Copper in the Arts

June 2018

Heavy Metal Exhibit Showcases Women in the Arts

By Robyn Jasko

The National Museum of Women in the Arts (NMWA) recently unveiled their Women to Watch exhibition series, Heavy Metal, on view through Sept. 16. This extensive exhibition features 20 notable artists and more than 50 works of art made from silver, copper, bronze, pewter, aluminum and more.

heavy_metal.pngCarolina Sardi, Grandfather, Cricket and I, 2016; Plated steel over painted wall, 91 x 156 x 2 in.;
Courtesy of the artist and Panamerican Art Projects Miami; © Carolina Sardi.
Photograph by Mariano Costa Peuser

Inspired by NMWA’s collection of silverwork crafted by British and Irish women in the 18th and 19th centuries, Heavy Metal seeks to further disrupt the predominantly masculine narrative that surrounds metalworking despite women’s consistent presence in the field for centuries. This narrative is rooted, in part, in the gendered discourse surrounding the traditional distinctions between fine art, design, craft and decorative art. While large-scale bronze and steel sculptures made by men are hailed as “fine” art, subtle and more delicate works in metal, towards which women have been historically encouraged, are often dismissed as craft or “decorative” art.

“The idea that metalworking is too physically demanding for women to do is pervasive in historical as well as contemporary discourse,” said NMWA Director Susan Fisher Sterling. “The contemporary artists selected for the 2018 installment of Women to Watch—and NMWA’s own collection of 18th and 19th-century silver by women—contradict this archaic notion.”

Heavy Metal is the fifth installment in NMWA’s dynamic Women to Watch exhibition series, which is presented every two to three years. The series features emerging or underrepresented artists from the states and countries in which the museum has outreach committees. Twenty participating committees worked with curators in their respective regions to create shortlists of artists working with metal. From these lists, NMWA curators selected the artists whose work is on view in Heavy Metal.

“Like modern-day alchemists, artists working in metal transform their materials into valuable and unique objects,” said NMWA Associate Curator Virginia Treanor. “Heavy Metal demonstrates that contemporary women artists carry on a vibrant legacy in metalwork.”

Featured artists in Heavy Metal investigate the physical properties and expressive possibilities of metalwork through a wide variety of objects, including sculpture, jewelry, and conceptual forms. Works in the exhibition range from large-scale installations to small objects intended for personal adornment; these disparate works are fashioned out of iron, steel, bronze, silver, gold, brass, tin, aluminum, copper, and pewter. This exhibition seeks to disrupt the predominantly masculine narrative that surrounds metalworking and demonstrate that contemporary women artists carry on a vibrant legacy in the field.

From the sleek Minimalist aluminum forms of Rana Begum to the rough-hewn quality of Alejandra Prieto’s iron pyrite sculptures, the featured artists delight in the physical properties of their chosen medium. Some artists revel in the manipulation and fabrication of the material, while others source their medium from existing, often discarded objects. Alice Hope arranges used aluminum can tabs and ball chains to create mesmerizing, large-scale installations. Paula Castillo also uses readily available materials, particularly industrial by-products. She fashions these pieces into sculptures by first modeling the forms using computer software and then welding individual components together. Carolina Sardi and Kelsey Wishik both manipulate steel to create their vastly different forms.

The exhibition features works by Cheryl Eve Acosta (Greater Kansas City Area), Rana Begum (United Kingdom), Carolina Rieckhof Brommer (Peru), Lola Brooks (Georgia), Paula Castillo (New Mexico), Charlotte Charbonnel (France), Venetia Dale (Massachusetts), Petronella Eriksson (Sweden), Susie Ganch (Mid-Atlantic Region), Alice Hope (Greater New York Region), Leila Khoury (Ohio), Holly Laws (Arkansas), Blanca Muñoz (Spain), Beverly Penn (Texas), Serena Porrati (Italy), Alejandra Prieto (Chile), Kerianne Quick (Southern California), Carolina Sardi (Florida), Katherine Vetne (Northern California), and Kelsey Wishik (Mississippi).


National Museum of Women in the Arts, 1250 New York Ave. NW, Washington, D.C., (202) 783-5000

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