Last night, the National Association of Women Artists celebrated its 125th year with an exhibition of members’ work and a special event honoring two of its members, Faith Ringgold and Ursula von Rydingsvard.
N.A.W.A. has been going strong since 1889, its membership currently exceeds 800, with many notable members over the years, including artists Louise Nevelson, Alice Neel, Theresa Bernstein, Mary Ellen Mark, and Judy Chicago. But in choosing two standout members to honor at this year’s benchmark event, “Faith and Ursula were at the top of our list,” said executive director Susan G. Hammond during the an intimate ceremony at Sylvia Wald and Po Kim Gallery, alongside N.A.W.A.’s president Marie Hines Cowan, who was just elected this year and is the organization’s first African American leader.
Both artists gave brief but poignant speeches, reflecting on their own work, the organization’s supportive national community, and the status of female artists within the art world today. Ms. von Rydingsvard cited president emerita and chairman of the International Council of MoMA Agnes Gund’s Huffington Post article from July 22, “Fame, Fortune and the Female Artist.”
“Dealers claim that women artists are not as salable as men, that they are a poor investment,” read Ms. von Rydingsvard, quoting Ms. Gund, who was present at the event. “Skate’s Art Market Research, in a recent report, claims that women artists work in mediums that are ‘hard to collect,’ a claim that seems oddly akin to the old idea that women confine themselves to ‘female’ subjects.”
And yet, looking around the room, at the impressive amount of work of varied mediums, packing the walls salon-style and crowing the floor space on standing plinths, all by women artists, and all for sale, one can’t help but notice that there’s plenty to collect here.
Ms. von Rydingsvard then rattled off a series of abysmal statistics related to the uneven representation of women in this October’s issue of Artforum, from the ad sales to the features, where are the art world’s women? Apparently not front and center.
“In my own process, I’ve put this aside, because it’s all I can do,” she said. “It’s my gut instinct that I listen to, and I let that guide me.” Ms. von Rydingsvard, who juried N.A.W.A.’s 114th annual exhibition in 2003, garnered recent attention for her sculpture Ona, which is installed at the main entrance of Brooklyn’s Barclays Center. A retrospective of her work is currently on view at Yorkshire Sculpture Park in England.
Also accepting the honor, Ms. Ringgold didn’t shy away from the subject of women in the art either. “Women all over the world need to realize that some of the problems we have come from leadership, specifically in two places: religion and politics.
“Those areas don’t require any muscle,” she said with a laugh.
At 84 years old—she just celebrated a birthday this week—the artist is still producing brand new work. Her art making game and app for iPhone and iPad called Quiltuduko was just released. During her speech she celebrated the fact that she’d been with N.A.W.A. since 1968, by saying “I’m so glad I understood then.” Her painted story quilts, sculpture, and award-winning children’s books have been shown at the Met, MoMA, the Guggenheim, and she is the recipient of two NEA arts awards and a Guggenheim Fellowship.
There’s no doubt that Ms. Ringgold and Ms. von Rydingsvard make N.A.W.A. proud of its members, and on such a big night Ms. Hammond is looking to the future. She told the Observer, “The younger generation needs the mentorship, and that’s what N.A.W.A. tries to provide.”