WASHINGTON – The National Museum of Women in the Arts (NMWA) announces its first off-site exhibition to take place while its historic building is temporarily closed to the public for a major renovation. On view at the American University Museum at the Katzen Arts Center from January 29, 2022 through May 22, 2022, Positive Fragmentation: From the Collections of Jordan D. Schnitzer and His Family Foundation includes more than 150 works by 21 contemporary artists who use fragmentation both stylistically and conceptually.
This is the first showing of a multi-year tour organized by the Jordan Schnitzer Family Foundation. Some of the artists pull apart images and ideas to expose what lies beneath or herald the value of each part. Others assemble fragments to create a new whole defined by its components. Employing a wide range of printmaking processes, the featured artists interrogate concepts such as gender, race and the environment.
NMWA Associate Curator Virginia Treanor selected the featured works from the Collections of Jordan D. Schnitzer and His Family Foundation, one of the largest private assemblages of contemporary prints, multiples, paintings and sculptures in the United States. The exhibition title references a phrase coined in 1978 by feminist scholar and critic Lucy Lippard as she addressed gender discrimination in the division between the concepts of “high” art and “hobby” art. Lippard describes positive fragmentation, or the “collage aesthetic,” as particularly suited to historically marginalized artists, as it “willfully takes apart what is or is supposed to be and rearranges it in ways that suggest what it could be.”
“While our building is in a period of transition, we are delighted to be able to work in partnership with Jordan D. Schnitzer and His Family Foundation and the American University Museum to share with new audiences the work of some of the most important contemporary women and non-binary artists working today,” said NMWA Director Susan Fisher Sterling. “The featured artists question the status quo and suggest new perspectives.”
Although the exhibition’s theme was chosen before the global pandemic, it is apt for the world it has become. While a virus that knows no borders has underscored the interconnectedness and interdependency of the world’s population, the experience has also shattered societal infrastructures, institutions and individual lives, laying bare persistent inequalities. Exploring the impulses that drive these artists’ creative approaches through the lens of “positive fragmentation” can provide new ways of making sense of our own fractured pandemic-era world and provide inspiration for how to navigate the future.
“I often say artists are chroniclers of our time, and we can look to them for guidance, inspiration, and motivation to create a more equitable world for all,” said Jordan D. Schnitzer. “I hope this exhibition will advance conversations about the role these artists have had in society. Often facing discrimination from major museums, the artists do not just persevere but flourish. It is too bad that some of them are not here today to see the impact of their work and the next generation of women artists who are already some of the most important artists today.”
Selected Exhibition Themes:
Making New Meaning
The work of Betye Saar (b. 1926-) exemplifies the dismantling and reconstituting of myriad objects and ideas, whether through her larger oeuvre or her singular print included in this exhibition, the lithograph Fragments (1976). Saar uses the practice of collage to critique constructs of race and gender, pose probing questions and generate new meaning. Similarly, Wendy Red Star (b. 1981-) constructs new iconographies for Indigenous American peoples through assemblages of disparate imagery, language and forms. Her powerful photo montages honor both the traditions of the past and the ingenuity of the present.
Artists in Positive Fragmentation also address the spaces we inhabit — architectural, natural and even metaphysical. Nicola Lopez (b. 1975-) and Sarah Morris (b. 1967-) share an interest in distilling and rearranging architectural elements, including beams, girders, sheathing and wiring, to emphasize the unseen social forces that support or destabilize our environments. Seemingly in opposition to Morris’s expansive grids, Lopez creates isolated, self-contained globes of compacted industrial building components. With meticulous architectural plans, Lopez presents kinetic masses of disordered elements whose frenetic energy suggests the hurried rhythms of life in cities.
Representing the human body in art has historically been held as the highest achievement for artists. When rules for depicting the human form were challenged by artists such as Pablo Picasso and Willem de Kooning in the first half of the 20th century, the resulting fragmented forms often reduced bodies — especially those of women — to sexualized elements: breasts, vaginas and buttocks. However, when women and non-binary artists fragment bodies in their work, they have a much different goal. As Lippard has explored, the dissonance of not conforming to a white cisgender-male norm, to be considered Other, is in itself a “collage experience.”
Nicole Eisenman (b. 1965-) creates haunting self-portraits of composite gender-vague faces through a blend of traditional intaglio and drypoint methods with contemporary digital technology and social media filters. Elsewhere, artists use the gruesome implication of the fragmented body to convey raw emotion. In one series of works from 2005, Kara Walker (b. 1969-) superimposes silhouettes of dismembered hands, legs and heads of Black bodies over 19th-century etchings reproduced from an 1866 publication, Harper’s Pictorial History of the Civil War. By disrupting the view of the original, often saccharine, vignette with silhouettes of maimed Black bodies that have nothing and yet everything to do with these scenes, Walker calls attention to the violence of slavery.
Other artists in the exhibition include Polly Apfelbaum (b. 1955-), Jennifer Bartlett (b. 1941-), Christiane Baumgartner (b. 1967-), Louise Bourgeois (1911–2010), Cecily Brown (b. 1969-), Judy Chicago (b. 1939-), Ellen Gallagher (b. 1965-), Jenny Holzer (b. 1950-), Julie Mehretu (b. 1970-), Wangechi Mutu (b. 1972-), Judy Pfaff (b. 1946-), Lorna Simpson (b. 1960-), Swoon (Caledonia Curry) (b. 1977-), Barbara Takenaga (b. 1949-) and Mickalene Thomas (b. 1971-).
Visit the website of the National Museum of Women in the Arts (NMWA) and see its dedicated page for Positive Fragmentation: From the Collections of Jordan D. Schnitzer and His Family Foundation.