Pricked: Extreme Embroidery at the Museum of Arts and Design in New York City, November 8, 2007-March 9, 2008
The average person encounters embroidery in daily life mainly in the form of tea towels and certain types of clothing. Few people think of the craft as a medium to be explored, a medium whose boundaries, capabilities and functions can be stretched. Pricked: Extreme Embroidery lifts the craft out of the realm of royal or religious vestements, out of the everyday table and bed linens and places it firmly in the realm of artists working not just as craftspeople but also as interpreters of contemporary life.
The exhibition is divided into 6 themed categories: NEITHER MORE NOR LESS concentrates on works incorporating text and words.
Judy Chicago, the doyenne of embroidery in contemporary art, is represented with Its Always Darkest Before the Dawn, where embroidery plays its traditional role of adding depth and luminosity with colorful silk threads.
Tilleke Schwartz’s two works are like embroidery sketchbooks, with motifs, words and images overlapping and interplaying on hand dyed fabric. Count Your Blessings, a travelogue of the artist’s visits to Australia and the US, intersperses phrases and sentence fragments with the question: Are craft people making money on the Internet?
Andrea Dezso’s Lessons from My Mother, a wall with dozens of 6”x6” embroidered illustrations of her mother’s adages. Each one begins with “My mother claimed that…” which is followed by some very interesting statement and an illustration of the sentiment.
Every visitor seems to read them all, and once read, the viewer can’t help but feel that she has just spent a few moments with the artist and her mother in the flesh.
POLITICS IS NOT A SCIENCE addresses world leaders, world history and timely issues (race, ethnicity, religion, immigration) in a variety of ways.
Sonya Clark’s Afro Abe II
is firmly embedded in her explorations of hair but makes a memorable statement; Christa Maiwald’s Garden Party pairs girl’s dresses with heavily embroidered portraits of various dictators:
WHATEVER IS WELL SAID BY ANOTHER IS MINE displays works that appropriates images from art and pop culture.
Elaine Reichek’s A Lexicon of Clouds studies clouds in the paintings of various artists, resulting in beautifully abstract color studies. This could be a useful exercise for anyone wishing to explore color or an artist’s oeuvre.
Mattia Bonetti’s Press Couch is a centerpiece of the exhibition. This colorful sofa is comprised entirely of images from Chinese magazines, densely embroidered in vivid colors. The wooden frame is painted to match exactly.
MEMORY IS WHAT MAKES OUR LIVES speaks to how past experiences reflect the present. Nava Lubelski takes a stained yellow tablecloth but makes the stain the focus, outlining it and accentuating it with embroidery
Ke-Sook Lee’s 100 Faceless Women is installed across the three floors of the museum, evoking dainty vintage handkerchiefs set to dry on a clothesline. Each one is embroidered with an abstract motif that explores femininity and the artist’s “own private vision”.
BODIES NEVER LIE explores the form of the human body, as in
Shizuko Kimura’s thread sketches of people that echo the line quality and spontaneity of any life drawer’s pencil sketches.
This section also explores the human body as a medium, as in Kate Kretz’s two pillowcases embroidered with human hair. One shows a beautifully rendered pair of closed eyes, the other an ear and locks of curly hair. The soft colors and skillful work invite closer inspection, but the realization of the material is inexplicably chill-inducing.
SHADOWS NUMBERLESS is defined most pointedly and skillfully in Death of Blinded Philosopher by “embroidery virtuoso”
Angelo Filomeno. This piece is closest to the masterful embroidery of old times, but absolutely qualifies as extreme if only for its subject matter. Crafted on beautiful gray silk, the elements are expertly drawn and embroidered and give an impression of horrifying beauty:
Though the majority of pieces are hand-embroidered, many are machine made. Emily Hermant’s Lying Booth is hundreds of lies, embroidered by machine and pinned around a booth that is meant to be entered and the visitor can type in her own lie (the computer asked me to change one word of the following lie: “I love every piece in this exhibit”).
Laura Splan used a computerized embroidery machine to create doily representations of the world’s major viruses:
As with Radical Lace and Subversive Knitting, the curation is beautifully thought out; Elaine Reichek’s “First Morse Message” winds its way through much of the first floor of the exhibit, Paddy Hartley’s incarnations of three soldiers with facial damage facing one another in a small room seamlessly marry the memory and body sections. The exhibit includes a film, Sabrina Gschwandtner’s History of String, which is projected on muslin fitted into an oval embroidery hoop. The film is “narrated” only by the camera passing over words embroidered on fabric.
The show runs through March 9, 2008, and is absolutely worth a visit from any fiber enthusiast, embroiderer or otherwise. Though much of the technical ability on display may be lost on non-crafters, the exhibit gives even the most casual viewer pause to consider the statements made by the artists themselves, and by the museum for their careful assembly of the works.