Art Exhibit “Linda Nochlin: The Maverick She” Honors the Contributions of Iconic Feminist Art Scholar

March 8, 2020 – July 31, 2020:

National Museum of Women in the Arts
1250 New York Ave. NW,
Washington, DC 20005

While Linda Nochlin: The Maverick She is a small exhibit, the subject—an iconic scholar of women’s history—looms large.

Linda Nochlin (standing) receiving an award and artist Joyce Kozloff, 1990 Linda Nochlin papers, 1937-2017. ( Mel Rosenthal / Archives of American Art, Smithsonian)

Linda Nochlin (1931–2017) was a ground-breaking academic and art historian dedicated to building appreciation for the contributions of women in the arts.

The Betty Boyd Dettre Library and Research Center of the National Museum of Women in the Arts (NMWA) and the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art have teamed up to present an exhibition featuring Nochlin’s papers and other tokens to celebrate her monumental contributions to art and culture.

Nochlin’s writings span over half a century of influence in how we view women visual artists and the representation of women in art. She argued that art historians should go beyond discovering forgotten examples of women artists and address the ways institutions, society and culture limit women’s participation in the art world. Her writings were a force in challenging the system and promoting feminist studies.

Her feminist perspective introduced in groundbreaking ideas, beginning in the 1960s. She would author and editor more than 150 published works, as well as co-curate important exhibitions, including Women Artists: 1550–1950 (1976)—the first international exhibition of art by women—and Global Feminisms (2007).

There are a few artifacts from her childhood, like her early drawings and photographs—but the focus of the exhibit is her career beginning with her first published work, Mathis at Colmar, to her final, Misère: The Visual Representation of Misery in the 19th Century.

Lynora Williams, director of the Betty Boyd Library and Research Center at the National Museum for Women in the Arts (NMWA), spoke about how material was selected for the exhibit which includes information on a number of artists included in her writings and exhibitions who are represented in NMWA’s permanent collection. 

“Among the intriguing materials are a personal letter to Nochlin from the artist Joan Mitchell, a letter from a reader outlining the life-changing impact of her 1971 essay ‘Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?’ and Nochlin’s handwritten lecture notes,” said Boyd.

While the archival materials are old, the staging and context is current.  Notchlin’s ideas are especially relevant as many museums this year—in celebration of the anniversary of the 19th amendment—are mounting exhibitions featuring works by women artists. 

Williams said the hope is that “there will be a renewed appreciation of her rapid-fire intellect and utter devotion to rigorous scholarship, from an early age until her death, and how she deployed that scholarship in service to the liberation of women.”

Williams added that in her final years, Nochlin warned that the feminist movement faces many challenges ahead that warrant continued vigilance and advocacy. 

“We sense that she might have had a nuanced critique of the current spate of museum interest in the works of women artists,” said Williams.

For Women’s History Month, The Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery honors feminist art historian Linda Nochlin (1931–2017) with the display of 1997 portrait “Orange Disaster (Linda Nochlin)” by feminist artist Deborah Kass.

Nochlin was in the audience when Kass delivered a lecture at the Institute of Fine Arts in 1996. Kass seized the opportunity to tell Nochlin that she considered her a hero and asked to paint her portrait. For “Orange Disaster (Linda Nochlin),” Kass reinvented Andy Warhol’s “Orange Car Crash” (1963) from the series “Death and Disaster.”

Nochlin sat for multiple photographs in the artist’s studio, which the artist screen printed onto the large-scale canvas.

“Orange Disaster (Linda Nochlin)” by Deborah Kass. Silkscreen and acrylic on canvas,
1997. (National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution)

NOTE: Nearly all of the exhibition artifacts are in the Archives of America Art’s Linda Nochlin Papers, ca. 1876, 1937-2017 collection, with a few additional items drawn from the NMWA Library and Research Center holdings.

The NMWA is located at 1250 New York Avenue, NW, Washington, D.C. and is open Mon.–Sat., 10 a.m.–5 p.m., and Sun., noon–5 p.m.

Admission is $10 for adults, $8 for visitors 65 and over and students, and free for NMWA members and youths 18 and under. Admission is free the first Sunday of each month.

Click here to view the library exhibitions.


Sheila Wickouski is an art and culture writer.