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A Parallel Presence: National Association of Women Artists, 1889-2009

May 14 - July 31, 2009


The UBS Art Gallery is celebrating the 120th anniversary of the National Association of Women Artists (N.A.W.A.), the oldest active American women's art organization, by presenting A Parallel Presence: National Association of Women Artists, 1889-2009. On view from May 14 to July 31, 2009, the exhibition will illustrate the ongoing influence and engagement of N.A.W.A. members with the many stylistic innovations in American art since the establishment of the group in 1889. (right: Virginia Snedeker, 1909-2000, Self-portrait, 1933. Oil on board. 30 x 24 inches. Collection of Robert B. Taylor and Richard S. Snedeker. Photo: Morven Museum and Garden, Princeton, New Jersey)

A Parallel Presence features work by 55 artists including Theresa Bernstein, Bessie Potter Vonnoh, Blanche Lazzell, Dorothy Dehner, Louise Nevelson, June Wayne, Pat Adams, Faith Ringgold, Idelle Weber and Martha Walker. The exhibition will explore the individual visions of N.A.W.A.'s members by presenting work in a wide range of media, including painting, sculpture, woodcut, photography and video. A Parallel Presence also features documentary images, correspondence, exhibition catalogues, brochures, and other materials from the N.A.W.A. archives representing the organization's activities over the years.


Exhibition Highlights

In 1889, co-founders Grace Fitz-Randolph, Edith Mitchell Prellwitz, Adele Frances Bedell, Anita C. Ashley and Elizabeth S. Cheever created a professional group open only to serious women painters whose membership was subject to an admissions jury. Originally called the Woman's Art Club, its mission was to help women artists gain recognition and equality with men in professional training, exhibition opportunities and the marketplace. The founding statement insisted that art by women was equal in creative achievement to the work of men and that this would be understood only when women proved themselves in the public sphere.

Perhaps the best known of the founding members, Edith Prellwitz was trained in the academic and symbolist styles of the late 19th century as seen in the mysterious scene depicted in Triptych (1898). She turned to plein-air painting in her later years, focusing on city motifs and landscapes. The painter Cecilia Beaux lent prestige to the group, even though she never joined as a dues-paying member. Often described as a "female John Singer Sargent" for her elegant portraits and interior scenes, Beaux first exhibited with the group in 1914 and taught a portrait class for the club in the 1920s. In her Portrait of Alice Davidson (1909), the young Alice is shown stepping into Central Park with her small dog. Her posture and wardrobe suggest a moment balanced between childhood and maturity. (left: Cecilia Beaux, 1855-1942, Portrait of Alice Davidson, 1909, Oil on canvas. 66? x 34 inches. Courtesy of John H. Surovek Gallery, Palm Beach, Florida)

A prominent N.A.W.A. member and leading figure in the Provincetown art colony, Blanche Lazzell began to exhibit with the group in 1939. Her woodblock for West Virginia Hills (1919) was printed as a unique impression, using just one block instead of multiple blocks for each color. Lazzell became a leading practitioner of this innovative technique, creating more than 138 woodcuts between 1916 and 1950. Sylvia Wald, a pioneer of experimental printmaking, also produced paintings with vigorous, aggressive zigzag brush strokes influenced by the gestural manner of Abstract Expressionism. Her Untitled (1959) oil on canvas features a full spectrum of color and an energetic approach to art making.

During the Great Depression, women artists had the opportunity to win commissions and promote the arts through Franklin Delano Roosevelt's New Deal programs. Active members of N.A.W.A. working under the New Deal included Minna Citron, Riva Helfond, Doris Lee, and Virginia Snedeker. Snedeker's Self-portrait (1933) is a characteristic embrace of social realism and the depiction of everyday life. Portraying herself in masculine clothes and staring directly at the viewer, Snedeker shows her strength as both an artist and a woman.

By 1942, sculptors Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, Harriet Frishmuth, Margaret Brassler Kane, Malvina Hoffman, and Augusta Savage were exhibiting members of N.A.W.A. Kane's cast-bronze Harlem Dancers (1936) features an African-American couple moving to the rhythm of the Harlem club scene. This piece was produced without live models or preparatory drawings. Louise Nevelson joined N.A.W.A. in 1952, soon after she began experimenting with the technique of assemblage to create sculptures reminiscent of ancient ruins and monuments. Nevelson's Night Flower One (1958) is made from wood and painted black. This became a signature method, and she described her love of black as an acceptance of all colors, not the negation of color.

N.A.W.A. currently has more than 800 members representing 42 states, including Grimanesa Amorós, Robin Antar, Pam Cooper, Naomi Grossman, Erin Johnson, Martha Walker, and Ela Shah ­ all of whom are in the exhibition. Amorós' video La Procesion (2007) subtly examines the ritual of death, using water as a dominant motif serving as both a life-giving and -taking force. Ela Shah's World Within (2008), an installation of five hanging sculptures made of wood and found materials, juxtaposes images of American popular culture with those of traditional Indian life.

A Parallel Presence: National Association of Women Artists, 1889-2009 premiered at the Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, from January 17 - April 12, 2009. The exhibition is co-curated by Jeffrey Wechsler, Senior Curator, and Donna Gustafson, Assistant Curator for American Art at the Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum.

A Parallel Presence: National Association of Women Artists, 1889-2009 is made possible by UBS.


(above: Margaret Brassler Kane, 1909-2006, Harlem Dancers, 1936 (cast 1992-93), Bronze. 30 x 14 x 12 inches. Margaret Brassler Kane Foundation)


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