WASHINGTON, DC.- The National Museum of Women in the Arts
presents Awake in the Dream World: The Art of Audrey Niffenegger, the first major museum exhibition of visual artist and author of The Time Travelers Wife. In this mid-career retrospective on view June 21Nov. 10, 2013, Niffenegger reveals a mysterious, strange and whimsical world, both real and imagined, through 239 paintings, drawings, prints and book art.
Niffeneggers captivating narratives, presented in both images and words, give insight into universal experiences such as the need and fleeting nature of love, the inevitability of death and the peculiar sensation of the passage of time, said Krystyna Wasserman, exhibition curator.
Niffeneggers fantastical body of work is reminiscent of renowned pen and ink predecessors such as Edward Gorey, Aubrey Beardsley, Egon Schiele and Horst Janssen, but with a brutally honest and unapologetically female perspective that touches upon the universal trials of lifedeath and decay, love, jealousy, redemption and constant change. Her works on paper, lithographs and aquatints reflect the often surreal narratives of her artists books. Through self-portraiture, she reveals her own self-assurance and whimsy alongside anxiety and loneliness often exploring the hopeless struggle with what Shakespeare called this bloody tyrant, Time.
Niffeneggers work as a visual artist may be less familiar to the public than her fiction, but it is an equally marvelous discovery, said Director Susan Fisher Sterling. Our museums collection has more than 1,000 unique and limited edition artists books, including Niffeneggers first visual novel The Adventuress (198385), which was purchased in 1994. We are so pleased to have the opportunity to share more of Audreys mystery and mastery with new audiences.
Although Niffenegger is well known as the author of The Time Travelers Wife and Her Fearful Symmetry, she has also had many solo exhibitions in the United States and abroad. Her art has been exhibited by Printworks Gallery in Chicago since 1987, and she helped to found the Columbia College Chicago Center for Book and Paper Arts. Her most recent visual novel, Raven Girl (2012), has been adapted into a ballet by choreographer Wayne McGregor to be performed May 24June 8, 2013, at the Royal Opera House in Londons Covent Garden.
The protagonists of Niffeneggers narrative art are usually women. The artist understands the psychology and motives that drive women to unpredictable encounters, provoking powerful emotions and unfulfilled desires. Her heroines are occasionally doomed, they misbehave, but they are always daring, passionate and independent.
The exhibition Awake in the Dream World: The Art of Audrey Niffenegger is organized around three themes: Adventures in Bookland, States of Mind and In Dreamland.
Centering on Niffeneggers artists books and visual novels, the Adventures in Bookland section investigates dramas inherent in all relationshipsamong family, friends, partners and within societal structures, real or imagined. Her visual novels are often fairy tales inspired by reading, dreams and autobiographical details of her life. Three Incestuous Sisters (198598) is an imaginary tale, but growing up in a house of three sisters is part of the artists experience. The Adventuress features many elements of Niffeneggers personal life, including the rooms filled with books and her fondness for cats.
The 22 self-portraits in the section States of Mind depict not only the artists non-idealized likeness, but also the raw, visual accounts of her moods, feelings, dreams and desires. The artist appears in many disguisesMedusa, jailbird and bad fairyand is often accompanied by animals, representing her deep respect for the natural world. Moths of the New World (2005) serves as a metaphor for freedom and constraint. Self Portrait with Philip Treacy Hat (2007) presents the artist realistically as a self-assured, elegant young woman wearing a hat from the fashionable London millinery shop.
The third theme, In Dreamland, explores the darker corners of the human heart and mind, often revealed in dreams and fantasies. Her images are accompanied by poetry written by some of the greatest poets in the English-speaking world. The artist acknowledges the influence of 17th-century Northern European still-lifes, but instead of using wilted flowers and clocks to show the brevity of life, Niffenegger celebrates life, birth, love and death from a female perspective. In her 1989 portfolio, Vanitas, Death Comforts the Mother (1989) is juxtaposed with Anne Bradstreets poem Before the Birth of One of Her Children, expressing the fear of a young woman whose life may be threatened by childbirth. Other works are staged in the world of the spirits such as Lovers Embrace (1989), a sensuous portrayal of a woman tenderly embracing death, corresponding with Thomas Campions poem Dismissal.
My art is about paying attention, says Niffenegger. One of the reasons I use fantastic elements in my art is to startle people into noticing and paying attention. Strangeness makes us see more acutely.