For the next few weeks in New York City, you can freely visit women in prison. Talented women, glamorous women, proud women, and regular women —they’re all there, as portraits by legendary photographer Annie Leibovitz.
The show, WOMEN: New Portraits, debuted in Chelsea on November 18th as a pop-up inside the Bayview Correctional Facility. It’s a recently shuttered women’s prison whose future will be as potent as its past when it reopens in 2020 as The Women’s Building, “a global hub for the girls’ and women’s rights movement,” as reads the online description.
The building’s transition kicked off this week in the most feminist way possible. Just as the jail is wrapping operations, Leibovitz and Gloria Steinem were there to unveil the WOMEN exhibit and mark the building’s final days before demolition.
You might say it’s an infusion of nasty women power and hope, there to usher the space into its estrogen-centric future.
The show runs only through December 11th and simply should not be missed, especially during this emotionally exhausting month. It showcases Leibovitz’s portraits as three large-scale digital slideshows, plus a fourth wall of her newest WOMEN works and a few from her archives, including a family self-portrait with her three daughters.
The array of subjects portrayed here are artists, philanthropists, and other prominent humans whose names read like a roster of the most important women of our time. Among them: Steinem, Malala Yousafzai, Shonda Rhimes, Jane Goodall, Lupita Nyong’o, Adele, Katie Ledecky, Cindy Sherman, Lena Dunham, and many others who have captivated and inspired the world with their endeavors.
None, of course, pack quite as much punch as Hillary Clinton, who’s seated at her desk, upon which is a tile that reads, “Never, never, never give up.”
WOMEN is the continuation of the original project Leibovitz began as an idea from her partner Susan Sontag in 1999.
“I was reluctant to take on such a broad subject,” said Leibovitz. “I thought it was like going out and photographing the ocean. I thought it was too big. But the idea was to show what women look like now, and what roles they play. The original project stands on its own, but Susan and I always talked about it as a work in progress. It’s not a subject that could be wrapped up easily, and I thought I would update it at some time.”
For this next iteration, Leibovitz started by asking Steinem for a list of women to potentially photograph. In response, Leibovitz says, she received a seemingly never-ending list of names around 23 pages long. (Not all of the women on that list made it into the series this time around.)
The New York pop-up is the second-to-last stop on a 10-city world tour, exhibiting the portraits as commissioned and hosted by financial-services firm UBS. In each stop, the show was held in a space that had an entirely other life, like a retired power station in London, an old train station in Singapore, and a century-old dilapidated house in Mexico City.
Leibovitz noted the support UBS gave her in the project and global tour, thanking the company for making each show free and open to the public. In New York, the exhibit comes with free photography workshops for all ages and is part of the firm’s arts and women empowerment initiatives from its philanthropic arm, the UBS Optimus Foundation.
The collaborative spirit behind WOMEN: New Portraits is tangible, thanks partly to its exhibition space, a building that Steinem steered organizers to consider.
“I didn’t know when we started this journey around the world that it would be so crucial and important to have this symbol as we stand here today,” said Steinem, praising the conversion of the correctional facility into The Women’s Building. “There could be nothing more symbolic than this space right now, and I think there is nothing we need more than this space right now.”
“WOMEN: New Portraits” continues through December 11 at the Bayview Correctional Facility (future home of The Women’s Building), 550 West 20th Street, Manhattan. Open Monday-Sunday, 10am-7pm; Thursday and Friday late until 8pm (last admission one hour before closing). Free entrance to the exhibition, no ticket required.For more information, visit ubs.com.
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Kelsy Chauvin is a freelance writer and photographer specializing in travel, and covering a range of topics spanning arts and culture, food and restaurants, entertainment, nightlife, and women’s and LGBT interests. She co-authors the annual Fodor’s New York City guidebook, and publishes work regularly for Fodors.com, Condé Nast Traveler, The Points Guy, Rand McNally, and several other print and digital publications. She also writes for LGBT outlets including Curve, Passport, Edge Media Network, and GO Magazine. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter: @kelsycc. (www.KelsyChauvin.com)