Wilhelmina Holladay will not attend the reopening of the National Museum of Women in Washington DC that she helped create in 1987. She died in 2021 at the age of 98, after serving for forty years as chair of the board of museum administration. It was with her husband Wallace F. Holladay, during the 1970s, that she realized the low presence of women in art history books. From a desire to compensate for this absence, they came up with the idea of bringing together an entire collection.
This brings together all eras, from the Renaissance to contemporary digital art, i.e. 1,000 creators, from all continents and artistic genres: whether it is the neo-classical Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun, or Camille Claudel , the impressionist Mary Cassatt, Frida Kahlo or Louise Bourgeois.
The building, a former Masonic temple of neoclassical inspiration, was restored with its large hall, for a budget of 67.5 million dollars (almost 64 million euros). The spaces dedicated to exhibitions and the conservation of works in the reserves have been enlarged and made accessible to people with reduced mobility.
The challenge is to breathe new life without losing Wilhelmina Holladay’s legacy. The museum is planning an exhibition this fall dedicated to Suchitra Mattai, a Denver artist of Guyanese origin, who combines embroidery with painting. In 2024, the museum will continue the tradition of the “New Worlds: Women to Watch” exhibition which takes place every three years under a different theme.
However, more than forty after its creation, does a museum of women artists still make sense when they are more and more present in museums and galleries? Yes, answers Susan Fisher Sterling, director of the museum since 2008, for whom there remains an obvious lack of parity: “89% of acquisitions of works concern male artists”.