Wonder Women: “Total Art—Contemporary Video” at National Museum of Women in the Arts

The new exhibit features ten installations showcasing women's contribution to the innovative medium of video.
Wonder Women: “Total Art—Contemporary Video” at National Museum of Women in the Arts
Alex Prager’s installation (above) is narrated by Gary Oldman. Photograph from “La Petite Mort” by Alex Prager.

In its first major review of video work, the National Museum of Women in the Arts reveals how female artists have contributed to one of the most innovative media. “Total Art: Contemporary Video,” June 6 through October 12, features ten installations by artists such as Eve Sussman, Dara Birnbaum, and Alex Prager.“ The show highlights how women have had an impact in the field from the beginning, but the main thrust is how immersive and expressive video installations are,” says chief curator Kathryn Wat. “Artists are shooting at remote locations, working with designers and actors, and digitally manipulating imagery as well as making videos as part of larger bodies of work.”

The exhibit begins with Birnbaum, a video-art pioneer in the ’70s, and her “Technology/Transformation: Wonder Woman,” in which she reworks footage from the TV show to offer a feminist commentary on pop culture and society. It also includes Eve Sussman and the Rufus Corporation’s “89 Seconds at Alcázar,” a cinematic interpretation of the Velázquez masterpiece “Las Meninas,” as well as Prager’s “La Petite Mort,” a work narrated by Gary Oldman that juxtaposes the brutality of death with the glamour of Hollywood.

While video art can demand closer attention from visitors than paintings, Wat has ensured that the pieces’ total running time is about an hour, to make it possible to experience all ten and understand women’s broad influence. “Painting and sculpture through history are typically a story of women trying to find opportunities and playing catch-up with their male counterparts,” Wat says. “But with video, women were always involved and at the forefront. It’s exciting to tell a different narrative.”

Admission is $10. More information at nmwa.org.

This article appears in the June 2014 issue of Washingtonian.

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