The Wolfsonian–Florida International University will present “Women’s Work / Men’s Work: Labor and Gender in America”, an exhibition that explores how the sexual division of labor in America has been represented in art, propaganda, and advertising. The exhibition, which is free and open to the public, is on view in The Wolfsonian Teaching Gallery at The Patricia & Phillip Frost Art Museum at Florida International University from January 20 through April 25, 2010.
Poster, “Teamwork Builds Ships”, c. 1918. Designed by William Dodge Stevens (American, 1870–1942). Published by Emergency Fleet Corporation. Printed by Forbes Boston, Philadelphia. Commercial color lithograph. The Wolfsonian–Florida International University, Miami Beach, Florida, The Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection, XX1992.180
Until relatively recently, notions of the kinds of work that are appropriate for men and for women have been quite distinct. Rooted in field, factory, and mine, “male” labor has often been understood as embodying strength and skill, while “women’s work” has been associated with domesticity, reproduction, and caretaking. Focusing on the United States in the first half of the twentieth century, the exhibition invites students and other gallery visitors to consider how the different work experiences of men and women have been portrayed by artists and designers in a variety of media. The more than two dozen objects on display include paintings, posters, prints, and photographs, as well as ephemeral items such as advertising cards. They reveal how visual representations marked particular forms of labor—and attributes of laborers—as either male or female, but also how these once-firm categories began to erode under pressure from industrial expansion, new consumption and family patterns, and—above all—the needs of a wartime economy. These works give evidence of the tensions that arose when deeply-set notions of proper gender roles collided with the changing realities of labor in America.
This exhibition inaugurates the Frost Museum’s collaboration with The Wolfsonian in creating an on-campus teaching gallery, in which The Wolfsonian’s collection can be presented at a site that is near the geographic center of FIU’s academic community. Supported with funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, The Wolfsonian Teaching Gallery is intended to provide an opportunity for FIU faculty members to work with museum staff in developing small exhibitions, drawing on objects from the Wolfsonian collection, that can serve as resources for teaching and learning.
“We are proud to begin this important collaboration with The Wolfsonian and see it as an opportunity to fulfill our educational mission,” said Carol Damian, director of the Frost. Added Cathy Leff, The Wolfsonian’s director: “It has always been our goal and that of the Frost Art Museum to engage faculty and students with our university’s museums. The Mellon Foundation grant has provided resources that we can use to accomplish this goal, and the teaching gallery is a wonderful step in that direction.”
For “Women’s Work / Men’s Work”, the museum has collaborated with Professor Alex Lichtenstein, Department of History, FIU, who will teach a course on twentieth-century U.S. labor history in the Spring 2010 semester. “This is a great opportunity to bring the rich resources of The Wolfsonian to students on campus,” said Professor Lichtenstein. “For me, as a labor historian, it’s been eye-opening to research the collection and discover the incredible material the museum has about work and workers in the United States.” The exhibition is co-curated by Jonathan Mogul, the Mellon Coordinator of Academic Programs at The Wolfsonian.