An all-women art exhibition hints at an inclusive future for the Stanley Museum of Art

For Women/By Women exhibition

Hudson River Gallery, opens Friday, March 6, reception at 6 p.m.

“chaman,” Isabel Barbuzza, from the series Postcards from Colombia — courtesy of the artist

Only 11 percent of art purchased by major U.S. museums from 2008-18 was created by women, according to a joint investigation by Artnet News and In Other Words. This off-putting statistic suggests that women artists are too often overlooked, and their message ignored.

As the University of Iowa builds out its art collection, curators and artists in the community are determined to close this gender gap.

Just in time for Women’s History Month, 21 women artists will show work at the Hudson River Gallery in Coralville. The For Women/By Women exhibition opens March 6 with a reception at 6 p.m. From sculpture to prints, painting to assemblage, there will be a vast and delightfully varied display of artwork to behold.

Half of the proceeds from the work sold during the show, which runs through April 11, will go directly into the Kathleen A. Edwards Fund for Contemporary Art by American Women, a special fund for the University of Iowa Stanley Museum of Art. The museum, which broke ground in June 2019, is set to complete construction in 2022 — and it will have space to fill. Established by Edwards (a long-time former curator of the Stanley Museum) and Michael S. Hayslett in 2018, the fund will ensure that women have a strong presence within the new Stanley.

Though For Women/By Women is aimed at supporting modern women artists, the benefit will reach beyond that specific group. Onlookers of all genders will have the chance to be inspired by art that might not have made it into a museum without support from endowed purchase funds like the Kathleen A. Edwards Fund.

The Hudson River Gallery — named by owner Nick Hotek as a nod to his home state of New York — has been a running gallery in Iowa City for 25 years. Hotek said that one of the benefits of last year’s relocation to Coralville is the new ground-level space that allows for cohesiveness and access for all. This space also permits this special group of women to have their art out on display separately, but together.

Artist and UI printmaking professor Anita Jung removes a fresh print from its plate. — Rachel Wachter/Little Village

The gallery walls are painted stark white and the space allows for natural light to stream though the windows. However, Hotek says, “the space is pretty cool at night, too.” With the clean background and rolling, portable wall panels, the gallery can be arranged to accommodate the needs of any show.

Hotek has never had this many artists in one show, he said. “I’ve had three or four at once. It’s exciting to be a part of something that has never been done [like this] before.”

The idea for the exhibit came from Edwards, who approached Hotek and asked him if he would be willing to open up the gallery to raise money toward the fund she had established. Hotek — who notes that he has always been surrounded by women artists in his family and throughout his life, and who was also among the many who helped evacuate the Stanley Museum during the 2008 flood — quickly said yes, and the pair got to work on invitations. Hotek recalls that they received nearly instant responses, all saying “yes,” from everyone they reached out to.

Among the 21 featured artists are some of the UI’s own Studio Art program professors. Printmaking professor Anita Jung will be participating, along with associate professor, director of graduate studies and sculptor Isabel Barbuzza; assistant professors of painting and drawing TJ Dedeaux-Norris and Laurel Farrin; Susan Chrysler White, program head of painting and drawing; and associate professor of intermedia Rachel Williams.

“[UI] has a huge legacy of women artists! From Elizabeth Catlett to [Miriam] Schapiro and Ana Mendieta, all legendary women,” Jung said, working on the printmaking floor of the UI Visual Arts Building to turn what some might consider garbage into one-of-a-kind pieces of art.

Jung believes that efforts like By Women/For Women will further that legacy, she said. To her, it is “an honor to be a part of the show, as it is a celebration of Iowa City.” She thinks back fondly on the old UI Museum of Art on N Riverside Drive, and is excited for the new Stanley Museum to debut, saying she’s “so proud of the work that has been done [by museum staff] without an actual museum.”

With its new location on Madison Street, in close proximity to the Main Library, Jung said she feels the museum will attract a diverse patronage and enrich the UI campus.

Tilly Woodward, curator of academic and community outreach for the Grinnell College Museum of Art and a participating oil painter, is also energized to be part of this event.

A close-up photo of Isabel Barbuzza’s “Xtrella,” from the series Postcards from Colombia — courtesy of the artist

“It feels so good to come together as a group to support young women in the arts. I am honored to be included with this group of artists,” Woodward said.

On the enduring value of campus museums, she said, “Art helps us process what is most difficult and what is most beautiful and joyful in life, and museums provide space and structure for us to engage with complex topics in constructive and reflective ways.”

Work will also be presented by Iowan painters Susan Hargus, Nancy Purington and Sue Hettmansperger, along with fellow artists Satomi Kawaii, Susan Coleman, Kathy Edwards Hayslett, Elizabeth Munger, Lauren Tucci, Trudi Starbeck-Miller, Jillian Moore, Christine Flavin, Jane Gilmor, Laura Young and Cheryl Jacobsen.

Rachel Wachter is a student of art history and studio art at the University of Iowa. She can often be found with a pen and paper, a cat in her lap and a snack within reach — planning her next travel destination or documenting her latest flea market find. She is pursuing a career as an historical preservationist. This article was originally published in Little Village issue 280.