The aim of “Interwoven/Contemporary Textiles” at the Marta Hewett Gallery is to explore “traditional and alternative textile materials.” Despite the diversity of what’s on view, the exhibition can be divided into artists who use traditional techniques and materials, and others who use alternative materials but still work with basically traditional techniques.
In the first category, Erika Diamond weaves and Kevin Cole interlaces painted paper strips.
Jones quilts (see aeqai.com, December 2017, for a review of her solo exhibition at the Taft Museum of Art).
Ed Bing Lee (one of my favorites with his wry humor),
Jappie Black King, Judith Scott, and Orly Genger knot and/or wrap.
Sheila Hicks uses a variety of techniques and materials, but is represented by a knitted piece. Tim Harding devised a variation on traditional appliqué that he calls “complex free-reverse appliqué.”
The best known artist in the show, co-curated by gallery owner, Marta Hewett, and David Smith, director, is Hicks whose large-scale installations changed the public’s perception of what fiber could do. Here she’s represented by one of her “minimes” (pronounced min-EEMZ), small weavings that she has been producing for more than half a century. She may have made her mark in the art world with her monumental, site-specific works, but the impact of her smaller pieces should not be underestimated. In fact, Roberta Smith wrote in her 2015 New York Times review 1 that these intimate pieces tend to be her best efforts, comparing them to Giorgio Morandi’s small still lifes because of “their intimate size, restricted format and great variety. . .”
Harding first came to prominence in the 1980s with his dupioni-silk-and-organza garments featuring what he calls a “complex free-reverse appliqué.” He believes the technique “makes use of the intrinsic properties of my materials while creating an interesting interplay of surface and structure.” 2
Concurrent with these wearable pieces, what the pioneering craft gallerist Julie Schafler Dale dubbed “art to wear” in her seminal 1986 book of that name, he was making nonfunctional hangings, a foray into the fine arts. (I’m reminded of John Perreault’s distinction between craft and art: you can touch craft, and art costs more.)
In two of Harding’s works here – Shroud – Falling Man and Shroud –Ascending Man, both c. 2002 – he has hidden images of a man in silhouette among/behind the ruffles. The effect is clever but not much more. He’s hemmed in the figures by placing them on a rectangular ground. Earlier shrouds were free of that constraint, and, I think, more effective.
I was completely unaware of Judith Scott’s work so I googled her and was surprised that her obsessively wrapped sculptures were in some prestigious museums — American Visionary Art Museum, Baltimore; Museum of American Folk Art, New York City; Collection de l’Art Brut, Lausanne, Switzerland; and Lille Métropole Musée d’art moderne, d’art contemporain et d’art brut (LaM), Lille, France, among others.
Bingo — outsider artist.
Scott’s personal story is compelling. One of a set of twins, she was born into a middle-class family in Cincinnati in 1943. Unlike her sister Joyce, she had Down syndrome. Scarlet fever deprived her of her hearing, which undoubtedly led to the conclusion — by professionals — that she was uneducable. When she was seven, she was sent to an Ohio institution where conditions were described as Dickensian. Joyce was profoundly affected by the separation from her twin, and 35 years later she became her sister’s legal guardian. She brought Judith to live with her in California, and in 1987 enrolled her at the Creative Growth Art Center inOakland, which supports people with developmental disabilities. There Judith discovered her passion for wrapping found objects in colored yarns.
If I hadn’t sought out more information about Scott, I doubt I would have addressed the single piece here, which I find awkward, ungainly. Now that I know her story, I have to look at it in a different light but that doesn’t change my initial reaction. Biography should never trump aesthetics.
The glass artist Vollmer succumbed to the craft-world impulse to replicate something using a far more laborious process than the original. In his case, he carefully arranges thread-thin rods of glass (stringers) into a textile design and fuses them together into a sheet. There is the irony of using easily broken glass to represent pliable fiber, but why bother?
Diamond’s alpaca tapestries are also ironic. She appropriates simple imagery from pamphlets, brochures, or posters illustrating how to cope with emergencies and disasters. She uses a laborious and repetitive (tedious?) process of weaving to represent situations that require immediate and swift action.
There is also irony in Black’s lost-wax-cast bronze baskets. She creates a tension between the form, a supple basket, and its simulacrum in unyielding metal. She is also represented by her crude bundles of grapevine bark that become menacing creatures. These were arresting.
Black’s Dragon Lady, wearing a horned mask to hide her identity, could manifest itself on the proverbial “dark-and-stormy night.” The mythical warrior is protected by a breastplate, and her claw-like hands are weapons to be feared.
She is hung next to the formidable Dragon that she has set out to slay. The dragon with its slithery snake-like body would seem to have the advantage, being larger – approximately 40” x 12” — and having multiple appendages and wings, but the Dragon Lady is pretty fierce.
There is nothing virtuosic about any of the works in the show, which I find to be a plus. Anything that evokes a “Wow” or “I wonder how the maker did it” devalues the result for me because it draws attention away from the object itself. I say just let them “be.” 1229
–Karen S. Chambers
“Interwoven/Contemporary Textiles,” through March 9, 2018. Marta Hewett Gallery, 1310 Pendleton St., Cincinnati 45202. 513-281-2780,[email protected], www.martahewett .com. Tues.-Fri., 10 am-5 pm; Sat., 11 am-3 pm.
1 Roberta Smith, “Sheila Hicks, a Weaver Flirting With Installation Art” at Sikkem Jenkins & Co. and “Sheila Hicks ‘Ode to Roy Davis,’” at Davis & Langdale Company, The New York Times, November 26, 2015.