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.
Friday, July 6, 2018
Before we went to Europe this spring, I read a story in the New York Times about a statue in Copenhagen commemorating a black woman, called Queen Mary, who led an unsuccessful revolt against harsh labor conditions in the Danish island of St. Croix in 1878. It was described as the first statue of a black woman anywhere in Denmark, and I thought it would be nice to see it in person -- and I did get that chance.
The statue sits outside an 1797 warehouse (Denmark's Caribbean possessions had sugar plantations, and the building, now preserved as very high-end waterfront real estate, originally handled slave-grown sugar and rum). The warehouse is now a museum of sculpture and a replica of Michelangelo's David has stood outside for many years.
The statue of Queen Mary was made by La Vaughn Belle, an artist from the U.S. Virgin Islands (Denmark sold its islands to the U.S. in 1917) and Danish artist Jeannette Ehlers. It's placed symmetrically at the other side of the museum and was designed to be exactly as tall as David.
The statue is installed only temporarily, and in fact the statue itself is temporary -- our guide said it was made of some kind of styrofoam-like material. Eventually the artists would like to raise enough money to cast it in bronze; not sure if it could stay in this location if that happened.
Tuesday, July 3, 2018
In my daily art this year I have had occasions to make little collections of maps, and because I own reams of index cards, I frequently paste the maps onto the cards as I assemble them. But that leads to the question of how the individual cards can be put together. The simplest way, of course, would be to rubberband them into a deck, or stash them into an envelope, but I like the idea of making them into a book.
The problem is that bookbinding generally starts with signatures, one or more pages with a fold down the center. You can then stitch through the fold and the threads hold the pages in place. But that doesn't work if each page is on a separate piece of paper, as with my index cards.
I've experimented with a couple of different methods of joining cards into books, using techniques such as tape and needle and thread. But last week I figured out a technique using the sewing machine that I think is turning out quite nicely -- nicely enough to share.
The trick is to use the blind hemstitch, where the machine takes one stitch to the left and then four stitches to the right, and set it to the widest stitch and relatively long stitch length. You position your card so the left-hand stitch pierces the paper but the four right-hand stitches fall just off the paper, interlocking the threads in the air for a tight little chain.
If you carefully position your card so you're always starting at the same place, you will end up with the four-stitch chains all lined up along the edges of your cards. You can then cut a thin strip of paper, thread it through the chains, and paste it down on the front and back covers.
On the inside of the book, you just see the stitching, not the binding strips.
You might ask why I don't do some research and find out tried and tested binding methods instead of inventing my own. First, because that's easier said than done. The other day I spent two hours on google and pinterest trying to find usable directions for one binding method that looked intriguing. After the two hours of frustration I turned off the computer and decided I'd rather be sewing.
But second, isn't it fun to figure out your own way to do something?
Monday, July 2, 2018
Earlier this year I wrote about an exhibit of women painters who studied in Paris during the Impressionist years; one of the paintings I liked was done by Anna Ancher, who is considered one of Denmark's greatest artists. When we were in Copenhagen in May, buying our tickets to the national gallery, I mentioned that I had seen Ancher's work in the show in Louisville and was looking forward to seeing more of it. The ticketseller, a young woman who was studying art history and knew all about Ancher, was so excited to hear that we Americans had heard of their national treasure, wanted to know more about the U.S. show, and showed us on the museum map exactly which room to go to.
There were two Anchers on display.
I know that deathbeds and funerals happen in every country and every time period, but it seems that they were an especially popular subject for art in early-20th-century Scandinavia.
In the next room was a funeral scene by a famous Danish painter.
And what Scandinavian collection would be complete without a deathbed scene by Edvard Munch -- one of his recurring themes; I've seen an awful lot of these in museums here and there.
I like this period of art -- moving gradually past slavish photorealism, but still recognizable depictions of everyday life. Munch is one of my favorites, but it's always nice to be introduced to other artists famous in their own countries.