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Indepth Arts News:

"Challenging Tradition: Women of the Academy, 1826-2003"
2003-06-28 until 2003-01-04
National Academy of Design
New York, NY, USA

Challenging Tradition: Women of the Academy, 1826-2003 examines the role of women in the history of the National Academy of Design and by extension, women's role over the past two centuries in the American art world at large. This exhibition, comprised of over 60 paintings, sculptures and works on paper, includes works by Louise Bourgeois, Isabel Bishop, Mary Cassatt, Helen Frankenthaler, Elaine deKooning, Susanna Coffey, Miriam Schapiro, Bessie Potter Vonnoh and others.

A strength of this exhibition is the numerous self-portraits by women artists. One membership requirement of newly elected Academicians is that all must donate a portrait of themselves to the museum's permanent collection. This has provided the Academy with a rich cross-section of women's self-portraits, from Cecilia Beaux to Susanna Coffey, and allows viewers new insight into the subject of women and self-representation. Other subjects in the exhibition include the traditional flower and bird motifs often associated with women's work, the organic abstractions of Louise Bourgeois, the feminist works of Miriam Schapiro and the environmentally-based work of Michelle Stuart - a linear overview of women's work from the mid 1800s to the present.

Women were admitted to membership to the National Academy from the organization's inception in 1825. By 1831, the Academy's school was open to women, and in 1847, the radical step of offering a life-class for women was taken. At this time in American history most institutions' support of women was somewhat limited, but the National Academy was an exception. Women were allowed to show their work in the Academy's Annual Exhibitions, beginning with the first in 1826, although only a small percentage were actually elected as Academicians. However, in the 1900s, that number grew substantially, except for a brief period in the 1950's when the country experienced a general decline in support of feminist issues.

Today, the role of women in the Academy continues to grow steadily and 1992 saw the election of the first woman president of the institution, Jane Wilson. In 1997, Dr. Annette Blaugrund joined the small but growing number of women museum directors in becoming Director of the National Academy. Moreover, women are part of the Academy's Governing Council, the school faculty, and serve in many other elevated capacities.

With the recent 2002 election of new Academicians, the percentage of women members continues to rise. In fact, out of 8 newly elected members, 4 were women: sculptor Elizabeth Catlett, and painters Joyce Kozloff, Dorothea Rockburne, and Idelle Weber. With continued championing of women and their work, the curators of this exhibition Dr. David Dearinger and Dr. Isabelle Dervaux seek to give the so-called second sex first-rate status.

Susanna Coffey
Self-Portrait, 1994
Oil on linen, 12 x 11 in.

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