B. On Top: What have been the reactions to the museum, especially with first-time visitors?
nTreanor: Even though we’re not on the [National] Mall and we do have a small admission fee, so that kind of sets us apart already from a lot of museums in Washington, we do get a fair number of tourists and first-time visitors, and it’s always really nice to interact with those people. A lot of them, I have to add, are from this area and have never been to this museum before. So, it’s really nice to introduce them to the museum, for them to see the space, this very dramatic space when you walk in, and to give them that overarching history of women in art, and to see them walk away, kind of like, ‘Oh my God, I had no idea’ or like ‘I never thought about this particular aspect that way before.’ That’s really rewarding.
nB. On Top: How important is it for the museum to represent a diverse group of women?
nTreanor: It’s very important. I think that, for as radical as the idea of this museum was when it opened in 1987, unfortunately, those considerations came a little bit later. But we were the first museum to have a monographic exhibition on Carrie Mae Weems in the 1990s. I think that this institution has always had a certain level of investment in diversifying the kinds of arts that maybe weren’t represented in our collection from the get-go, but we’ve made efforts, large efforts, to build our collection in that direction, as well as to program in that direction.
nB. On Top: Looking back at your career, what have been some of your favorite exhibitions?
nTreanor: I’ve been in the museum world now for 17, 18 years, working in different museums, and I’ve found it all very fulfilling. I certainly find this institution personally to be a really good fit in kind of feeling like, not to sound cliche, but that we’re making a difference and we’re interacting with the real world. As much as I love 17th century Dutch art, and I do, I love it, I’m not sure what it’s doing for the world right now, you know what I mean? It can seem a little bit removed, and I’m not saying it doesn’t have merit. But one of my proudest, most fulfilling moments in general, but definitely here, has been when we did that rehang of the third-floor galleries and we scrapped the chronological layout and we went with these themes. And we sat down, it was last summer, we sat down with education [department] and we talked about it and we planned it out and we did the rehang — we took everything off the walls, we painted and we put everything back up right after the holidays. When we started talking about this rehang last summer, we did not know what the outcome of this [2016 presidential] election was going to be, we did not know there was going to be a Women’s March in Washington on Jan. 21, but there was, and that weekend was a phenomenal weekend, particularly, to be at this museum, and I was here that Saturday and Sunday. It was absolutely packed, and I was so happy knowing that in those third-floor galleries that were crammed full of people -- young, old, black, white, men, women -- that I knew that there was something in there for everyone to relate to, that it was a much more inclusive story that we were telling. That felt really good. And, again, it’s not the kind of thing you can plan for; it was just the confluence of events. It was just incredible.
nB. On Top: And tell me more about the upcoming exhibition.
nTreanor: ‘Magnetic Fields’ is an intergenerational exhibition of abstract art by black women artists. It’s a really powerful exhibition in a lot of ways. There are a lot of really strong works in it and some really interesting stories as well. I was leading some tours there yesterday and I was saying that, you know, this is not the be-all, end-all. This is not meant to be like a survey of black women artists who work in abstraction. This is one conversation among many to be had to kind of change this narrative that we’ve had in this country about what abstract art is and who has produced it. I think it’s an eye-opening exhibition. And I think people are going to be introduced to a lot of artists whose names are not familiar to them at all. But also, it’s highlighting artists who have gone to have fantastic success like Shinique Smith. It’s a great exhibition. It’s wonderful to see kind of an older generation of artists paired with a younger generation of working artists.