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WordsAndPicturesFeature: "WonderWomen" at the Katherine Nash Gallery
Artwork courtesy of the U of M Katherine E. Nash Gallery: "Wonder Woman Katy," Barbara Porwit (upper left); "PRSN SK8R GRL," Jenny Schmid (upper right); "Flight Attendant Barbie," Nicole Houff (center); "Venus Self-Portrait by Lupi," Lupi McGinty (bottom)

"Women artists have stolen the stereotypical female images of popular culture and made feminist statements with them. Popular culture gave women a chance to be subversive and break the rules."
- Frenchy Lunning

by Terri Peterson Smith

She has superhuman strength, her wounds heal instantly and her collection of weaponry includes the Lasso of Truth and a razor-sharp tiara to throw at her enemies. Who wouldn't like to be Wonder Woman, at least occasionally? Okay, the bustier, tight blue panties, and high-heeled boots might be a little uncomfortable, but her contradictory qualities - part super hero, part pinup girl - have mesmerized us since she came on the scene in 1941.

No wonder the enduring pop culture icon makes a great focal point for a group exhibition at the University of Minnesota's Katherine E. Nash Gallery entitled "WonderWomen." Co-sponsored by the University of Minnesota, the Minneapolis College of Art and Design and the Film Society of Minneapolis St. Paul, the show features work by women artists from around the world who are inspired or influenced by comics, animation or popular culture. (Works by Minnesota women are featured with this story.)

Though it's a happy coincidence that the exhibit converged with the release of Harvard historian Jill Lepore's book, "The Secret History of Wonder Woman," Nash Gallery Director Howard Oransky says the idea for the exhibition actually evolved from a conversation with Anna R. Igra, professor of History and Women's and Gender Studies at Carleton College, who reminded him of the many women artists with interests in popular culture, animation, and comics. He says, "We constantly see women depicted in comics and animation, but these depictions are often the products of men's imaginations. An exhibition of work by women artists is especially interesting because it gives us the opportunity to see these forms and ideas through their eyes."

Holy Hera!

Jampacked with color, energy and humor, the artworks in "WonderWomen" include historical and contemporary material ranging from sculpture to shower curtains, from knitting to wallpaper, and, of course, Barbie. The exhibition also features a fashion show, and screenings of work by an international group of women filmmakers at the Film Society of Minneapolis St. Paul.

The common thread in the show is that the artists have been influenced by popular culture themes and media imagery that we take for granted. The artists mine these themes and images, examining in various ways the concept of "wonder women." Some of the works are straightforward, while others use stereotypical images of women to critique, satirize, and inspire.

For example, animated films have typically been an art form for and by men. Film Society Executive Director Susan Smoluchowski says, "Films by women bring a very different depiction of women than those by men. This will be a chance to see animated works that don't objectify women."

Suffering Saffo!

Both high art (think "Mona Lisa") and popular culture (think Hello Kitty) have historically been dominated by men, says Frenchy Lunning, a professor of liberal arts at MCAD who is co-curator of the exhibit and an internationally known expert in manga, anime (Japanese comics and animation) and popular culture. She says that for many years, popular culture was easier for women to participate in because, until recently, it was perceived as less valuable, a throwaway. "But women artists have stolen the stereotypical female images of popular culture and made feminist statements with them. Popular culture gave women a chance to be subversive and break the rules.

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"The takeaway for viewers," Lunning says, "is to become aware of the magnitude of feminine culture and how feminist art, with all of its potentially subversively qualities, is entering mainstream culture." She adds, "This never could have happened when I was a kid."

What: "WonderWomen"
When: Jan. 20-Feb. 14, 2015, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., Tues.-Sat.
There will be a panel discussion featuring three of the artists on Saturday, Jan. 24, 2015 at 7 p.m.
There will be a public reception on Feb. 14, 2015 from 7-9 p.m., followed by a fashion show at 9 p.m.
Where: Katherine E. Nash Gallery, Regis Center for Art, University of Minnesota, 405 21st Ave. S., Mpls.
FFI: 612-624-7530 or art.umn.edu/nash
Cost: The exhibit is free and open to the public

What: In conjunction with "WonderWomen," the Film Society of Minneapolis will screen a series of animated movies.
Where: Film Society of Minneapolis St. Paul, St. Anthony Main Theatre, 115 SE Main St., Mpls.
When: Jan. 21-Feb. 9, 2015, dates and times vary
FFI: 612-331-4724 or mspfilm.org
Cost: The film showings are $8.50-$5

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