Walking into the “Artists Femina” exhibit at Zenith Gallery is an arresting experience. The walls, floors, tables — every possible surface — are covered in an almost dizzying, captivating array of art.
Founded in 1978 by artist Margery Goldberg, Zenith Gallery is a contemporary and modern art gallery located in the northern tip of Washington, D.C. Over its nearly 40 years, the gallery has established strong connections in the D.C. and East Coast art scenes.
Some of the artists and clients of the Zenith Gallery have been with the gallery for nearly 30 years, and most are from the D.C.-Maryland-Virginia area. The gallery has become home for curator Goldberg, and “Artists Femina” is one of Goldberg’s newest projects.
Art has been — and some might say still is — a field dominated by men. Historically, women were originally involved merely as the subject matter of art pieces. Goldberg created “Artists Femina” as an artistic space that celebrates the work of women in the field.
According to The New York Times, female artists make up 48 percent of art in major museums, and only 30 percent of major museum directors are women. Zenith Gallery, run entirely by women and promoting art by women, is empowering both through its art and as an institution.
Like past exhibitions showcased at Zenith Gallery, “Artists Femina” highlights works from many mediums and genres, including sculpture, painting, photography and found object art.
Eccentric sculptures, formed with clay, paint and small objects, like dolls and household trinkets, are scattered across the tables in the basement. These are the work of Elissa Farrow-Savos, a friend of Goldberg and frequent exhibitor at Zenith Gallery.
She creates sculptures, often featuring women. One piece, titled “Life into Lemonade,” depicts a young girl wearing a hoop skirt fashioned from found objects, including small skulls and keys. The sculpture looks old and fragile as the girl stares wide-eyed up into space. It is intended to depict the girl’s search for meaning — a poignant image in today’s society.
Another standout piece in the exhibit, “In the Flow,” by Joan Konkel, depicts the striking eyes of a hawk. Using a sheet of glass instead of a canvas as her base, Konkel creates a graceful masterpiece.
Another piece by Konkel, “Ode to Joy,” is three-dimensional, created from brightly colored mesh on a canvas. These two pieces by the same artist are extraordinarily different.
The former, “In the Flow,” depicts smooth, cool earth tones on a glassy canvas, while the latter, “Ode to Joy,” features bright textured colors that jump out at the viewer. The range of styles and techniques of the artist are highlighted by the exhibition.
This holistic representation of the artist can also be attributed to the nature of Zenith Gallery itself: The small, homey space creates a sense of familiarity between the artist and viewer that is often lost in large, looming museums. This feeling of intimacy also encourages a strong relationship between the artist and curator, which can be important for new, mainly unknown artists. As a curator, Goldberg works hard to find and select new works that will both fit into the gallery and expand the creators’ career.
Every piece in “Artists Femina” is boundary-breaking in some way, whether through its use of an original artistic technique or its depiction of subject matter. Yet all the artwork exhibited is connected to two overarching themes: female empowerment and the embracing of femininity. This exhibit is a reminder that women must have a significant role in creating and curating art.
“Artists Femina” succeeds in establishing a place for women in the D.C. art community. From the works of art themselves to the people behind them, nothing about this exhibit is traditional or dated. For those seeking groundbreaking work created by female artists, look no further than the small gallery just off 16th Street NW.
“Artists Femina” is free and located at Zenith Gallery on 1429 Iris St. NW until Nov. 18.