Monday, December 30, 2013

New York discovers quilts (again)

I wrote last week about a museum show of quilts by three artists that was reviewed favorably in the New York Times.  Instead of making me happy it made me mad.  The first two artists had the same gimmick: making quilts that look like antiques, but out of nontraditional materials (paper for one, 16mm film for the other).  Without seeing the show in person, just looking at the artists' websites, I found the work pleasant if not particularly original.

The third artist, though, really rattled my cage.  Again, I didn't see the show, and don't even know whether these quilts were in it, but they seem to be representative of his work.

He's Luke Haynes, formerly an architect, now a quiltmaker.  His thing is to recycle clothing into quilts. His technique is raw-edge applique, which he uses to translate photos into graphic posterized images superimposed on a background of traditional quilt patterns.

Luke Haynes, [On My Bed #3]

Sometimes he dispenses with the quilt background to just show the image.

Luke Haynes, [Man Stuff #3] Red Truck

Some of the images are homely, like the truck; others depict hiply dressed young people in poses that mirror art masterpieces of the past, against a traditional patchwork background.

What's not to like in this work? The guy is very good with the Photoshop program that gives the templates, and his use of recycled clothing is certainly within the art quilt canon.  But I don't see anything here that I haven't seen a hundred times before.

In particular, the old truck has become a cliche of contemporary quilting, right alongside the adorable grandchildren and puppies, rendered in exactly the same Photoshop posterized fashion.  Often you'll find the old truck as the viewers' choice in the quilt show.

So art quilts hit the big time, a museum show in New York, and what do we get to see but the same old same old.  I have to wonder about the curator's thought process.  She was responsible for the Red and White Quilts exhibit that was a surprise big hit of 2011, so we know she knows traditional quilts.  All I can think is that she's never been exposed to the current quilt/art world or she would never have chosen these pedestrian images and techniques to represent what's "new" and "edgy."  It's as if a curator in 1870s Paris wanted to put together a show of the modern impressionists and just picked the first three guys who walked down the street in Montmartre with paint stains on their pants, instead of seeking out Manet and Cezanne.  (Instead of even checking whether Manet and Cezanne existed and what they were doing.)

Maybe she's just happy to have found a photogenic young hipster guy to showcase as a quilter (get it, critics?  no grandmothers in sight) instead of any of the old ladies who just happen to make much better work.  If so, this is no surprise; just another example of how persona often trumps substance in the Art World.

My fellow blogger Vivien Zepf saw this show in person and loved it, so apparently I'm missing something by only reading the review and the artists' websites.  But so far I am not amused.  Tell me if I'm wrong.


  1. I think the fact that this was a very small show and that it was two men, who dominated the space, and one woman was no accident. Maybe that's what the curator thinks as 'alternative'.

  2. Thank you. I've had similar thoughts nagging in the back of my mind...
    best, nadia

  3. Amen. That photoshop stuff was 'cutting edge' at the Puyallup WA Sewing Expo about 6 or 7 years ago. And it was so totally over about 5 years ago. I wonder if it was tongue in cheek, and he's laughing his azz off.

  4. Luke Haynes had a show at a nearby gallery last Fall, unfortunately when that part of Colorado was under water. Only saw pictures from it, and my response was,"Nice, but it's only a big deal because he's a man working in fabric?!"

  5. The only unusual element is that a MAN made them. They aren't cutting edge by any means but I'm glad that quilts are being shown in museums more often.

    1. I agree. Now wouldn't it be nice if the museums were seeking out really good quilts to show?

  6. Appropriating fiber is on trend in the academic art world which highly values conceptual and installation work. I imagine these artists are working in that sphere and really have no knowledge of what is going on in the world of art quilts. So, they are on trend in the main art world, but behind the times in the art quilt world. I find this a bit depressing, but interesting.