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Sarah Bernhardt, Cecily Brown, other artists and where you can appreciate their art

October 6, 2016

If you are in Washington DC, I would highly recommend your taking a couple of hours to visit “the only major museum in the world solely dedicated to recognizing women’s creative contributions.” This is the “National Museum of Women in the Arts” which “brings recognition to the achievements of women artists of all periods and nationalities by exhibiting, preserving, acquiring, and researching art by women and by teaching the public about their accomplishments.”

Of course you can visit the website here. And let me share with you two of the works that most struck me as I toured the museum. These are a sculpture by Sarah Bernhardt in the permanent collection and a painting by Cecily Brown in the special exhibit, “No Man’s Land: Women Artists from the Rubell Family Collection“:

My apologies for poor quality photos. Hopefully this encourages all the more to see the works with your own eyes without mediation.

My own commentary is that these two artists are re-mediating the dominant male artist male art. The art historian notes on the wall, for instance, tip us off to the fact that Bernhardt is riffing off of Michelangelo’s work (which happens to be one I’ve seen and appreciate very much). Rather than a holy high church piece of an adult mother grieving the death of an adult child, the Son of God, however, this other sculpture is from a woman artist ambiguously drawing attention to a horrific experience of a different mother, with the artist herself as witness, encouraging our empathy.

And Brown paints a woman nude. This seems cliche perhaps, when a male artist does this. And yet this female is lying stomach down, not exposed, her genitals not available to the male gaze at all. Then look closer, at the other “objects” in the painting. Are they birds? Angels? Look again. What if they are the male anatomy? Look again. Why do works of art have to take the human sexual form and draw attention that way? Look again. See the effect, the sensation of being awkward when female when gazed upon as an object?




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