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all photos: Jeff Martin

This year, National Museum Of Women In The Arts is turning 30. And to kick off this occasion which in the lives of most women marks that golden intersection of youth and maturiy, they are opening doors to REVIVAL.

Dangerous, whip smart and thought provoking, this exhibition features work by sixteen women working in photography and sculpture, facing the topic of spectacle head on. The show kicks off a special preview after hours celebration on Thursday, June 22nd, and is a knock out: not afraid to ask some hard questions and invite polarizing reactions in the eye (and gut) of the beholder.

The women of REVIVAL examine visual effect and enchantment in ways that make use reconsider our connection to contemporary art and explore some very real and very uncomfortable issues. First, they beguile and tantalize us through their first impression flirting strategies: scale, color, material and then, just as the visitor finds themselves falling in love, the ripple of exhilaration meets a shiver of fear, or a wave of anxiety is met with a surprising moment of peace. REVIVAL, in short, gives you butterflies.

The exhibition surveys three subject areas in a truly immersive way: THE CHILD, THE FEMALE BODY & THE ANIMALS AND OTHER CREATURES. The themes interweave as we progress through the sections: Anna Gaskell’s and Deborah Paauwe’s explorations of adolescence take us between the child and the woman, with Joana Vasconcelos’s and Beverly Semmes’ pieces exploring the iconography both feminine and natural.

And while some art world household names, like Louise Bourgeois, will help drive audience to the exhibition and are clearly important recent acquisitions for the museum at this pivotal time, the true stand-outs though, at least on this visit, were the works by two artists relatively new to us, and therefore that much more devastating and visceral.

Alison Saar’s work, which includes a suspended female (?) figure with antlers, and a wire sculpture focused on hair identity, invites us to delve deep into conversations on gender, race, heritage, and history, especially for the African American female community, whose timeliness is only amplified by Saar’s brand new work created specifically for REVIVAL.

At the other end, alone in a corner, is Patricia Piccinini’s The Young Family, a piece inspired by the advances in genetic engineering and is as close to a show stopper as anything we’ve seen in any museum recently. In her artist statement Piccinini shares: “The Young Family . . . [represents] a mother creature with her babies. I imagine this creature to be bred for organ transplants. . . . We are trying to do [this] with pigs, so I gave her some pig-like features. That is the purpose humanity has chosen for her . . . [yet she] wants to exist for [her own] sake.”

The final result is both peaceful and aggressive, with a vulnerability that not everyone will be able to handle.

This is, as Chief Curator Kathryn Wat noted, is “bossy art”: art that doesn’t “play well with others”. Art that makes YOU adjust to it. It forces you to look at it from certain angles, edge into corners of rooms, adapt in order to fully appreciate it. In some ways, it is the exact opposite of the instagram exhibition hits of late, and all the more important and refreshing for it. If there ever was an exhibition we see ourselves NEEDING to see multiple times, this is it.

Do it (and yourself) a favor, and spend some quality time with it.

Check out REVIVAL before anyone else Thursday night and help the museum celebrate its 30th birthday in style. More details on the exhibition, which officially runs June 23rd-September 10th, are available here. Happy birthday NMWA!