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Degas and Friends: Cleveland’s Art Extravaganza

Get in touch with your inner artist at the Cleveland Museum of Art this fall.


Written by Cara Robbins



The Cleveland Museum of Art (CMA) is one of the most fantastic resources for arts and culture history in the country. As Clevelanders, not only do we have this superb establishment in our backyard, but CMA is also committed to ensuring that their general exhibits are completely free to the public. On top of that, Cleveland State students who present their student IDs can enroll in a free membership that grants them no-charge access to special exhibits. With a constant rotation of special exhibits and new art being featured every month, a trip to the art museum can be an educational, inspiring and relaxing way to spend a weekend off — without breaking the bank.


So, what’s stopping you? After surviving October’s onslaught of midterms and Thanksgiving break just around the corner, why not spend some time decompressing by taking advantage of some of the incredible exhibits available at CMA right now?


“Degas and the Laundress” (through Jan. 14, 2024)

CMA’s most recent special exhibit, “Degas and the Laundress,” is the first of its kind to explore Edgar Degas’ relationship with the working women of Paris in the later half of the 1800s.


“The artworks from this series — revolutionary in their emphasis on women’s work, the strenuousness of such labor and social class — were featured in Degas’ earliest and most significant exhibitions, where they were praised by critics as epitomizing modernity,” according to clevelandart.org.


Degas’ first portrayals of these working women came right on the tail of a novel that took 1800s Paris by storm: Emile Zola’s “L'Assommoir” (or: “Dive Bar”). The wildly popular book portrayed a laundress in Paris desperately trying and failing to raise her social standing. The positive public response transformed the image of a laundress from an invisible shadow to a recognizable pop culture figure.


At the time, laundresses had the perfect potential to become cultural staples. They wore distinctive, easily identifiable white blouses and were essential to everyday life in Paris, while the pervasive male gaze unfairly assigned their work a sexual allure that gave them an air of intrigue. When the novel took this imagery and jettisoned it into public imagination, it gave a foundation for Degas and other pioneering impressionists to explore the plight of laundresses in a brand new way.

Degas’ depiction was so groundbreaking because it did not sexualize laundresses in the way that most pop culture portrayals did. Due to the active and strenuous conditions while washing clothes, women often wore loose blouses or less clothes to avoid overheating. Parisian society at the time associated loose clothes with loose morals, and thus laundresses were widely considered to be sinners and seductresses. Degas’ paintings challenged this notion by emphasizing the arduous working conditions and reinforcing that the blouses the women wore were practical and necessary for the industry.


The exhibit also features additional depictions of laundresses from Degas’ contemporaries at the time, as well as relevant ephemera from the late 1800s such as posters, advertisements, photographs and more. While the rest of the art museum is free to the public, this special exhibit requires a purchased ticket. Tickets are $15 for adults and $12 to college students with a non-CSU student ID.


As a special ode to the exhibit, CMA is also hosting an “Artist in the Atrium” event featuring iron-on art. Visitors will learn from women who work with textiles hands-on and have the opportunity to make their own printed handkerchief and contribute to a community tablecloth. This educational program is free to the public and will take place from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday Nov. 18.

On top of that, Cleveland State students who present their student IDs can enroll in a free membership that grants them no-charge access to special exhibits. With a constant rotation of special exhibits and new art being featured every month, a trip to the art museum can be an educational, inspiring and relaxing way to spend a weekend off — without breaking the bank.

Other Exhibits at CMA:

“China’s Southern Paradise: Treasures from the Lower Yangzai Delta” (through Jan. 7th, 2024)

This special exhibit is one of the first in the West to focus specifically on the history of arts and culture that came from the coastal area south of the Yangzai river. Historically, this region's fertile soil, access to water and lush landscape allowed it to become a productive and booming cultural center in China. The exhibit contains various paintings, jewelry, pottery and relics throughout the region’s vast span of history, with some pieces even dating back to neolithic times. Tickets cost $15 for adults and $12 for non-CSU college students with their student ID. If you’re already planning on seeing the Degas exhibit, consider a bundle package to access both exhibits ($25 for adults and $19 with a non-CSU student ID).


Egyptomania: Fashion’s Conflicted Obsession (through Jan. 28, 2024)

Located in Galleries 234 and 170, “Egyptomania” explores how Egyptian art has influenced (and been exploited by) contemporary high-line fashion designers. By placing Egyptian art relics such as jewelry and textiles next to the modern fashion pieces they’ve influenced, visitors are able to examine the themes and elements that designers utilized. The exhibit also contextualizes the controversial history of European imperialism in Egypt, which has contributed to many damaging archaeological excursions that have resulted in the destruction and removal of countless artifacts from their native region over the past two centuries.


“Nature Supernatural” (through March 3, 2024)

The “Nature Supernatural” exhibit, located in Gallery 242B, is a fascinating exploration of the metaphysical and supernatural symbolism behind the plants depicted in art from various South Asian cultures. Throughout history, depictions of plants in South Asian literature and visual art were often intrinsically linked to the supernatural powers associated with them, such as abundance, fertility and growth. This exhibit, which is completely free to the public, explores the different beliefs behind each plant through a variety of paintings, textiles, jewelry, tapestries and more.

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