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Collection Highlights: Women’s Equality Day


In the United States, August 26 is marked as a day of commemoration: on this day in 1920, the Nineteenth Amendment was adopted and voting rights could no longer be prohibited on the basis of a person’s sex. Today’s celebration of Women’s Equality Day is the centennial anniversary, marking 100 years since the milestone political achievement.

But other voting hurdles endured: prohibitions on the basis of race were barred only fifty-five years ago with the passing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

In celebrating the rights earned by women’s suffragists, women-identifying MCA staff members have selected their favorite artworks from the MCA Collection created by women artists.


Niki De Saint Phalle, French, 1930–2002
Vivian, 1965
Yarn, fabric, paper, and epoxy
42 × 47 × 40 in. (106.7 × 119.4 × 101.6 cm)
Collection Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, Gift of Joseph and Jory Shapiro, 1992.60

Photo: Nathan Keay © MCA Chicago

Vivian is one of the artist’s early “Nana” sculptures, celebrating an ideal of womanhood that is triumphant, maternal, exuberant, and complex. This vibrant goddess figure is a refreshing combination of playful and powerful, a welcome departure from the tired female archetype of the demure and forlorn bride. I’m sure Vivian was a voter.

— Claire Serpi, Director of Stewardship

Barbara Kasten, Architectural Site 8, Loyola Law, 1986. Silver dye-bleach print; sight: 61 1/4 × 47 1/2 in. (155.6 × 120.7 cm); framed: 63 × 49 1/4 × 1 7/8 in. (160 × 125.1 × 4.8 cm). Collection Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, gift of Michael J. Wong, M.D. and Marion C. Fay, 2013.20

Photo: Nathan Keay © MCA Chicago

Barbara Kasten gravitates towards bold colors and striking geometry in her work; she successfully explores shadows, reflection, and ideas that most could not. I like the balance and simplicity of shapes with the exciting addition of various colors. I specifically like Kasten’s work because it involves a lot of architectural elements, which I studied at SAIC.

— Theresa Murphy, Theater Production

A sculpture that appears to be made of light blue, tan, gray, mauve, and white clay. It is shaped into animal-like forms like paws and tails, but remains abstract.

Rachel Feinstein, American, b. 1971
Peaceable Kingdom, 2001
Enamel on wood, wire, foam, and plaster and resin with gold leaf
Installed: 64 × 75 × 47 in. (162.6 × 190.5 × 119.4 cm)
Collection Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, Gift of the Cooper Family Foundation, 2003.5.a-d

Photo: Nathan Keay © MCA Chicago

Of course, women don't universally enjoy or create similar things—but I enjoy and like to think about stereotypically feminine aesthetics. The softness in shape and color in Peaceable Kingdom is that kind of feminine to me. Its ambiguous, textured forms also feel like how I view my idea of gender and woman-ness: tangled, layered, and perhaps not in need of immediate understanding.

— Leah Froats, Editor

A young woman spits water at you, creating a rainbow through the spray. She stands in a backyard next to a lemon tree.

Melanie Schiff, Spit Rainbow, 2006

Melanie Schiff's Spit Rainbow is so much fun. I think about tomboy girlhood and summer backyards in California's East Bay in the late 1980s. Schiff is referencing Bruce Nauman’s Fountain photograph—I always get a kick out of taking things back from the boys club.

— Claire Ruud, Director of Curatorial Strategy

A closely cropped portrait of a pink-skinned woman's face is painted in loose brushstrokes. Between her eyes is another, smaller pair of blue eyes and eyebrows, rendered in a more realistic style and tilted to the left.

Margot Bergman, Marie Christine, 2014. Acrylic on linen; 65 1/16 × 50 1/16 in. (165.3 × 127.2 cm). Collection Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, gift of Joseph and Jory Shapiro Fund, Mary and Earle Ludgin by exchange, 2014.38. © 2014 Margot Bergman

Photo: Nathan Keay © MCA Chicago

When I was a security guard at the MCA, I stared at most of these artworks in the MCA Collection for so many hours. If I remember correctly, Margot Bergman painted “Christine” while she was in her eighties. Respect to anyone making not just work, but their best work in their old age. She originally painted over old thrift store paintings and would leave artifacts of the original paintings within them, but eventually she just painted these campy, stylized faces herself. The eyes within the face come off as a caricature of emotion, genuine yet somewhat superficial, and coming from a more idealized vision of femininity. They look a bit like the photograph Larmes (Tears) by Man Ray, of a hyper emotive silent-film-esque pair of eyes with fake glass tears.

I like the painting for several reasons. Seeing the two pairs of distraught eyes in one face has a very powerful and uncanny effect. I also like the odd effect of the low-brow, meticulous style within the crude style of painting. It reminds me of Art Brut, where it feels somewhat outside of the dialogue of formalist academic fine art, which is especially bold from a female artist, who usually struggle to gain respect within the patriarchal academic art realm. I like the tension between the two representations of self. One seems to be more authentic than the other, and it suggests a kind of rift between the interior vs. exterior perception of self and the idealized vs. the real. It makes me think of these things in relation to female socialization, and the dissonance with one’s sense of self that often comes with it. The two representations of the faces and eyes in distress indicate a pain in this doubling. I like the paradoxical effect of the painting looking crass, yet also disturbing, and intimate.

— Hanna Elliott, Theater Technician

Shirin Neshat, Turbulent, 1998, Black-and-white video installation, Overall dimensions variable, Collection Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, gift of Susan and Lewis Manilow, 2000.22

© 1998 Shirin Neshat

I have always been struck by the sharp contrasts in Shirin Neshat’s work—visually in sharp black and white, and thematically. This artwork is one of the first that made me appreciate film as a medium; it’s immersive, poignant, and not easy to forget.

— Nora James, Content Strategy Assistant

A person lays down in a stone-lined grave with flowers covering their body.

Ana Mendieta, American, b. Cuba, 1948–1985
Untitled: Silueta Series, Mexico, 1973/1991
Silver dye-bleach print
Sheet for parts 1, 6, 9, 10: 15 7/8 × 19 7/8 in. (40.3 × 50.5 cm); sheet for parts 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 11, 12: 19 7/8 × 15 7/8 in. (50.5 × 40.3 cm)
Collection Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, Gift from The Howard and Donna Stone Collection, 2002.46.7

Photo: Nathan Keay © MCA Chicago

Ana Mendieta's Silueta series has captivated me since I first learned about it in school, and I love this image in particular. It reminds me that women are not only the source of life, but a source of ongoing resilience. On this day—and through this image—I am reminded of the generations of women before me who bloomed in a world that didn't want them to.

— Greta McGuire, Production Designer