Please Add the National Museum of Women in the Arts to Your List of Things to do in DC

It might seem like a tough call for a tourist to make.  (I mean, if you live near DC, just go.) There’s the Hirshhorn and all the myriad Smithsonian art museums, and the National Gallery does have nice example of everything.  And they’re all free…

For those reasons, it took me a year and a half of living in the area — the first 12 months of it very busy — to finally make it to the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

I’m aware that there may be some apprehension among you out there that you’ll buy a (relatively cheap) ticket only to find the museum is a case of gender politics going too far.  Maybe you don’t have art in a museum and you’re bitterly delusional about reverse discrimination.  I don’t know.  In the least you’ve probably seen art exhibitions that fall short because they assemble a bunch of very different art works on the single unifying principle that they were all made by artists who have similar, non-phallic, genitalia.

Well:  For one, what makes a museum work and what makes an exhibition work are different things.  For two, there really still are people out there who have taken “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?” entirely the wrong way.  (Maybe they only read the title.)  For three, inequity in the canon is well addressed by positive affirmations of things which run counter to it.

And, for four, the National Museum of Women in the Arts has a really good collection.

On top of that, especially for those of you who have seen a lot of art, the thing that I enjoyed so much about the National Museum of Women in the Arts is that they have a lot of museum-quality art that you don’t often find in the huge, department-for-everything museums (the Met, National Gallery, Art Institute, etc.)  The fact is that a lot of the artists whose work is in the National Museum of Women in the Arts’ collection also have work in those other museums’ collections.  Whether by virtue of focusing on a smaller field or because of compulsions the bigger museums feel to display the biggest names of the canon, however, you just don’t often get to see in other places the things you can see at the National Museum of Women in the Arts right now.

It’s great.   It’s a breath of fresh air.  For me, seeing work by artists I’m less familiar with reopens historical periods after I’ve become a bit desensitized from seeing the same artists’ takes on them over and over again.

They had a couple works by Elizabeth Catlett on display — an artist whose work, I think, should be a lot easier to stumble across.  They’ve got a couple of works I really liked by Jane Hammond.  That, I think was the first time I’ve seen Hammond’s work in a museum, rather than a commercial gallery, as is also the case for the museum’s big May Stevens painting.

Of course they’ve got some of the canon names too: Rosa Bonheur, Frida Kahlo, Louise Nevelson; a show of work by Mary Cassatt is up now.

Moreover, if you act now (before Feb. 3), you can see the National Museum of Women in the Arts’ show of ceramic work by Tammy Garcia that, in my opinion, is worth the price of admission all by itself.

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