Ode to Women Misses Its Cue
Published: Friday, September 21, 2012
Updated: Thursday, September 20, 2012 18:09
When you think of rock and roll, many names come to mind: The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix and The Rolling Stones, to name a few. What most people unfortunately forget is the loud and proud legacy of kick-ass women of rock and roll. The National Museum of Women in the Arts makes a valiant effort to change that oversight with its new exhibit, “Women Who Rock: Vision, Passion, Power.” The exhibit features a chronology of women — from Billie Holliday and Ma Rainey to Debbie Harry and The Runaways to Britney, Christina, Gaga and everyone in between. The exhibit aims to highlight their music, careers and identities. Unfortunately, their quest to highlight these exceptional women falls short of its lofty goals.
My troubles started in trying to follow the exhibit chronologically. Even after I realized I had entered the exhibit through the back entrance, I had trouble figuring out just who came before whom. The exhibit is composed of case after case of artifacts and short biographies of some of the most well-known female names in rock and roll. Many feature interesting hand-written notes or particularly iconic guitars. Many of the artists’ most well-known outfits — like Cher’s floor-length feather headdress, Madonna’s cone bra and Lady Gaga’s meat dress — are featured. That’s right folks. Bearing the stamp of American Taxidermy, the infamously meaty dress from the MTV Video Music Awards survives in the form of fashionable beef jerky.
While these fashions were very frequently career defining, they fail to paint a full picture and almost minimize the musical and historical significance of the roles these women commanded in every subgenre of rock and roll. These individually great ladies become lost in a sea of sequins.
Here’s my true problem with “Women Who Rock”: It’s bland. Somehow, the creative minds behind this exhibit made the lives, music and careers of some of the craziest women ever seem boring. An exhibit like this has a lot of potential to be really entertaining, informative and explosive. For the most part, each of the women featured has enough rock and roll history to fill her own exhibit, but instead, “Women Who Rock” loses its focus and becomes a parade of costumes and the occasional prop. Even if you dedicate the time to read every biography and watch every dull educational video stationed throughout the exhibit, it’s just not that interesting.
These women had so much passion for their music, but that is not conveyed in this exhibit. Take Janis Joplin, for example. She is a rock and roll icon who lived fast, died young and felt the music in her soul. She said “When I sing, I feel like when you’re first in love. It’s more than sex. It’s that point two people can get to they call love, when you really touch someone for the first time, but it’s gigantic, multiplied by the whole audience. I feel chills.”
This quote adorns the wall of this exhibit, yet for all her raw power, musicality and pioneering, she is reduced to a paragraph, a page of notes and a small beaded dress. This treatment of a rock legend is indicative of the exhibit as a whole and pushed my frustrations over the edge.
For all the potential this exhibit had to be pitch perfect, there were too many sour notes for it to be a hit.