Life in Blues: Niffenegger and Ringgold
Furloughed these last few weeks from my Federal job, I decided to at last to visit the National Museum of Women in the Arts. I’ve lived in D.C. for the last ten years and haven’t visited all the free museums yet (sorry, Holocaust Museum, but I’ve had trouble choosing just the right time to be horribly depressed), so the $10 paywall of the National Museum of Women in the Arts has always seemed unjustifiable. I know this is silly. I waste ten bucks at Starbucks over the course of a week.
So, I went for free. I easily persuaded a Federal friend to join me. She was female, of course, since I wasn’t sure if any papier-mache labias would need to be contemplated inside the museum, and I didn’t want to be in male company for that.*
We ended up weaving in and out of two exhibitions. The mix was a weird and wonderful contrast. Faith Ringgold’s “American People, Black Light” was filled with beautiful 1960s paintings of African-American people as part of the artist’s engagement with the “Black is Beautiful” movement. I particularly enjoyed the way Ringgold used blue tones in highlight and shadow as in Early Works #25, Self-Portrait, 1965 (shown above) and Early Works #24, Woman in a Red Dress, 1965. At the time, Ringgold had to design her own way to paint African-American faces since no appropriate painting techniques existed for darker skin.
“Awake in the Dream World,” the Audrey Niffenegger exhibition, was a wholly different experience. I’m generally all for the weirdness of free-floating eyeballs watching someone, but Niffenegger’s work was too depressing and lonely for me. I felt bad for her. Still, my favorite piece in the two exhibits was Niffenegger’s Funeral for a Starling, 2008, though that may be more a commentary on my appreciation for horse skeletons pulling a carriage than on anything else. I generally preferred Ringgold’s work and especially enjoyed the exhuberant, recent piece Mama Can Sing, 2005.
The National Museum of Women in the Arts is open seven days a week and is free to Federal employees showing a government identification during the shutdown, to those under 18, and to everyone on the first Sunday of the month. I definitely recommend a visit whether you pay to get in or not. You can always make a donation on the way out.
*We found no confirmed papier-mache labias in the Ringgold or Niffenegger exhibitions, but a creepy nightmare contender with hooks and feathers was mounted on the wall. I definitely spent too much time looking up at that thing.