sort of a real benchmark for us,” Muehlig said. “Whenever we would meet with students, we would say what the Black Student Alliance did.”

In 2005, the Korean American Students of Smith (KASS) felt that the museum lacked work by Asian artists, so they purchased an installation piece by Yong Soon Min, a Korean American artist. When the students approached Min, she was so thrilled that she offered them a special price on the installation. The group then conducted fundraising, primarily in Korea, to raise money to purchase the piece. Purchasing art pieces is only one of many ways students can affect the museum.

“It’s harder as a student to recognize that you do have that power to affect the museum, but you do have the power,” Muehlig said. “You don’t have to go out and buy us something, unless you really want to. There are all sorts of avenues and ways that students can affect what we’re doing.”

There is a volunteer program through SCMA that students can get involved in, as well as a variety of jobs open to students. Muehlig has also emphasized that the museum is open to any suggestions that students may have.

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