Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Place to be Today was....

the Morris Museum in Morristown, New Jersey. Why? Because the Morris Museum is playing host to "Art Quilts Contemporary Expressions from the Collection of John M. Walsh III", a remarkable exhibit featuring selections from the noted collection.

Walsh began collecting art quilts " that jump out and stand on their own" (Gloria Hansen, "An Interview with John M. Walsh, III", Art/Quilt Magazine , Issue #7, 1996-97) in 1992. He did so (and continues to do so) with guidance and input from Penny McMorris. McMorris is an independent curator who said the following about art quilts,

It is art for walls, not bed, created by artists abandoning media like painting, printmaking and ceramics, to express themselves in original designs of cloth and thread.

Indeed, the pieces from the collection now hanging in the Morris Museum are excellent examples of artists who created landmark pieces of art. Many, such as "Lush Life" by Michael James and "Geranium" by Velda Newman, are quilts we've seen in print before but are no less impressive for their familiarity. "When the Bee Stings" by M. Joan Lintault seemed new to me because photography simply cannot do justice to the open negative space within her art.

I have to confess, though, a terrific ignorance of some of the artists represented in the exhibit. One of my favorite pieces was created by Tim Harding, a former painter and photographer. He created a commission for Walsh called "Surf Swimmers" that I'd never seen before. It's a large diptych more than ten feet wide representing the bob of the ocean waves and the visual distortion of swimmers within the surf. It's a magnificent pointillist creation, with an array of fabrics layered and pieced together to create terrific movement and texture. You can almost feel the ocean's current. Another one of my favorite pieces, "Peak 3 / Red Rock", was created by Ardyth Davis in 1994. Who's Ardyth Davis? I'm embarrassed to say that I don't know, but I guarantee you, I will find out. Davis' two pieces in the exhibit were both made from hand painted and pleated silks. "Peak 3 / Red Rock" had the fabric vertically pleated in such a way to be perfectly evocative of a red stone face. Perhaps I was so drawn to this piece because I'm also drawn to the landscape of Sedona, Arizona, though to say it so simply would diminish the mastery of this piece.

The main gallery which houses the exhibit is well lit and surrounded by windows, making the outdoors a nice backdrop for the artwork. The exhibit itself is divided into five sections: That's Art?; Methods and Materials; The Natural World; Narrative Quilts; and, Inspirations. Many of the pieces easily fell into their categories, such as Susan Shie's "Savannah, The Two of Cups" (narrative quilts). Others crossed boundaries in my mind. For example, Kyoung Ae Cho's piece "Aged, covered by wisdom" was placed in the Methods and Materials division, but could easily have fit into The Natural World category with its pieces of pine laid out upon the surface. I did note that the artwork, save for the two by Ardyth Davis, were all pieces of grand scale. I don't know if that's a function of the space and the museum's intent to fill the gallery with large pieces or because Walsh has a predisposition towards bigger pieces of artwork and this is representative of his collection. That's something I may investigate.

You can't take pictures in the main gallery and many of the quilts in the exhibit are being displayed for the first time in public. Since this exhibit will only be on display until April 25th, you have to hurry to get your glimpse of these masterworks. Yes, the date crept up on me, too, and that's why Natalya Aikens and I raced to get there today. We weren't alone. It was a pleasant surprise to run into Art Quilt Elements SAQA Cream winner, Benedicte Caneill, Fiber Revolution member, Rachel Cochran, Create your Own Hand Printed Cloth author (and teacher of the year nominee), Rayna Gillman, and Inspired to Quilt author, Melania Testa, all there to view the exhibit as well . Perhaps some day, one of these esteemed artists will have a piece in Walsh's collection and I'll be able to say, "I remember when ....."

5 comments:

Carole said...

That is too cool!! You must live in the best place in the world and have the best friends!!
I can only imagine....sigh...

Rayna said...

From your mouth to god's ear - LOL. And put yourself on that wish list! Great to see you today, even if only for a short while.

Beena said...

I wish I could see this exhibit!

shades said...

I have heard so much about this collection, and I am so curious. Wish I was in that neck of the woods! Hi Vivien, Natalya and Benedicte! doodles are on their way!
p

norma said...

I think you have yet another career, as an art reviewer. Great report and again, it made me wish I had been there.