In celebration of Women’s History Month, the Columbus Museum is running an exhibit comprised entirely of works created by women. The exhibit is entitled ‘Holograph: Women on Paper’ and will feature art from the museum’s permanent collection as well as some new acquisitions that will be making their public debuts.
Jonathan Walz, the Museum's Director of Curatorial Affairs and Curator of American Art, curated the exhibit for the museum. Walz is an expert on American art and once served as an exhibition coordinator in the exhibitions department of the National Gallery in Washington, D.C.
Walz recently corresponded with arts reporter Carrie Beth Wallace to discuss the new exhibit, which specific acquisitions making their debuts this month and how the current social tides surrounding women’s rights in our nation influenced Walz’ approach to developing the exhibit.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
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Q: This exhibit is in celebration of Women's History Month. How do you feel as though the current social conversation centered around women's rights in our country is impacting women's roles the fine arts?
A: More museums are turning much-needed attention to the work of women artists, for example, Brooklyn Museum, from October 2016 to early 2018, mounted ‘A Year of Yes: Reimagining Feminism at the Brooklyn Museum,’ a year of programming featuring women artists like Georgia O’Keeffe and sometime Georgia resident Beverly Buchanan. There is a simultaneous rise in interest — and thus prices — of work by nationally-recognized women artists like Alma Thomas and Amy Sherald, both of whom hail from Columbus.
Q: How have you personally been impacted by the task of curating this exhibit? Did any of the current social conversations around women's rights specifically impact the way that you curated 'Women on Paper’ for the Museum?
A: As a cis-gendered gay male feminist, I am consistently interested in what is happening on the ‘margins’ rather than in the ‘mainstream.’ Women have been traditionally sidelined in the art world, yet they have made and are making some of the most interesting and timely work imaginable. I had two overarching goals for the exhibition: one, to foreground the amazing works of art and history by makers who just happen to be female in the collection of The Columbus Museum, and two, to set the stage, so to speak, for an upcoming solo show for Columbus-born and nationally-recognized artist Alma Thomas. Thomas received national attention in 1972 at the height of second-wave feminism in the United States, and she has an interesting relationship to the feminist movement that I think is important for our audiences to think about. In a very direct way, the color of the hats in the Washington demonstration and elsewhere informed my decision for the graphic design of ‘Holograph’ — we used that color in the title of the show to make a subtle yet discoverable connection to a larger conversation.
Q: What are some of your favorite works in the exhibit? Why?
A: One of my favorites is a complex work by Iranian American artist Hadieh Shafie, which is on loan from the artist herself. The work Shafie has loaned to The Columbus Museum contains a secret: on the unseen interior of each roll of paper the artist has handwritten, as well as printed, the Farsi word ‘eshgh,’ which equates to the English ‘love’ or ‘passion.’ This play with the visible and the hidden derives from the artist’s memories of her homeland’s 1979 revolution, when the government censored many texts, and being in possession of banned books could be dangerous. Works like this point to the intersectionality of the artist’s experience: as a woman, as an artist, as an immigrant, as a Muslim. Works like this also point to how complicated American art and art history is and make me proud to live in a country where diversity and different voices are part and parcel of the fabric of our culture. I am grateful to the artist for loaning us this work for the run of the show. I would love to be able to find a way to acquire this piece for the Museum; I don’t want to send it back! Not only is it conceptually rich and well-made, but the object itself is beautiful and it speaks to other contributions of the Muslim experience to international culture, like geometry, calligraphy, and tilework.
Q: New museum acquisitions are making their public debuts in 'Women on Paper' this month. What are these new acquisitions? Can you tell us about them?
A: Yes. The list of acquisitions making their debuts are as follows:
Sister Gertrude Morgan (1900–1980)
Untitled (The Madam and The Bride), 1970s
Mixed media on card
Gift of Thornwill Farm, Harris County G.2017.62
About the work: Morgan was a self-taught artist who began making images because of her religious visions and fervor. I am trying very hard to collect work by nationally-known artists with a connection to Columbus. Morgan moved to Columbus as a late teen with her family and later lived at 1324 North Avenue with her husband until she relocated to New Orleans in 1938.
Frances Concho (active 20th century)
Acoma seed pot, 1980s
Gift of Richard D. Williams G.2017.49.12
About the work: Part of my efforts to diversify and broaden the collection of the Museum. Concho is part of a dynasty of female ceramic artists from Acoma Pueblo in New Mexico. This vessel’s decoration of incised lines and geometric designs is typical of this Native American tribe’s pottery.
Fidelia Bridges (1834–1923)
Watercolor and gouache on cream-colored wove paper
Gift of Dr. and Mrs. Philip L. Brewer G.2016.33.1
About the work: A beautiful floral study by one of only a handful of successful American women artists from the nineteenth century.
Romi Sloboda (b. 1971)
Thirteen Black Pomegranates, 2011
Acrylic and charcoal on paper
Gift of the artist G.2017.52
About the work: Part of my efforts to diversify and broaden the collection. Sloboda is of mixed parentage: her father is Hungarian and her mother is South Korean and they both became U.S. citizens. Sloboda has had a very global life: childhood in South Korea, studies in Europe, and then settling in New Mexico, with its rich mixture of Anglo, Hispanic, and Native American cultures.
Mia Pastore Rosenthal (b. 1977)
Ultra Deep Field (Dark Matter), 2014
Ink on paper
The Edward Swift Shorter Bequest Fund G.2017.21
About the work: I’m interested in demonstrating that art and science intersect, perhaps more often than our visitors may think. Rosenthal did serious scientific research to be able to produce this drawing: it depicts what she saw from images produced by the Hubble Space Telescope. She has also recently become interested in particle physics. I wanted an object in the collection that might inspire our student visitors, particularly girls, that art and science are not mutually exclusive and that domains, like astro-physics, which have traditionally been dominated by men, are actually open to women too!
Q: What else would you like for our readers to know?
A: The show draws from both sides of the Museum’s collection; that is, it features both art and history objects and many objects that speak to both art and history. I wanted to stretch the definition of ‘works on paper’ to include things besides the expected prints and drawings. Therefore the project also has correspondence, samples of handwriting and calligraphy, sketchbooks, botanical illustrations, and some other surprises, like a jewelry box with watercolors on its interior walls.
I think there is something for everyone in this show, it’s such a potpourri of different things. There is a very tender pastel drawing of a woman and two children by Franco-American impressionist Mary Cassat and there is a very abstract sculptural graphite drawing by Susan York and everything in between. There are works that engage nature, literature, religion, and interpersonal relationships. The show demonstrates how women have always brought their talents and creative problem solving to so many different kinds of making…I find it inspiring!
If You Go:
What: ‘Holograph: Women on Paper’
When: Through June 24
Where: Columbus Museum