“Women of Our Time,” an extraordinary traveling exhibition from the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery, celebrates 75 women who have challenged and changed our nation. “Women of Our Time” will open at the Mobile Museum of Art in Mobile, Ala. on August 8, 2003, and will remain in Mobile through October 5, 2003. This critically acclaimed exhibit, which opened this past March to rave reviews and large crowds at the Florida International Museum in St. Petersburg, is a stunning collection of photographic portraits of women whose brilliance, courage, style and unflagging spirit have helped shape America as we know it.
“This collection of photographs features women whose lives redefined America,” said Marc Pachter, director of the National Portrait Gallery.
“Women of Our Time” includes photographs of activists and artists, designers and dancers, politicians and poets, all of them agents of change in their field or society at large. The photographs reveal their subjects at pivotal moments in their lives – Eleanor Roosevelt just after the passage of the Declaration of Human Rights; Jessye Norman the year she made her debut with the Metropolitan Opera; Joan Baez at the 1963 March on Washington – lending each image the poignancy of a struggle overcome and a triumph earned.
Featuring the work of the most distinguished photographers of the 20th century – among them Edward Steichen, Lotte Jacobi, Irving Penn, Philippe Halsman, Adolph de Meyer, Lisette Model and Arnold Newman – “Women of Our Time” is as much about the art of photographic portraiture as it is a celebration of its subjects.
“Photographic portraits are biographical documents,” said Frederick Voss, senior historian at the Portrait Gallery and curator of the show. “These pictures do more than tell us how these women looked. They also capture significant moments of their careers and, at their best, add to our understanding of the nature of their achievements.”
Highlights of the exhibition include:
Helen Keller, photographed by Charles Whitman in 1904. Helen Keller once said, “Paradise is attained by touch; for in touch is all love and intelligence.” As if to illustrate this particular quotation, the portrait shows Keller holding a book written in braille with one hand, while with the other hand she grasps a flower.
Margaret Sanger, photographed by Ira Hill in 1917. Founder and leader of the birth control movement, Margaret Sanger was a fiercely determined feminist reformer. In this portrait, Hill captures Sanger in a simple, almost angelic light, highlighting the benign and genteel exterior that proved to be an asset in a crusade that was decidedly not.
Josephine Baker, photographed by Stanislaus J. Walery in 1926. When Josephine Baker made her Paris debut in 1925, no one could have predicted the impact this teen-age showgirl would make – her intoxicating combination of bold sensuality, personal warmth, and sly impudence made her an immediate sensation. Walery’s photo depicts Baker in her first revue at the Folies-Bergère. She appears dancing, having just made a dramatic entrance from a flower-covered globe lowered from the ceiling.
Georgia O’Keeffe, photographed by Irving Penn in 1948. Among art critics, Georgia O’Keeffe has frequently defied description; she has been called a surrealist, an abstractionist, a precisionist and a realist. All agree, however, that she is one of America’s most respected painters. Penn’s portrait, like the artist herself, conveys an enormous dignity and sense of enigma.
Judy Garland, photographed by Bob Willoughby in 1954. Immortalized as Dorothy in “The Wizard of Oz,” Judy Garland will always be one of America’s most beloved child actors. Garland continued to mesmerize audiences as an adult, her irrepressible talent overriding an increasingly difficult, and public, personal life. Hollywood photographer Bob Willoughby captures her here during the filming of “A Star Is Born.”
The exhibition catalog, Women of Our Time (Merrell/NPG) is available at bookstores nationally and at Amazon.com for $35. Opening with a preface by Cokie Roberts, it includes full-page images of every portrait in the show. Accompanying text features biographical details and information on the making of the portrait and the photographer.
“Women of Our Time” is the final exhibition in the “Portrait of a Nation” initiative, in which four major Portrait Gallery exhibitions are touring nationally and internationally. The National Portrait Gallery is closed to the public while its home, the historic Patent Office Building in Washington, D.C., undergoes massive renovations; it is scheduled to reopen in 2006.