Domestic Spaces: Critical Responses

Domestic Spaces: Critical Responses

Gender and domesticity come under the lens in a new exhibition at the National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington D.C, where Women House offers a sequence of critical responses to the notion of home. Rather than assuming this is a feminine sphere – or, in opposition, a place to simply reject – a multitude of voices offer a new dialogue and a range of opinions on an age-old issue. More broadly, it brings pressing concerns about equality into the discussion. Co-curator Camille Morineau describes it as a “political gesture”, and hopes that “in ten years the level of information about women artists will be the same as for male artists.”

The project traces a direct line of influence from its 1972 predecessor, Judy Chicago and Miriam Schapiro’s Womanhouse. In this groundbreaking intervention, a run-down mansion in Hollywood was leased to the artists for 3 months prior to its demolition. They renovated it and filled it with compelling, provocative pieces examining femininity and a “woman’s place.” It was the first installation of its kind to be entirely female-centred. In a wide-ranging and insightful essay, Stephanie Crawford, Project Archivist at Rutgers University, offers a new narrative on what has, she says, “become something akin to a feminist myth.”

Now, contemporary practitioners show that the conversation is far from finished. The 36 artists featured here explore eight major themes, from Desperate Housewives to Mobile Homes. In A Room of One’s Own, the lines between material environments and corporeality are blurred (as in its namesake Virginia Woolf’s own writing). Francesca Woodman (b.1958 d.1981), for example, allows her body to meld with the surroundings. The section Femmes-Maisons develops these ideas, questioning whether the female form is a home. Louise Bourgeois (b.1911 d.2010) and Laurie Simmons (b.1949) each use sculpture to enact the weight of responsibility.

Further powerful reflections come through questions of exile, the antithesis of notions of home. Body Architecture (1996) by Lucy Orta (b.1966) offers a structure reminiscent of a tent, intended for multiple wearers. Representations of protection and nomadism, as well as the symbolism of physical closeness, show the inherent complexities of this topic, which the exhibition as a whole investigates proficiently and provocatively.

Women House is at the National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington D.C., from 9 March to 28 May. Find out more here.

Anna Feintuck

1.Cindy Sherman, Untitled Film Still #84, 1978; Gelatin silver print, 13 1/2 x 16 1/8 in.; Courtesy of the artist and Metro Pictures, New York