Wednesday, July 18, 2018
Form, Not Function: Quilt Art at the Carnegie, our local annual juried show of art quilts, opened the day after I got home from Europe; I attended the opening reception in a jet-lagged haze and barely remembered what I had seen. A week later, still jet-lagged, I went to see the show again with my friend Paula Kovarik, who had been one of the jurors but hadn't been able to get here for the opening. I took a lot of pictures but didn't feel up to writing about the show in the aftermath of my unexpected eye surgery.
Now the summer has slipped away, FNF is about to close and I still haven't told you a thing about it. My local fiber art group held its monthly meeting at the Carnegie last night and I am reminded about the most striking quilt in the show -- especially urgent and timely in light of this week's political events.
Yes, it's Trump and Putin kissing, against the Russian and U.S. flags as a backdrop. In the center, cheerful butterflies; everywhere, money: coins and gold bars make up their hair, bills stand in for the white stripes of the flags.
Lots of gaudy fringe trims the central figure and edges the entire quilt. At the opening I chatted with Arturo and said "What's with the fringe? I never took you for a fringe guy." He explained that every time he sees a picture of a nouveau riche home there's fringe on everything, so what better shorthand for people with more money than taste.
I didn't ask about the butterfly, but I know that Arturo has made a companion quilt called "Dark" something or other, featuring an ominous black moth as the central motif, so I gather the two pieces are meant as yin and yang.
This is a very large and complex piece and I can't identify all the processes. I think the background image was woven to order with the images of the faces; many other fabrics are raw-edge appliqued on top. The quilting seems to have been done with "invisible" thread that has a lot of sparkle to it.
Saturday is the last day for FNF, at the Carnegie Museum of Art and History in New Albany IN, just across the river from Louisville.
Friday, July 13, 2018
The Hamburger Kunsthalle had several pieces of fiber art from well back in the previous century, giving an interesting spin on the days when it was considered avant-garde simply to get some nontraditional materials and display them (gasp!) in a mainstream museum. Seeing them five decades later makes me realize that fiber art has come a long way.
Robert Morris is an American artist who has worked in sculpture, land art, performance and conceptual art. One of his favorite materials has been industrial felt, which in this piece is both hung from the wall and arranged on the floor. I'm not sure this particular installation does much for me; I can't tell whether he's exploring felt's drapability, its firm structure or just its ability to sit there in the gallery looking transgressive.
Yes, it's a big piece of red cotton, suspended across a corner of the gallery from four skinny straps. What is it saying to us about cotton-ness, about redness, about hammock-ness? Beats me.
As I contemplated these two works in the gallery and now at home reviewing my photos, I confess that my major questions had to do not with the materials, not with the formal aspects of the compositions, but with their maintenance. Do the janitors come in every morning and carefully pick up the edges of the felt so they can dust under the first six inches of the sculpture? Do they vacuum the whole thing every now and then? Does the hammock require periodic washing and ironing to keep the drapey folds from getting permanently creased?
I don't suppose the artists wanted viewers to be thinking about such issues, but they didn't give me much else to chew on. Sorry.
Thursday, July 12, 2018
Rosemarke Trockel is a German artist who works in practically every medium and technique that she can think of, but I have always kept an eye out for her knitted works. Seen in the Hamburger Kunsthalle, this large work from 1986:
In the traditional modernist trope of referring to art in your art, Trockel has cleverly executed the "Woolmark" logo in her wool knitting. She stretched the knitted fabric over a canvas for rigid display.
Whenever I see mainstream artists use fiber techniques I wonder how much if any of it they did themselves. A bit of googling gave me this explanation from a London gallery that exhibited some of her knitted works: "In choosing wool and knitting, a material and technique traditionally associated with the female domestic realm and craft, Trockel explores the negative connotations of these 'inferior materials and skills'. Distinguishing her practice from traditional craft, Trockel made blueprints for her designs and had them produced by a technician using computerised machinery. By mechanically producing the knitted patterns, she questions whether the cliche of women's art relates solely to the choice of materials or whether it is also influenced by the treatment of these materials."
Hmmm. I wonder what was the answer to her questioning -- is the cliche just in the wool, or in how you process it, or in what you choose to depict in your knitting? And I also wonder what she considers to be "the cliche of women's art."
Do you suppose we'll ever get past being a cliche? I'm not sure Trockel is helping on that score. What do you think?
Monday, July 9, 2018
I'm all for recognizing the contributions of women to world history, and it's kind of endearing when scholars and museums earnestly point out how women have traditionally been left out of the story. But sometimes they try too hard.
Witness this sign in the Vasa Museum in Stockholm. The Vasa was a huge warship that sank a few minutes after it was launched in 1628 (it was so huge and grand and full of cannons that it was topheavy) and was found and recovered only in 1961, perfectly preserved by the cold dark waters, along with a whole lot of stuff. If you find yourself in Stockholm, this should be the first place you go, and you should stay a lot longer than our tour guides let us do.
"These antler bag handles in the Sami style were found on Vasa. We do not know who made the handles or who carried the bag. The answer was lost long ago, along with the leather bag and its contents after all the years in the water...
"Working with bone and antler was seen as a male craft, while leatherwork was seen as a female craft. Therefore, the handles could perhaps symbolize the presence of males and the absence of females in the writing of history.
"However, this does not mean that women were invisible or unimportant during the 17th century."
Yes, the handles could perhaps symbolize the presence of males and the absence of females in history. Or they could perhaps symbolize that reindeer are more enduring than cows. Or they could perhaps symbolize the silliness that occasionally overcomes museum curators.