Summer art shows emphasize women

Posted: Thursday, August 29, 2002

WASHINGTON -- Women's achievements, their place in society and the way their beauty has been idealized are getting special attention from capital museums this summer.

American women who broke new ground dominate the first show of the year by the National Portrait Gallery, beginning with Pocahontas.

Her only known likeness displays her in elaborate costume, possibly for her presentation to King James I of England.

She crossed the Atlantic with her settler husband John Rolfe to raise money for colonists in Virginia.

Among the 61 figures is Marilyn Monroe, the sex symbol baring arms and shoulders in the Korean winter for the entertainment of American troops.

Black opera singer Marian Anderson stands in front of the Lincoln Memorial, where she sang in defiance of the racial discrimination that kept her out of Constitution Hall in 1939.

There's also Jackie Joyner-Kersee, perhaps America's best all-around female athlete.

''These role models may vary in their accomplishments, but they are all bound together by their uncommon supply of determination,'' said gallery director Mark Pachter.

The exhibit can be seen through Dec. 2.

Determination marks the female artists of the later 1900s in the show called ''Feminism and Art'' at the National Museum of Women in the Arts. It includes a documentary film lasting 80 minutes called ''Not for Sale'' that catalogs the work of feminist painters and performers of the 1970s.

''Superwoman,'' by Austrian artist Kiki Kogelnik, is a notable example of female assertiveness. It includes an image that museum staff say strongly resembles Kogelnik herself, posing with a huge pair of scissors, though it is not listed officially as a self-portrait.

Kogelnik, who died in 1997, specialized in larger-than-life figures, some with props apparently designed to make the viewer uncomfortable. Two other shows deal with contrasting periods and atmospheres.

''American Beauties'' at the Library of Congress illustrates how popular artists thought American ''girls'' of the late 1800s and early 1900s should look. Covers of popular magazines and widely reprinted ads gave the images wide circulation.

Icons of the period include the demure ''Gibson girl,'' popularized by Charles Dana Gibson, playing a violin; the frilly ''Brinkley girl,'' of Nell Brinkley, shown seductively selling war bonds; and the ''Benda girl'' of Polish-born Wladyslaw Benda, a smooth, emotionless portrait head.

The show will be on view through Sept. 28.

More aspiring artists of the same period depicted women of the moneyed classes in the roles of mother, housewife and sheer domestic ornament. The Corcoran Gallery of Art calls its exhibit ''The Gilded Cage.'' It's a reference to the novel by Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner that depicts Washington life after the Civil War: ''The Gilded Age.''

It features Mary Cassatt's handsome ''Young Girl at a Window,'' possibly an expatriate American like Cassatt herself, in a Paris apartment. The museum's description of the picture suggests that the balcony railing she leans on is a barrier between her domestic life and the varied activity of the city below.

The show closes Aug. 27.


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