Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Tidbits about the Met

On Friday, Natalya and I took a Big Onion tour of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  We were signed up for a tour titled "America's Museum: Art and History of the Metropolitan" to be led by an Art History PhD candidate from Columbia.

It was great.  I learned a great deal in the two hours of the tour, too much to share here, but here are five  tidbits:

1)  The Met has more than 2 million pieces of art in its collection.

2)  The Museum is on the National Register of Historic Places which protects the structure, both inside and out, from any changes.  That means they can't add the murals originally intended for the ceilings in the great halls

nor carve the statues originally intended for the tops of the exterior columns -- the giant blocks of stone must remain as blocks.

3) The original Metropolitan Museum was located in a brownstone that the museum didn't own.  It quickly outgrew its space and a permanent location was secured from the City of New York in a parcel on Central Park.  Almost as soon as its new home was built, a new one was commissioned to take its place (no one liked the old building).  The new building, as it stands still today, was designed by Richard Morris Hunt and encompasses the original building whose walls you can still see in some areas of the museum.

4) The first Met President was Luigi Palma di Cesnola, an Italian-American Union solider who later served as the Consulate to Cyprus.  He fancied himself an amateur archeologist and excavated sites throughout Cyprus; when he returned to the United States, his collection came with him and became the start of the antiquities collection at the Met.

5) The Met declined Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney's significant collection of American art from the early 1900s because it didn't fit with their acquisition plans at the time.  She went on to establish the Whitney Museum of American Art, using her collection as the genesis for that museum.  The Met is probably kicking itself on that one, but it is nice to have another New York City museum dedicated to American art.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Be Still, My Heart....

"Art is this amazing thing where there is this huge effort to tell something, but it's mute.  It can never speak."  -- Stephen Sollins

Yesterday, I fell in love with the works of two artists unfamiliar to me: Sabrina Gschwandtner and Stephen Sollins.  These two, along with Luke Haynes, have art on display in the alt_quilts exhibition at the American Folk Art Museum in New York.  The exhibition is up until January 5, 2014 and I urge you to go see it.

"Gather up the fragments ... that nothing be lost" (John 6:12) is the biblical verse which sums up the nature of all three artists in the show. The first one you encounter as you enter the exhibition is Luke Haynes. Haynes buys clothing by the hundreds of pounds from Goodwill thrift shops, takes the clothing apart, and uses the parts to create his quilts.  I'd not seen a Luke Haynes quilt "in the flesh" and two things struck me in particular from this collection of quilts.  First,  I like his sense of humor, most notably in (Man Stuff #4) Elk Head, 2008.  As the placard next to the quilt read, "In the artist's words, the "mounted" animal head is "an homage to smoking rooms and hunting and the trophies displayed from acts of man-ism."  After making and titling the quilt, Haynes discovered that the elk head is in fact a white-tailed deer, but decided not to change it."   

Detail, (Man Stuff #4) Elk Head, Luke Haynes, 2008
 Second, I am intrigued by his use of anamorphic perspective.  In other words, an image looks distorted when seen straight on, but looks correct and three-dimensional when viewed from a specific angle.

(Self-Portrait #7) Over Here, Luke Haynes, 2013, seen straight on

(Self-Portrait #7) Over Here, Luke Haynes, 2013, seen from the right

Stephen Sollins thrilled me with his recycled paper pieces that are re-creations of traditional quilt patterns, but created with an intent beyond just derivative art.   Sollins uses any type of paper or Tyvek envelope that comes in his daily mail: junk mail, personal correspondence, bills, etc.  He then adapts the materials to a new purpose: artwork that references the past, but is created from patterned materials intended to shield personal data and/or confidential information.   In one quote on the wall it explained that "He recognized an analogue between the function of such decorative patterns to guard private information and similar patterns in fabrics that were used in quilts to guard the privacy of the bed."  

Many of his pieces were displayed close to antique quilts that served as inspiration.  I loved the comparison between the two.  One display case also showed all the intricate plans Sollins draws as he organizes his thoughts and develops his strategy for a piece.

Honeycomb Quilt Top, 1835-1845, England, Artist Unknown

Untitled (Grandfather's Garden), 2013, Stephen Sollins, inspired by hexagon paper-pieced quilts
Detail, Untitled (Grandfather's Garden), 2013, Stephen Sollins

Various plans, outlines, and pictures that Sollins used to create his piece,  Untitled (Return to Sender, after Mary Jane Smith, 1865),  2010

Sabrina Gschwandtner's work is absolutely amazing as well.  Her artworks were presented in LED light boxes because it's all constructed of 16mm film.  She couples her own film with footage from the 1950s -1980s that were deaccessioned by the Fashion Institute of Technology.  From a distance, you see thin strips of color that are joined together to form traditional quilt blocks.

 But as you get closer and closer, you see what the strips actually are.

Close-up of footage
Gschwandtner sews the film together on her Bernina sewing machine, overlapping footage and using a zigzag stitch to hold them together.  She considers the content of the films before splicing sections together, hoping to create a relationship not just of color, but of topic as well.   Gschwandtner is noted as understanding, too, the connection between early film and women's work.  Per the museum's literature, "women were among the first Hollywood film editors beause their conversance with sewing -- and their smaller fingers -- prepared them to cut, splice, and thread film."  There's a little warp to Gschwandtner's larger pieces and I think it adds to the impression of a flowing piece of fabric, disguising the actual nature of the material used.

Side view, Camouflage, 2012, Sabrina Gschwandtner
Alt_quilt will be on display through January 5th.  I hope you all can see these amazing works of art, by both old and new masters.

Soldiers' Quilt: Square within a Square, Artist Unidentified
1850-1880, England or United States; wool

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The Hardware Store Solution

This week I have to send "Thistles" to the Slater Memorial Art Museum for our Fiber Revolution exhibition, Diversity.  The sleeve is on the back of the quilt and I had a wooden slat prepared, complete with new eye screws and a scrubbing with sandpaper to make the surface nice and smooth.

But I can't send the wooden slat.

The Museum has requested that we include a flat slat with holes so that when the piece is hanging it doesn't protrude from the wall, so the nails can keep a low profile.  A wooden slat, for what the museum has in mind, might be too thick.  Many Fiber Revolution members already use telescoping curtain rods instead of wooden slats as hanging mechanisms, and we were all encouraged to follow suit. And thus is was that I went searching for one.

Alas, my piece is too narrow to use a curtain rod; it's only 16 inches wide.  None of the rods collapse into such a small dimension.  I suppose I should have expected that -- windows aren't that tiny and I certainly wasn't going to special order something.

Thankfully, our local hardware store is stocked floor to ceiling with all sorts of things, including this metal slat that I found in the plumbing department.

I don't know what the slat is supposed to be used for, but it's a perfect metal hanger.  It's solid enough not to warp or bend, but light enough not to tear through the sleeve.  The holes along the edge make mounting with nails very easy.  The hardware store staff cut this piece to my specifications (the original metal piece was three feet long). I made sure that the measurement I gave landed between holes.  Then, the gentleman kindly used a grinding machine to smooth the edges.  I scrubbed it with a household cleaner to get rid of any grease and dirt, and labelled it with a permanent marker.  I chose not to include the title of my piece so that I can recycle the slat for another artwork.

I think this is a solution I will likely turn to again and again.  What do you think of it?

Do you have any unique hanging solutions?

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Should an Artist Statement Be Part of the Entry Process?

There's often a debate on the internet quilting groups about artist statements.  Many quilters feel that artist statements should be included with entries so jurors can better understand how the piece fits the theme of the exhibition or how the artist created it.

I've stayed out of the debate because I don't know where I stand.  I've found that some artist statements help me connect better with the work I see in front of me.  At other times, flowery language confuses me or makes me want to hire the artist's agent so I, too, can use the Spin Doctor to sell ... fluff.

Now I have a new data point based on my own experience with a multi-media gallery.  When I entered the Political Statements call for entry, artists were asked to label their images with all the piece's relevant information: First Name _ Last Name _ Title of Piece _ medium _ Height x Width (in inches).   Aside from our contact information and our entry fee, that's all the gallery wanted from us when we submitted our images for jurying.  Either the jurors understood our message and felt it was appropriate for the theme, or they didn't. They made their decision based on what they saw and what they felt they needed.

All the accepted artists have been asked now to submit an artist statement. The gallery, however, has stipulated what they'd like to receive from each of us.  They want a simple explanation of what each of us was trying to say with our art, what statement we are trying to make (apropos given that this is a political statement exhibition).  We submitted our statements on-line and brevity was enforced by a restricted character count.  Discussion about techniques was optional and not strongly encouraged.

I like this format.  Our artwork was judged on its merits alone.  The artists' curatorial comments are somewhat consistent in content and short, and will make the flow of reading the statements easier, I suspect, for viewers.  I don't know how the statements will be used on-line versus the gallery exhibition, so I'll re-evaluate things when I see them.  For now, I'll say that I'm a fan of judging artwork without any artist commentary, but including a brief statement to preemptively answer a few viewer questions.  Everything else can be left to personal interpretation, making the viewing experience that much richer.