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#5WomenArtists: Senior Curator Alison Ferris

Posted on Friday, March 24, 2017

Can you name five women artists? Last year the National Museum of Women in the Arts began a campaign to raise awareness about the incredible—oftentimes overlooked—work of women artists. They are reviving the initiative again this year, and to celebrate Women's History Month we've be sharing works of women artists from the Art Center's collections throughout the month.

As part of this campaign, we've asked members of our staff to chose the five women artists in the Art Center's collections that have had the biggest impact on them. Today Senior Curator Alison Ferris shares her favorites.


Cornelia Parker

I love the intrinsic connections between the conceptual ideas and the materiality of this work.

For this diptych, Cornelia Parker confronts viewers with the temporal nature of physical material in the form of hymnals saved from two church fires. She captures the spirit of those who worshiped in the Kentucky church—burnt by bikers who made sport out of racial harassment—by transforming the fragile hymnal into a work of art that functions as a testament to violence directed against African Americans. The hymnal saved from the church struck by lightning correspondingly acknowledges the church’s congregation; however the burnt hymnal is converted into a work of art that points to the conflation of the physical and spiritual in Christianity. 

Cornelia Parker (British, born 1956)⠀
My Soul Afire, 1997 / Just When I Need Him Most, 2005
Hymnals retrieved from a church struck by lightning in Lytle, Texas and from the Baptist Church of Green Ridge, Kentucky that was set ablaze by arson
Des Moines Art Center permanent collections; 2017.4

louise bourgeois

Louis Bourgeois The Blind Leading the Blind

Despite the rather bleak reference to catastrophe—the artist made this work at the height of the Cold War—I love the absolutely audacious use of pink paint that the artist chose to use!

Louise Bourgeois (French-American, 1911 – 2010)
The Blind Leading the Blind, 1947–1949
Painted wood
Purchased with funds from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Coffin Fine Arts Trust; Nathan Emory Coffin Collection of the Des Moines Art Center, 1989.4
Art © Louise Bourgeois Trust/ Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY
Photo Credit: Rich Sanders, Des Moines


Rachel Whiteread Untitled (Plinth)

I find the rich, deep-orange, soft rectangular sculpture made of rubber—suggesting the same softness and ruddiness of the human body—is a very seductive work. And I like the fact that that seductiveness is challenged when I learned that it is a cast of the empty space beneath a table found in a mortuary. It made me realize that the physicality of the sculpture paradoxically represents absence and, by extension, mortality. It’s a smart and beautiful work of art!

Rachel Whiteread (British, born 1963)
Untitled (Plinth), 1995-1996
Des Moines Art Center Permanent Collections; Purchased with funds from the Edmundson Art Foundation, Inc., 1997.6
Photo Credit: Rich Sanders, Des Moines


Agnes Weinrich Woman with Flowers

Agnes Weinrich is an artist whose work is not well-known. I would argue that it should be. Weinrich, who was born and raised in Iowa, was one of the first American artists to make works of art that were influenced by Cubism (Cubism was started by Picasso and Leger in 1914). She was also a founding member of the New York Society of Women Artists which devoted itself to avant-garde women artists.

Agnes Weinrich (American, 1873 – 1956)
Woman with Flowers, 1920
Oil on canvas
Credit Line: Des Moines Art Center's Louise Noun Collection of Art by Women, 1998.55
Photo Credit: Rich Sanders, Des Moines


Marlene Dumas Light Blonde

I’m fascinated with how Dumas achieved the depiction of this ethereal yet raw, vulnerable yet knowing, sensual, androgynous figure. The artist pours the ink wash on the paper and lifts and tilts the paper—loosely guiding the wash, and then uses a brush to highlight and define certain parts of the body.

Marlene Dumas (South African, active Netherlands, born 1953)
Light Blonde, 1996
Watercolor and ink on handmade paper
Des Moines Art Center Permanent Collections; purchased with funds from the Coffin Fine Arts Trust and Edmundson Art Foundation, Inc., Nathan Emory Coffin Collection of the Des Moines Art Center, 2016.20
Photo Credit: Rich Sanders, Des Moines

entirely unexpected