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Superman and Wonder Woman Have Landed at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art with the Debut of Men of Steel, Women of Wonder

Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art presents the debut of Men of Steel, Women of Wonder on view February 9 to April 22, 2019. Tickets are available here, and general admission is $12, free for members and youth ages 18 and under.

The exhibition, organized by Crystal Bridges, features approximately 70 artworks, including paintings, photography, video, sculptures, performance art, and more, created by over 50 US and international artists,  including Renée Cox, Mel Ramos, Laurie Anderson, Mike Kelley, Jim Shaw, Dara Birnbaum, Roger Shimomura, Jacky Tsai, Enrique Chogoya, Michael Ray Charles, Raymond Pettibon, Pope.L, Norman Rockwell, and more.

“We are excited to debut of Men of Steel, Women of Wonder, which continues our commitment to organize fresh and innovative exhibitions that inspire creative conversations,” said Rod Bigelow, executive director and chief diversity & inclusion officer of Crystal Bridges. “Through the lens of Superman and Wonder Woman, these artists invite us to explore these characters and reflect on our own shared humanity.”

Men of Steel, Women of Wonder is organized by Crystal Bridges and curated by Crystal Bridges’ assistant curator Alejo Benedetti. It is the first major exhibition to analyze art-world responses to Superman and Wonder Woman. After the exhibition debuts at Crystal Bridges, it will travel to the San Antonio Museum of Art in San Antonio, Texas, and The Addison Gallery of American Art: Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass. A full-color catalog, published with the University of Arkansas Press, will accompany the exhibition and is available for purchase in the Museum Store.

“This is a dream show for me,” said Alejo Benedetti. “These are characters I’ve loved for years, seen through the ever-watchful eyes of artists. Superman and Wonder Woman may be superheroes, but the issues they tackle are innately human — and whether heralded or critiqued, these characters are as relevant as ever. It’s a project our team has worked on for years and one we’re thrilled to finally share with the public.”

The exhibition is organized thematically with four large sections. The exhibition opens with a section called “The Heroes We Know,” which features familiar depictions of Superman and Wonder Woman―meant to reaffirm that these characters are known to all visitors.

The second section, “Origin Stories,” places these characters into the cultural contexts from which they emerged (Great Depression, World War II). The third section, “Glimpsing Humanity,” considers Superman and Wonder Woman as American Gods, much like Zeus and Hera of Greek mythology. Artists frame these heroes as all-powerful symbols to respect (or fear), yet also explore their vulnerabilities and the ways the characters are humanized by them.

The exhibition concludes with “Defender of Innocents,” where artists explore the ethical and moral values these characters represent. Artists use these two icons to explore feminism, racial discrimination, gender and sexuality, immigration concerns, ideas of national identity and the United States’ ethical responsibilities in global politics.

Artist Focus
Exhibition artists, Aphrodite Désirée Navab and Fahamu Pecou will be in conversation together with Benedetti at Crystal Bridges for the Opening Lecture on February 8.

Navab is an Iranian American artist who fled from her home in Ishafan, Iran with her family during the Iranian Revolution in the 1970s. Losing her homeland and finding herself culturally displaced, Navab connected with Superman through these shared experiences. She uses her artwork to reflect on this through the creation of Super East/West Woman, responding also to the superhero’s ability to fly.

“When the 1978-79 Islamic revolution began, we fled Iran as a family and never returned. I was never able to see my grandparents again. I identified with [Superman’s] irreparable loss of family and homeland,” said Navab.

Pecou uses his artwork Nunna My Heros: After Barkley Hendricks’ ‘Icon for My Man Superman’, 1969, (2011) to pay tribute to one of his art-world heroes while also critiquing Superman’s lack of representation in black communities and his responsibility toward people of color.

“In the Black community where issues like oppression, poverty, violence, and other traumas persist, Superman’s nonappearance is glaring. My character subverts the Superman ideal by becoming his hero,” said Pecou.

“The exhibition examines how artists use Superman and Wonder Woman—enduring American icons—as an entry point to discuss national identity, American values, social politics, and humanity itself,” said Benedetti. “The artworks range from loving endorsements of heroic ideals to critiques of issues affecting American society.”

Exhibition Programs
The opening week includes the Men of Steel, Women of Wonder member preview on Friday, February 8. Throughout the duration of the exhibition, Crystal Bridges is offering a full roster of programs inspired by the show with many classes that feature Men of Steel, Women of Wonder artists as the instructors. The exhibition programs include:

  • Afterschool Art Class » Caped Crusaders, Thursday, February 7, 14, 21, 4 to 5:30 pm
  • Homeschool Friday Fun » Superheroes, Friday, February 8, 15, 22, 2 to 3:30 pm
  • Opening Lecture » Men of Steel, Women of Wonder, Friday, February 8, 7 to 8 pm
  • Art by the Glass » Comic Posters, Friday, February 22, 6:30 to 8:30 pm
  • Superhero Film Series » Superman (1978), Thursday, February 28, 7 to 9 pm
  • Film, Performance, & Discussion » Dara Birnbaum & Sarah Hill, Friday, March 8, 7 to 8 pm
  • Studio Squad » Comic Drawing, Saturday, March 9, 4 to 5:30 pm
  • Book Club » Superman: The High-Flying History of America’s Most Enduring Hero by Larry Tye and Scott Brick, Wednesday, March 13, 1:30 to 3:30 pm
  • Preschool Playdate » Superhero Showdown, Thursday, March 14, 11:30 am to 2 pm
  • Film Series » Heart of a Dog by Laurie Anderson, Thursday, March 21, 7 to 9 pm
  • Distinguished Speaker Series » Laurie Anderson, Friday, March 22, 7 to 8 pm
  • Superhero Film Series » Wonder Woman (2017), Thursday, March 28, 7 to 9 pm
  • Adult Workshop » Mosaic Workshop with Steven Paul Judd, Sunday, April 7, 1 to 5 pm
  • Spotlight Talk » Comic Writer Paul Dini, Thursday, April 11, 7 to 8 pm
  • Homeschool Tour and Art » Comic Art, Wednesday, April 17, 1 to 3 pm
  • Art Night Out » Men of Steel, Women of Wonder, Friday, April 19, 6 to 11 pm

In addition, the museum offers exhibition elements, resources, and activities designed to provide access to engaging art experiences:

  • Original Comic Books: Two of the works featured in the exhibition are comic books: an original copy of the first appearance of Superman in Action Comics #1 (1938) and the first cover appearance of Wonder Woman in Sensation Comics #1 (1941).
  • Superpower Pads: Seven key artworks will feature digital engagement where visitors can learn about the subject’s superpower, including immortality, ability to fly, super strength, and more. Each Superpower Pad mimics the style of comic books and features a specially created character called “The Curator” to guide viewers through the touch-screen experience.
  • Family Guide: An in-gallery family guide will be available to prompt close looking and discussion throughout the exhibition. It’s designed for both kids and adults, and will be available in the gallery at all times.
  • Activity Space: When exiting the exhibition, visitors will discover a large engagement space with three main activities:
    • Drawing Station – visitors can create their own superhero;
    • Dress-up Photo Station – visitors can choose fun props to create superhero costumes and take selfies or group photos in front of a designed backdrop (and upload to social media) using the #MOSWOW hashtag.
    • Digital Fan Art Gallery – visitors can view and upload their original superhero-inspired artworks. These images will rotate and be displayed on a monitor in the activity space for the duration of the exhibition. Visitors can share their fan art by taking a photo of the artwork and uploading to Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram with the hashtag #CBfanart.
  • Art in Space Sculpture: Also on view in the Reflection Area will be Untitled male figure (2019), the sculpture created by artist Robert Pruitt that was sent into space last month as part of the museum’s Art in Space event.

Sponsored by Stout Executive Search, Arkansas Humanities Council, ConAgra Brands, Rhianon DeLeeuw & Joshua Mahony, Esther Silver-Parker, Tony Waller, Deborah Wright, and Walmart AAOC.

This project is supported in part by a grant from the Arkansas Humanities Council and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

To learn more about Men of Steel, Women of Wonder, visit the Crystal Bridges website. For news updates, follow Crystal Bridges on the Blog, Facebook or Twitter #MOSWOW.

Jason Bard Yarmosky, Wintered Fields, 2016, Oil on canvas