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Monday, December 22, 2008

Mild and Bland: Mary Cassatt at NMWA

By the Queen of Free

Not to be confused with the exhibit, "Role Models: Feminine Identity in Contemporary American Photography" at the same place which is not mild and bland.

At least, that was the impression two women whom I presumed to be volunteers gave a 9-year-old friend’s daughter and me upon entrance at the National Museum of Women in the Arts on a free Sunday recently.
They hesitated and directed us first to the Cassatt exhibit.

Upon climbing the marble stairs we met a chicly dressed visitor from a foreign land (France? Belgium?) who looked at me sternly and said “This (‘Role Models’) is not for her” nodding first to the child and then, to the contemporary photography exhibit. (And you thought Americans were conservative.) I thanked her.

Golly gee, if an exhibit is that graphic, should signs be posted? (“This exhibit is rated XXX.” Think of the crowds who would flock!)

I welcomed the warnings which spared us from possible embarrassment and, likely, my certain death at the hands of the girl’s mother had we seen the show. Better to be safe than sorry. Besides, there was harmless Mary Cassatt adjacent. (Has anyone ever called her works ‘dull’?)

Nothing controversial about her paintings and etchings in the small show which is all about friends and relations. (The title is: "Mary Cassatt: Friends and Family.") Did Ms. Cassatt ever paint any men? The paintings are the pastel colors with the idyllic expressions and poses you visualize when her name is mentioned. Rather robotic with little evidence of consternation other than one of a relative who grimaces slightly. It's like all the subjects are getting ready for naps. They are painted in the style of what was idealized and expected of women at about the same time the Women’s Suffrage Movement was gearing up and women were being arrested for demanding the vote! Imagine.

What's the saying? "Well behaved women never make history? (Who said it? Laurel Thatcher Ulrich and she was?) Well, Mary Cassatt proves her wrong.

Anyway, I enthusiastically anticipate returning to see Strong Women who always inspire and instill me with energy, vigor, and happiness. I have seen enough of Quiet Women in places besides museums.

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