Thursday, April 28, 2022

Sanford Biggers at the Speed, part 3

I've written about the Sanford Biggers show in two previous posts.  Time for a wrap-up.

The piece I liked best in the show was a Tumbling Blocks quilt, with a minimum of paint, overlaid with a dramatic horizontal flame of orange-and-black chevron print.  A little bit of black paint made a curvy outline over the old blocks, a sort of half-silhouette of a key shape.

Sanford Biggers, Quilt 17 ( Sugar, Pork, Bourbon) 

My second favorite was a collage of old quilts, plus a section of curvy stripes made from sequins on a black painted background.

Sanford Biggers, Transition

I liked these quilts because they thoughtfully used large patterned shapes to contrast with and complement the smaller patterns of the vintage pieced quilts.  In both cases there was artistry in the composition and care in the construction.

Sadly, I did not see those features in most of the quilts in the exhibit.  The artspeak at the entrance to the gallery tells us "the quilts signal their original creator's intent as well as the new layers of meaning given to them through Biggers's artistic intervention."  I searched in vain for the new layers of meaning in most of the pieces in the show.

As I mentioned in my first post about this show, I walked in the door as a Biggers skeptic, based on a bit of past knowledge of his work, but would have liked to like this show.  Instead I was surprised at the strength of visceral discomfort that hit me in only the first two rooms of the gallery; all those beautiful antique quilts deliberately messed up with paint and tar to no apparent purpose.  Perhaps it wasn't the defacing per se that bothered me -- I've been known to repurpose old quilt bits myself -- but the slapdash quality of the defacing.  

I went to the museum with two friends, one an artist, one not.  When we compared notes all three of us just wanted to get out of there fast.  I wasn't there long enough to discover exactly what made me so unhappy, and for that I apologize.  

The show will be up through June 26.  I'd love to hear what other people think of it, whether I'm alone in my unease.


  1. Hi Kathy,

    You always make me think a lot about art. What is art? First I have to say English is not my native langue, so I may be not always clear in what I want to say. That said; I am a traditional quiltmaker, quilts made for use as blankets, and as a bonus I hope they are nice to look at. I like craftsmanship especially, in a lot of ways, and I respect it.
    And that is what I miss in the examples you show: respect. In a way, they make me think of rape, of a male way of disrespect for the female, humble dedication to making something useful for the family. I know that art sometimes has the function of showing the ugly sides of life. But then, I should like to see some form of compassion. These are some thoughts about your reports about this artist.

  2. I think you have captured what I've been feeling as I look at the examples you've shown "all those beautiful antique quilts deliberately messed up with paint and tar to no apparent purpose. Perhaps it wasn't the defacing. . . but the slapdash quality of the defacing." Marion mentions respect too, and there seemed little of it for the quilts he used. Yeah, it felt like a bit of a crime scene and no wonder you wanted out of there!