NEGISHI Ayako <em>Waiting for makeup</em> 1938 <em>(Keshō o matsu 化粧 を待)</em> black ink and coloured pigment on paper (193.0 x 156.0 cm) National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne. Purchased with funds donated by Jennifer and Brian Tymms, 2018. 2018.302

Observations | Women in Art and Design History
Seminar 2 – Avant-garde Beginnings: 1900–1930

Sat 7 May 22, 10am

NEGISHI Ayako <em>Waiting for makeup</em> 1938 <em>(Keshō o matsu 化粧 を待)</em> black ink and coloured pigment on paper (193.0 x 156.0 cm) National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne. Purchased with funds donated by Jennifer and Brian Tymms, 2018. 2018.302
Past program

This program takes place virtually

The early twentieth century was a period of radical social, technological and creative ferment which saw women innovate and experiment with nascent creative spaces such as photography, design and modernism. Avant-Garde Beginnings explores transformation in the early twentieth century, and the role of the workshop and collaboration in the careers of women practitioners at the time, such as Clara Driscoll and other women behind the success of the renowned Tiffany workshop in New York; the women artists leading the innovative, expressive creations of the Viennese design collective, Wiener Werkstätte; and the Gee’s Bend quiltmakers, an Alabama collective of African-American women who used the traditional women’s practice of quiltmaking as a pathway towards economic opportunity, civil rights and artistic and political expression.

Program schedule released closer to the event
Participants will have access to content for 4 weeks following the seminar 

Program and Speakers

Bringing early 20th century women photographers to light

The role of women photographers historically has not received due recognition, although this is changing through the ground-breaking work of historians, writers and curators in recent years, women photographers remain lesser known than their male colleagues. Following the changed social circumstances of the first world war, photography continued to offer women the prospect for financial independence and creative expression and some of the most significant photographers of the inter-war period were women. This panel is an opportunity to hear from two leading curators and scholars in this field discussing the work of photographers; Olive Cotton, Germaine Krull, Dora Maar, Florence Henri, Lee Miller, Marion Post Wolcott, Dorothea Lange, Lotte Jacobi, Imogen Cunningham, Marjorie Content, Claude Cahun, Margaret Bourke-White and Berenice Abbott.


Helen Ennis is a writer on photography and a biographer. She was formerly Curator of Photography at the National Gallery of Australia, and Director of the ANU’s Centre for Art History and Art Theory and the Sir William Dobell Chair of Art History. Her biographies Margaret Michaelis: Love, loss and photography (2005) and Olive Cotton: A life in photography (2019) have been widely acclaimed. In 2020 Helen was awarded the Magarey Medal for Biography and the J Dudley Johnston Medal from the Royal Photographic Society, London. She is Emeritus Professor, ANU School of Art & Design.

Andrea Nelson is Associate Curator, in the Department of Photographs at the National Gallery of Art, Washington DC where she has worked since 2010. She received her PhD from the University of Minnesota, focusing on 20th-century art and the history of photography. Andrea has published on German and American photography books and was the lead curator of the exhibition The New Woman Behind the Camera (2021).

Women designers: collaborations, credit, (in)visibility and recognition

This lecture focuses on the various ways in which women designers worked in collaboration with men and the advantages and downsides involved, including the question of recognition. Across several case studies, from Margaret Macdonald Mackintosh and Charles Rennie Mackintosh, Ray and Charles Eames, Millie and Morton Goldscholl, and Pipsan Saarinen Swanson (who worked with various family members) to Lella and Massimo Vignelli, Natalie Du Pasquier and the Memphis Group, and Denise Scott Brown and Robert Venturi, it considers the talents these women brought to the collaborations and their roles within them.


Pat Kirkham is Professor of Design History, Kingston University, London, and Professor Emerita, Bard Graduate Center, New York. She has written widely on design, film and gender. Her many publications include  A View from the Interior: Women, Feminism and Design (1989); Charles and Ray Eames: Designers of the Twentieth Century (1995), The Gendered Object; Women Designers in the USA 1900-2000: Diversity and Difference (2000) and Eva Zeisel: Life, Design, and Beauty (2013). She knew Ray Eames and Lella Vignelli and was a close friend of the ceramic designer Eva Zeisel, with whom she spent many hours discussing her life and work.

‘To every age its art, to every art its freedom’: women artists and the Wiener Werkstätte

In the spring of 1897 a group of young, disaffected artists united in formal opposition to the conservative institutions dominating artistic life in Austria. Calling themselves The Vienna Secession, the designers, architects and artists who became synonymous with modern Viennese style resigned from the Vienna Academy. Thus began a revolution in the arts. Under the motto ‘To the age its art, to art its freedom’ the Secession sought to open Vienna up to international influences and pursued a philosophy of the unity of all arts. For the Secession artists music, literature, fashion, psychology, the visual arts and architecture were inseparably entwined and through their efforts artists sought to create new ways for the individual to lead a modern lifeThis lecture will look at Viennese women artists and designers at the Wiener Werkstätte or Vienna Workshops, a progressive production cooperative of craftspeople established by Seccession designers Josef Hoffmann and Koloman Moser. It will discuss the challenges women artists faced, the breadth of their artistic output, the establishment of the Artist’s Workshop and the broader significance of their contribution.

The Wiener Werkstätte became a testing ground for the further development of the so-called ‘modern’ Viennese style. Based on the Secession’s ideal of the unity of the arts, the Wiener Werkstätte played a decisive role in the refinement and stylistic development of the interior space as a Gesamtkunstwerk, or ‘total work of art’. In the following years many designers and craftspeople, in particular women, trained at the Vienna School of Applied Arts, followed their teachers Hoffmann and Moser across to the new enterprise until its closure in 1932.


Dr Anne-Katrin Rossberg studied art history in Vienna, her research focusing on the history of interiors and furniture, in particular gender-specific spaces. Until 2003 she was a curator at the Museum of Applied Arts, Vienna (MAK) and lecturer at the University of Vienna and the University of Applied Arts, Vienna. From 2013 her research focused on commercial art in the Works on Paper Collection at MAK and from 2016 she began research on the Metal Collection. Since 2018 Rossberg has been Director of the Wiener Werkstätte Archive in the MAK. She is the curator of the exhibition Women Artists of the Wiener Werkstätte, MAK 2021.

Clara Driscoll and the Tiffany Girls

The lamps of Louis Comfort Tiffany are universally acknowledged as icons of American design, and it has often been presumed that the lamps, windows, and other luxury objects produced by Tiffany Studios were designed
exclusively by him. The discovery of a cache of letters in 2006 led to the groundbreaking discovery that many Tiffany lamps were in fact the work of Ohio-born designer Clara Driscoll (1861-1944). This lecture will explore the exciting findings revealed by Driscoll’s correspondence including identification of Driscoll designs, details of the design and manufacturing process, revelations of tensions between men and women artisans at the Studios, and the behind-the-scenes labor of the “Tiffany Girls,” Driscoll’s staff of gifted but unsung women who created some of Tiffany’s most sumptuous objects.


Margaret K. Hofer is Vice President and Museum Director of the New-York Historical Society. She was previously Curator of Decorative Arts at The Society and has curated numerous exhibitions on a diverse range of topics, including A New Light on Tiffany: Clara Driscoll and the Tiffany Girls. Among her books and exhibition catalogues are The Lamps of Tiffany Studios: Nature Illuminated; and A New Light on Tiffany: Clara Driscoll and the Tiffany Girls (with Martin Eidelberg and Nina Gray.) Hofer is an adjunct professor in Museum Studies at CUNY’s School of Professional Studies. She is a summa cum laude graduate of Yale University and holds an M.A. from the University of Delaware’s Winterthur Program in Early American Culture.

Women and Japanese Modernism

This lecture explores the lives and works of Japanese women painters in the 1930s and 1940s. While Japanese women artists differed in their activities and attitudes towards the social and political upheavals of this period, they also had much in common, including the contradictions and conflicts they felt in being both women and painters searching for their own expression. Their artistic practice, along with their modes of living, challenged existing gender frameworks.


Professor Megumi Kitahira is a Professor Emerita at the Graduate School of Letters (Japanese Cultural Studies), Osaka University. Her work provides an in-depth analysis of the visual information surrounding daily life, primarily from the perspectives of gender, sexuality, ethnicity, race, and class.

Queer Bauhaus Women

The Bauhaus (1919–1933) is widely regarded as the twentieth century’s most influential art, architecture, and design school, celebrated as the archetypal movement of rational modernism and famous for bringing functional and elegant design to the masses. In this talk, art historian Elizabeth Otto delves into the previously unexplored question of sexuality and gender fluidity at the Bauhaus by focusing on female Bauhäusler including Florence Henri, Margaret Camilla Leiteritz, and ringl + pit, who queered the school’s aesthetics in order to disrupt gender conventions, represent lesbian subjectivities, and picture same-sex desire. By looking broadly at what Jack Halberstam dubs a queer way of life—one that encompasses “subcultural practices, alternative methods of alliance, [and] forms of transgender embodiment,”—this talk disrupts the narrative of a normative Bauhaus to yield a richer history that only emerges when we look at a new range of Bauhaus works and artists, and reconsider the questions that we ask of them.


Professor Elizabeth Otto is a specialist on gender and visual culture in early twentieth-century Europe and Professor of Modern and Contemporary Art History at the University at Buffalo, State University of New York. Her books include Haunted Bauhaus: Occult Spirituality, Gender Fluidity, Queer Identities, and Radical Politics and Bauhaus Women: A Global Perspective. Her essays and reviews have been published in journals including Art Forum, History of Photography, and October, and her work has been supported by numerous organizations including the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts, and, currently, the Getty Research Center in Los Angeles.

Talks and discussions Design Gender International NGV Collection Photography Virtual