Saturday, April 9, 2011

International Quilt Festival Cincinnati 1

This is the first year the International Quilt Festival has held its spring show in Cincinnati.  For eight years its venue has been Chicago, strategically scheduled shortly before the big and competing quilt show in Paducah.  Sure enough, the new incarnation of the show is three weeks before Paducah, no doubt in hopes that midwest quilters will prefer a springtime trip to Ohio rather than into the wilds of western Kentucky.

It's been several years since I visited one of the blockbuster quilt shows and I was looking forward to it.  Although I don't think my own work is well suited to the judged shows at either Houston or Paducah any more, I like to observe the trends.  But the Cincinnati show is a little different because there are hardly any judged entries.  The great majority of the quilts on view are in special touring exhibits organized by others.  As a result, I think the overall quality was higher than you will find at Houston or Paducah.

In fact, the quilt-loving visitor from Mars might have thought that this show was sponsored by Studio Art Quilt Associates.  SAQA had a huge section with two separate exhibits: "Sightlines" and "Creative Force 2010" which contained many of the best quilts in the building.  I'm sorry that SAQA's no-photos policy prevents me from showing any to you.  I understand that they want to sell catalogs but still think it's penny-wise, pound-foolish to ban pictures.  Who knows, if I were to post a couple of the best ones on my blog, you folks out there in cyberspace might all want to buy catalogs to see the rest of them.

When I visit a quilt show I like to set myself a task in advance; it sharpens my attention to what I'm seeing.  This time my task was to find representational/pictorial quilts that I thought were successful as art, not just sentimental and pretty.  I've always thought that fabric is not a medium particularly well suited to making pictures.  Even though pictorial quilts are popular with quilters and viewers, I think they contribute to the low regard with which quilts are held by the mainstream art world.  But I know every generalization has its exceptions, and that's what I was in search of.

I had most success in the "Tactile Architecture" exhibit, which by definition leans heavily toward the representational.  Although some of the quilts in this section were kitschy, including one gag-inspiring depiction of an outhouse, complete with patterned toilet paper, I found several that I thought were successful as art.  None attempted to reproduce a photograph, but took some artistic liberties with perspective and color that made the work more interesting.

Probably my favorite was called "Marilyn," a witty reference to the famous Andy Warhol silkscreens that arrayed multiple images in different colors into a single work.  Here, instead of a movie star, we get a water tower.

Andrea Stern, Marilyn

Carol Ann Waugh, New Urbanism

Jean Jurgenson, Hong Kong Taxi

Stay tuned, I'll write more about the show in subsequent posts.


  1. I am so happy to hear about the Cincinnati show
    as I was a yearly attendant to the Chicago show and was so upset when they chose to move it to Ohio.
    It is now very difficult for me to take at least 3 days to go to it. I have always enjoyed it and have learned a lot each year about techniques or quilting designs as well as finding fabric that I otherwise cannot find locally or online.

    I have to say I was a little taken aback at the comment: "Even though pictorial quilts are popular with quilters and viewers, I think they contribute to the low regard with which quilts are held by the mainstream art world."

    As you know I do mostly pictorial quilts. I feel that each style has value just as pictorial paintings have in the mainstream art world. I would think that any gallery owner or art judge would be looking at all art as art and base their acceptance on the quality of the work or the astonishment of it capturing the essence of an oil painting, yet is made of fabric. I would hate to think that pictorial quilters are contributing to anything negative to the acceptance of art quilts in the mainstream art world. I personally think that it is ignorance of the medium which in the art world is still relatively new as well as the use of the term quilt (or the Q word as you chose to call it in an earlier post) that conjures up the image of a bedspread.

    It is my hope that no one else feels this way
    and rather is accepting of all styles of Art Quilts which to me all contribute to the diversity and positive acceptance of fiber art in the art world.

  2. "I've always thought that fabric is not a medium particularly well suited to making pictures. "

    It's amazing that I had this same discussion with a fellow quilter while viewing the show in Cincy. We found it's particularly difficult to do faces well and that an otherwise wonderful piece could be ruined by a badly done face. Of course this is true of painting and drawing, as well, but I think it's a hugely difficult task to do with fabric. It also seems popular now to print a pic and then machine quilt on top, without little regard to the resulting piece. It's hard to step back and not be wowed by the technology and look at a piece as artwork--does it succeed NO MATTER WHAT THE MATERIALS USED--that is my method of "judging" art quilts.

    I agree with Barbara that both abstract and representational art has value--it's just that someone choosing to do a realistic image in fabric has set up a very difficult task and doing it well will be a challenge. When done well, it's even more impressive, but a lot of the examples in quilt shows are mediocre art with (perhaps) excellent technique. Some art quilts that get into these big shows wouldn't stand up well in a local (nonquilt) art show.

    I have to say I loved the "Best of Show" which was an absolutely traditional floral applique. The design, composition, color choices and quilting were all exquisite. It might not be the type of art I would hang in my home, but it was beautiful, a perfect use of techniques and materials.