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National Academy Museum Exhibit Celebrates Women Artists

"Holiday," (1954) was created by Collen Browning, an artist known for her pieces with New York subjects.
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National Academy Museum

UPPER EAST SIDE — The Upper East Side's National Academy Museum is highlighting several extroardinary women artists who made their names throughout American history in a new exhibit called "Women's Work."

The exhibition, which opens Wednesday, will showcase an eclectic collection of works, including a rare set of black-and-white graphic pieces from 1889 and 1890 by famous impressionist painter Mary Cassat, as well as scenes of New York and exotic islands created by realist painter Colleen Browning.

The broad collection, which gives an overarching sample of works by both famous and lesser-known artists from the late 19th century to the present day, is meant to broaden viewers' knowledge of art by American women, said curator Bruce Weber.

"The exhibition offers many surprises, featuring works in a variety of media by well-known artists, but also artists worthy of recognition or reconsideration," Weber said in a statement.

Although the exhibition is essentially a hodgepodge of work ranging from black-and-white etchings made in 1889 to a psychedelic oil painting created in the late 1970s, the pieces are organized by sections based on their context within American art history.

Cassat's graphic sketchings, for example, show the theme of mother and child, popular in artwork during the late 19th century. The 12 drypoints shown in the exhibit, displaying a free-flowing impressionist style, also feature studies of young ladies and children at work or play.

The rare black-and-white collection is "certainly one of the highlights of the show," Weber said.

The sections become more politically charged as they move through history, extending through periods such as the Women's Suffrage Movement and the Civil Rights Movement.

A section called "The Big Daddy Series" features art as protest, with its collection of politically charged pieces created by artist May Stevens. The works, which portray mirror images of blob-like white men, were created to speak out against the Vietnam War and authoritarian, male-dominated governments.

Other pieces in the exhibition highlight the importance of women's contributions to the academy, which is the only institution in the country that integrates a museum and art school dedicated to preserving American art history.

For example, the work of academy students, exhibitors and art instructors all contributed to "Women's Work." One portion of the exhibition includes pieces by 19th- and 20th-century women sculptors who were also all students at the academy.

"Since the Academy's inception, women have played an important role," Weber said. "'Women's Work' displays the achievements of women in American art over 100 years."

The exhibition runs from May 23 through August 26 at the National Academy Museum and School, 1083 Fifth Ave.