Sunday, May 28, 2017

My favorite things 22

It's Memorial Day, and I'm never one to let holidays go by without a bit of theme-reminiscence.  So that brings me to World War II, during which my father served in the Army in Eastern France and into Western Germany.  He didn't bring back a lot of war souvenirs -- no sawed-off Nazi ears, no liberated Kandinskys -- but somehow I have had these little mementos in my jewelry box for decades.

On top, a tiny gold Cross of Lorraine, the two-barred cross that has been the symbol of that province since the 13th century.  During WWII it was the symbol of the French Resistance.  It's so small -- barely a half-inch tall, that I thought it would disappear if worn by itself, so since childhood I've worn it on the same chain as a larger cross.

On the right, a somewhat battered leatherette jewel box, which reads "Souvenir de la Résistance."  The medallion, which is fitted with a pin back, shows a guy sitting on a stone wall, or maybe climbing over it, with a woman behind holding a big rock.  Maybe they're building a barricade to derail a German locomotive.  The initials "F.F.I." stand for Forces Françaises de l'Intérieur (French Forces of the Interior) aka the Resistance, known as "fifis."

The medallion is dated 1944.  By the time Dad got to Lorraine, right around New Year's 44-45, the allies had liberated most of France, the fifis were incorporated into the regular army, and life had returned sufficiently to normal that entrepreneurs could manufacture resistance souvenirs.

On the left is a 20 centime coin, made out of some kind of metalloid material with hardly any weight whatsoever.  It's black with age, or maybe it was black to begin with, dated 1945.  It has a faint diagonal stripe across the face where for years it was apparently scotch-taped to a card, but I've always kept it in the same box with the medallion,

Although Dad's unit made it many miles into Germany before the war ended, he found himself on V-E Day in Paris!  Maybe that's where he bought these souvenirs, knowing that it was finally time to celebrate.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Thread Lines 4 -- hand stitching extravaganza

If you love hand stitching you'd be really pleased with this work at Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft.

Imagine a very long wall with a very long meandering outline drawing (probably a phototransfer from an original ink drawing) of assorted fruits and vegetables, maybe two feet tall at its edges.

Every now and then a small wooden embroidery hoop is mounted over the wall drawing, and that part of the picture leaps into color with intricate hand embroidery over a phototransfer.  So you see three levels of detail: first the simple black-and-white sketch on the wall, then the not-very-brightly-colored photo on the cotton in the hoop, and then the brilliant sections embroidered in tiny, precise stitches.

Mónica Bengoa, One Hundred and Sixty Three Shades of Yellow, Green, Orange, Red, Purple, Brown, Grey and Blue (so far)

Apparently Bengoa began this work a dozen years ago, exhibiting it first in Australia, and has been adding to it ever since, hence the "(so far)" in the title.  The stitching is so perfect it's almost mechanical, but you can see and admire the artist's hand.

I'll let you drool over a bunch of detail shots.  Notice how carefully the colors shade in hue and value, one row of stitches at a time.

I'll have one more post about this show, coming later in the week.  It's up at KMAC through August 6.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Thread Lines exhibition 3 -- hand stitching that I loved

OK, got the crabby stuff out of the way, now I can talk about the work in the Thread Lines exhibit that I liked.  And guess what, it was almost all all hand stitching.

Here's an unassuming but solid and joyous work, simply little shapes of felt hand-stitched to felt backgrounds.

William J. O'Brien, Untitled (detail below)

Just two colors, simple shapes, the simplest possible stitching, but it all goes together into complex and sophisticated compositions that make you smile.  The background layer is thick, a tad more than 1/4 inch, so it hangs solidly, and it's held to the wall with T-pins.

Interestingly, many of the older works are framed under glass (which I think is not a good way to display textiles; it may protect them from viewers' touch but it also places a barrier to viewers' view) but the newer pieces are frequently hung with simple pins or nails.

Here's a piece hand stitched onto black organdy, an imaginary or remembered map.

Jessica Rankin, Untitled (detail below)

It's a big piece, almost 60 inches square, with simple stitching, mostly satin stitch.  It's hung with long sturdy pins along the edges, stretched about an inch away from the wall.

I'm a sucker for maps so I loved the concept and the combination of solidly stitched areas with sketchier outlines.  I was puzzled by the loose threads that occasionally traversed between stitched areas and sometimes drooped limply for a foot or more.  Not sure what this was supposed to make me think -- the map is melting?  we've lost our way?  pedestrians were dragged underneath a bus for a mile?

More good stuff in tomorrow's post.  The show continues at Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft in Louisville through August 6.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

My favorite things 21

We moved into our house in 1986 and had to buy boatloads of stuff to fix up and furnish the place.  On one of our numerous trips to the mall, my teenage son and I were walking through J.C. Penney's and saw that microwaves were on sale.  Although this was not on my shopping list, or in my budget, Matt insisted that we buy one -- a relatively new appliance that we had not previously owned.  I think we paid $89 for it.

It's still there.

In an age of planned obsolescence, perhaps this particular appliance sneaked by quality control.  Surely they didn't expect that an $89 microwave would still be going strong into its fourth decade!

Maybe I shouldn't say going "strong," because it seems to have lost some of its oomph as it aged.  In other people's kitchens, you zap a cup of tea for one minute and it's nice and hot; in my kitchen it takes two minutes and 20 seconds.  But what's a minute or two among friends?  The microwave soldiers on, never faltering.  It's the easiest of all our appliances to reset the clock after a power failure.  We've never even had to replace the light bulb.

I know one day the microwave will die, as will we all.  I don't relish the thought of replacing it; I don't want to have to choose among lots of fancy features that I probably won't use.  I don't want to have to learn new formulas for which buttons to push for a cup of tea.  I don't want a turntable or a convection feature or a sensor that allegedly tells me when things are done.  I don't want it built in.  I just want a microwave exactly like the one I have.  My friend for lo these many years.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Thread Lines exhibition 2 -- do you like patterns?

According to the statement on the wall, the Thread Lines show at Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft "brings together those pioneers who -- challenging entrenched modernist hierarchies -- first unraveled the distinction between textile and art with a new wave of contemporary practitioners who have inherited and expanded upon their groundbreaking gestures."  I'm not sure what that means, although two points for using "unraveled."  I didn't detect anything that specifically expanded upon the work of the pioneers, and in fact the specific approaches of the pioneers -- weaving and patchwork -- were barely used by the younger artists in the show.

I had to quarrel with the curatorial decision that included not one, not two but three artists whose work consisted of pattern charts -- two for sweaters, one for weaving (but you could probably knit a sweater from it if you wanted to).

Ellen Lesperance, December 12, 1983: Standing Beside the Communal Campfire, She Reads Aloud from the Front Page News: "Women at War! 25,000 in Greenham Base Demo" (detail below)

This artist's gimmick is to find a photo of somebody wearing a sweater at a famous demonstration from the past -- this one was against nuclear weapons -- and chart the pattern, then paint it in gouache.

Robert Otto Epstein, Sleeveless Cardigan (detail below)

Here the pattern is rendered in graphite rather than in paint, but same difference.  If this is fiber art, which I'm not entirely sure of, then you might think one example would be plenty in a show with only 15 artists.

If these two sweater-chart artists are twins, then here's their big sister.  This artist drew charts of weaving patterns, photographed the charts and printed them out, then digitized the pattern and had an embroidery machine stitch over the printout.

 Beryl Korot, Weaver's Notation-Variation 1 (detail below)
At least this one had some actual stitching in it.  But all three left me cold, cold, cold.

Next week: some work in the show that I liked!

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Thread Lines exhibition 1 -- the pioneers

A new exhibit at Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft shows the work of 15 artists in and about fiber and textile processes.  It includes some very big names in the fiber art world (Sheila Hicks, Lenore Tawney) and in the plain-old-art world (Louise Bourgeois) as well as many artists I had not heard of.  Organized by The Drawing Center museum in New York City, and now on the road, the show will be at KMAC through August 6.

I can't say I was overly impressed.  It had the slightly gee-whiz vibe that so often sounds when people from the plain-old-art world contemplate works made from fiber or with fiber techniques.  How strange but also nice that people make art from cloth using needles!  And if you squint your eyes a bit you can even think of it as Real Art!

I know I'm being snarky, but as both practitioner and aficionada of art from fiber, I found little to get excited about.

Sheila Hicks, one of the patron saints of fiber art, was represented by four "minims," the name she gave to thousands of tiny weavings, five or six inches wide, done on a portable loom that she took with her as she traveled.  She used these little works as a sketchbook to record ideas and materials.

Sheila Hicks

Sheila Hicks

What can you say about these fragments?  Perhaps that sketchbooks, doodles and studies aren't always museum-worthy.  If these pieces had been woven by Kathy Klutz in a workshop at John C. Campbell Folk School you know for sure they wouldn't be hanging in this show.

Similarly, there are four Louise Bourgeois pieces made from old napkins, towels and striped fabric.  Two are clever riffs on her signature spider motif, cutting the striped fabric into wedges and assembling them into spiderwebs.  The curator's notes point out that Bourgeois made these pieces in her old age, raiding her lifelong stash of old textiles.

You don't expect artists in their 90s to have the perfect technical skills of their youth (as a girl, Bourgeois did textile restoration in her family business, so you know she could really sew), but you do expect them to make up for a shaky hand or failing sight with a mature artistic vision.  Think Matisse's paper cutouts or Monet's waterlilies.  Maybe I'm being too critical but this patchwork doesn't say anything to me.

Louise Bourgeois (detail below)

Louise Bourgeois (detail below)

Here's the Lenore Tawney piece, from 1974.  I wasn't following fiber art in those days, but from what I have reconstructed in my reading, this was a quintessential example of those early glory days when fiber briefly was on the verge of acceptance in the mainstream art world, and was all the rage in corporate office buildings to soften the hard edges of marble and concrete.

In that time, weaving was the pinnacle of fiber art (quilts or knitting sure didn't get a foot in the door) and doing interesting things with your weaving was so avant.

Lenore Tawney, Union of Water and Fire (detail below)

You can't help but admire how it broke ground in its day, but now it looks dated and ordinary.  The point of this show, according to the wall sign, is to honor the "groundbreaking gestures" of the fiber art pioneers, they didn't do a very good job of choosing work that has aged well.

Well, enough crabbiness for one day.  I'll show you work by the younger generation in my next post.