Monthly archives: March, 2018

HandMade: Women Reshaping Contemporary Art

Norma Minkowitz’s Excavation in the foreground, Carolina Yrarrázaval’s tapestries in the background.

Norma Minkowitz’s Excavation in the foreground, Carolina Yrarrázaval’s tapestries in the background.

Last Friday, the Westport Arts Center opened up its new exhibition, Handmade: Women Reshaping Contemporary Art, which includes three artists, Chiyoko TanakaCarolina Yrarrázaval and Norma Minkowitz, represented by browngrotta arts. The exhibition was curated by Elizabeth Gorayeb, the Executive Director of the Wildenstein Plattner Institute, Inc., a New York based non-profit committed to art historical research. Handmade also features work by Ghada Amer, Anna Betbeze, Ligia Bouton, Orly Cogan, Lesley Dill, Terri Friedman, Sermin Kardestuncer, Sophia Narrett, Faith Ringgold, Miriam Schapiro, Judith Scott, Beverly Semmes,  Rosemarie Trockel and Margo Wolowiec, all of whom utilize fiber and textile in their art.

Chiyoko Tanaka’s Sienna A and B at the Westport Art Center.

Chiyoko Tanaka’s Sienna A and B at the Westport Art Center.

Textile and fiber objects have traditionally not been incorporated into the male-dominated pantheon of “Fine Art.” As a medium, fiber is “weighted with gendered, socio-political signifiers that are imparted onto the final work of art. To put it plainly, fiber is feminine,” explains Gorayeb. “Weaving, embroidery, knitting and sewing are thought to be the domain of women, whose productions in these areas have long been relegated to the status of ‘decoration.’” However, since fiber art enjoyed a period of avant-garde popularity in the 1970s, the value of what was typically known as “women’s art” has gained currency. This shift in values in contemporary art culture has driven the art world to redefine and reassess the inclusivity of “Fine Art.”
Lesley Dill’s Exhilaration. Dill’s work addresses the power of language as it relates to the psyche.

Lesley Dill’s Exhilaration. Dill’s work addresses the power of language as it relates to the psyche.

In addition to the artists featured in the exhibit, artists such as Magdalena Abakanowicz, Anni Albers, Françoise Grossen and Sheila Hicks have continuously pushed “Fine Art” to be more dynamic. Faith Ringgold, a renowned activist and artist whose work is included in Handmade, was recently honored by Yale University as a Chubb Fellow. In making her story quilts, which are inspired by traditional Tibetan thankgas, Ringgold combines painted canvas, fabric piecework and handwritten texts. Throughout her work, Ringgold’s explores topics revolving around race and gender. In Wedding on the Seine, featured in Handmade, Ringgold tells the story of a fictional woman fleeing her wedding ceremony in fear that her marriage will interfere with her dreams of becoming an artist.
Sophia Narrett, whose work showcases contemporary erotic ideas, fantasies and fears, also has work featured in Handmade. Narrett, whose intricately embroidered wall hangings look as if they were painted with thread, does not allow the traditionally domestic aspect of embroidery limit her creativity. In a recent article in The New York Times, “Some of the Most Provocative Political Art is Made With Fibers,” (Leslie Camhi, March 14, 2018) Narrett says: “Embroidery and its implicit history help specify the tone of my stories, one characterized by obsession, desire and both the freedoms and restraints of femininity.”  By using a needle and thread to explore sexuality, Narrett’s work subverts what is traditionally considered a feminine medium.
301 balls (Diptych), 2017 Cotton thread, coal from Soma, Turkey, fabric 36 × 37 in, 2017. Photo by Tom Grotta

301 balls (Diptych), 2017
Cotton thread, coal from Soma, Turkey, fabric
36 × 37 in, 2017. Photo by Tom Grotta

“As visitors to a gallery or museum, we are expected to engage with works of art though the act of looking. We consider the final product of the artist’s creation, but rarely do we think of the tactile experience of the artist’s process,” explains Gorayeb. “Fiber art — works of art created from wool, silk, cotton, flax and other forms of textiles — present us with a dynamic, multi-sensory experience.” It is because of this tactile experience and physical commitment that Narrett prefers embroidery over painting, “when an object is developed by human hands for hundreds of hours, it leaves a quality in the surface that can be sensed,” she notes.

By embracing textile and fiber art, female artists have forever reshaped contemporary art. As seen in both Faith Ringgold and Sophia Narrett’s work, fiber art allows artists to examine topics such as race, gender and sexuality while also providing the viewer with a multi-sensory experience that connects them with the artist. Handmade: Women Reshaping Contemporary Art will be on view at the Westport Arts Center until June 2, 2018. For more information on the exhibit and the Center’s hours visit https://westportartscenter.org/exhibitions/.

Art Lives Well Lived: Katherine Westphal and Ethel Stein

katherine Westphal at Home

Katherine Westphal Portrait 2015 by Tom Grotta, courtesy of browngrotta arts

We lost two fine artists and friends this month when Ethel Stein passed away at 100 and Katherine Westphal died at home in Berkeley, California at 99.

We had been promoting Katherine Westphal’s work and that of her husband, Ed Rossbach (who died in 2002), since the 1990s. We visited Ed and Katherine at their home before Carter was born. (For those of you familiar with browngrotta arts that was a quarter of a decade ago.) Their home, and Katherine’s studio in particular, was a wonder – chockfull of items they had collected from their travels that pleased and inspired them, decorated with murals by Katherine on several walls. Though her studio appeared chaotic, Katherine had an encyclopedic knowledge of what was where. “That reminds of a piece of gift wrap I picked up in Tokyo in the 1950s,” she would say, and then pull a slim typing paper box from a stack of others that looked the same, finding there the images she was referencing.
Katherine worked for decades creating printed textiles, ceramics, quilting, tapestry, jacquard woven  textiles, artwear and basketry structures. “Variously using direct drawing and painting, batik wax resist, and shibori, she also pioneered color xerography and heat transfer printing on textiles,” Jo Ann C. Stabb, former faculty member at UC, Davis wrote in 2015 (“Fiber Art Pioneers: Pushing the Pliable Plane,” Retro/Prospective: 25+ Years of Art Textiles and Sculpture, browngrotta arts, Wilton, CT 2015). “Throughout her career, beginning with the batik samples she made for the commercial printed textile industry in the 1950s, she [ ] incorporated images from her immediate world: street people in Berkeley, Japanese sculpture, Monet’s garden, Egyptian tourist groups, Chinese embroidery, images from newspaper and magazine photos, and her dogs…anything that struck her fancy wherever she happened to be at the moment – and she could put any or all of them into a repeat pattern.  Her wit and whimsy [were] legendary and her lively approach also inspired her husband to combine imagery onto the surface of his inventive baskets and containers.”
Ethel Stein Portrait

Ethel Stein Portrait 2008 by Tom Grotta courtesy of browngrotta arts

We were close to Ethel Stein as well, having begun representing her work in 2008 after a dinner at her home where her charming dog joined us at the table. When Rhonda was sick several years later, Ethel drove, at 93, from New York to Connecticut with a meal she had made us. Rhonda’s mother, a mere 83 then, was visiting and we told her that same vitality is what we expected of her in her 90s. (So far mom has complied.)
Tom was able to prepare a monograph of Ethel’s work, Ethel Stein: Weaver, with an introduction by Jack Lenor Larsen, an essay by Lucy A. Commoner and a glossary by Milton Sonday, which has become our best-selling volume. In her essay, “Ethel Stein, A Life Interlaced With Art, Lucy Commoner, then-Senior Textile Conservator at the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum, Smithsonian Institution, describes the evolution of Ethel’s knowledge of textile techniques and ways in which she was able to advance those techniques through her own explorations. “Ethel Stein’s work is distinguished by its rhythmic simplicity belied by its extraordinary technical complexity. The basic humility and humanity of the work and its relationship to historical techniques combine to give Stein’s work a meaning far beyond its physical presence.”
Ethel Stein Exhibition

Ethel Stein Master Weaver at the Chciago Art Instittute

Six years later, Ethel’s work received the wider recognition it deserved. We were thrilled to attend the opening of her one-person exhibition, Ethel Stein, Master Weaver, at the Art Institute of Chicago in 2014. “Ethel Stein is an artist who only now, at the age of 96, is beginning to get the recognition she deserves from the broader public,” the Institute wrote. “Stein’s great contribution to weaving is her unique combination of refined traditional weaving techniques, possible only on a drawloom and used by few contemporary weavers, with modernist sensibilities influenced by Josef Albers, who trained in the German Bauhaus with its emphasis on simplicity, order, functionality, and modesty.” There were photos of her at work, a video and a dinner after with family members and supporters of the museum and crowds of visitors to the exhibition — a well-deserved tribute.

Ed Rossbach Katherine Westphal

Katherine Westphal Ed Rossbach

These artists and their lengthy careers, raise the question, is fiber art a key to longevity? Ethel Stein continued to weave even after she was discovered and lauded at 96. When we visited Katherine Westphal in Berkeley in 2015 we found her still drawing or painting every day in a series of journals she kept, something she continued to do until just a few weeks before her death. Lenore Tawney died at 100, Ruth Asawa and Magdalena Abakanowicz each at 87. Helena Hernmarck tells us that she knows several fiber artists who are 100. So those of you who are practitioners — keep it up!


Art Out and About: Patrick Dougherty at the Ackland Art Museum

 

Step Right Up at the Ackland Art Museum. Photo by Emily Bowles Raised in North Carolina and an alumnus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, sculptor Patrick Dougherty returned to his roots to create Step Right Up for the Ackland Art Museum last October. Internationally acclaimed for his monumental environmental works, Dougherty has produced over 280 large scale stick sculptures all over the world. You’ll know one of Dougherty’s sculptures when you see one. “Some cling to pylons or walls, or roll across the tops of trees; others emerge from a lake, seeming to balance on the surface of it without making a single ripple,” explains Daniel Wallace of Garden & Gun. “His sculptures do impossible things. They could be homes for giants or trolls, the first shelters built by prehistoric men, Gaudí-esque mazes, giant vines, remnants of alien visitations, windblown towers, jokes. They are fun, joyous, friendly, inviting, and public, very public: art conceived by one, built by many, shared by all.”

Dougherty working on Step Right Up. Photo: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

What separates Step Right Up from Dougherty’s other installations is that it is in his hometown of Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Dougherty earned his B.A. in English from the UNC in 1967 and later returned to study art history and sculpture. Before he began using sticks as his medium, Dougherty sculpted with clay. However, while using clay Dougherty was unable to achieve the scale he desired for his sculptures. While studying at UNC, Dougherty developed the idea of using sticks as his medium. Dougherty found that using sticks allowed him to bend and extend long lines, he could create his own monumental three-dimensional drawings. In order to effectively use sticks to create sculptures, Dougherty had to gain a better understanding of how shelter builders, such as birds and beavers, build their homes. “Sticks have an inherent method of joining…and that tangling allows you to hook them together,” Dougherty explains.

 

Unknown, Iranian, Caspian Region, ca. early 1st millennium B.C., Animal-shaped Pouring Vessel, earthenware, Overall: 8 3/4 x 12 x 6 3/16 in. (22.3 x 30.5 x 15.7 cm) Ackland Art Museum, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Gift of Osborne and Gratia B. Hauge in honor of Dr. and Mrs. Sherman E. Lee, 91.21 © Ackland Art Museum, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Dougherty often does not know what he is going to build until after he arrives at the installation site. Once he arrives, Dougherty has to source both volunteers and materials. For his exhibition Step Right Up at the Ackland Art Museum Dougherty was able to source his materials—maple and gum saplings—from Duke Forest and Triangle Land Conservancy, organizations Dougherty has had long relationships with throughout his career. Dougherty chooses to enlist the help of volunteers on his projects because he finds it interesting how varying types of characters can come together to create one piece. Dougherty’s creative process has three steps: 1) Structural formation—building the basic shape, 2) Appliqué—appliquéing a look onto the surface of the piece and 3) Cosmetic—fixing up and making it habitable for people to enjoy from both the inside and outside. In creating Step Right Up for the Ackland, Dougherty was inspired by the Ackland’s collection of ancient animal pouring vessels. The vessels, which usually have an animal head from which water is poured, typically have traditional tops. Dougherty liked the idea of having a mixed shape and applied it to his sculpture in Step Right Up.

“I think that part of my work’s allure is its impermanence, the life cycle that is built into the growth and decay of saplings,” explains Dougherty. “The line between trash and treasure is thin, and the sculptures, like the sticks they are made from, begin to fade after two years. Often the public imagines that a work of art should be made to last, but I believe that a sculpture, like a good flower bed, has its season.” Bounded to the installations organic material and outdoor setting, Dougherty’s Step Right Up is a temporary installation. The installation is expected to be on view through August 31, 2018 at the Ackland Art Museum in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. For more information, visit: https://ackland.org/exhibition/patrick-dougherty-stickwork-ackland/.


Art Assembled: New This Week February

 

Inspired by her lifelong love of human condition, Dawn MacNutt’s work remains centered on the “beauty of human frailty. Witnessing small, yet meaningful human interactions, such as seeing people experience pain, love and joy, has had a lasting impact on MacNutt’s work. To obtain material for her work, MacNutt utilizes the nature around her, using willow harvested from the ditches and lanes around her home in Nova Scotia. 

Praise, Dawn MacNutt, inflorescens and reed, 19”x 4”x 5”, 2007. Photo by Tom Grotta

Praise, Dawn MacNutt, inflorescens and reed, 19”x 4”x 5”, 2007. Photo by Tom Grotta

Made solely from paper, Cube Connection 09 showcase Noriko Takamiya’s non-traditional basketry techniques. Despite choosing differing methods, Takamiya still feels connected to ancient basketmakers. “I find myself in the same situation,” explains Takamiya. “Even if the resulting objects are different, the ancient basketmakers and I do the same thing, which is to seek the techniques and materials to develop into one’s own work.”

Cube Connection 09, Noriko Takamiya paper, 4” x 13” x 7”, 2016. Photo by Tom Grotta

Cube Connection 09, Noriko Takamiya
paper, 4” x 13” x 7”, 2016. Photo by Tom Grotta

In 1975, Kyoko Kumai began using metallic materials such as stainless steel filaments in her sculptures. The malleable nature of the stainless steel allows it to be woven, twisted or bundled to create sensuous forms in order to express aspects of wind, air and light. “Thin pieces of stainless steel wire create a richly expressive fabric that does not stand solidly, cleaving the air,” explains Kumai. “It has its own language fluttering above the floor; breathing and melting into the air.” 

Kyoko Kumai, 32kk Memory stainless steel filaments 41” x 19” x 19”, 2017. Photo by Tom Grotta

Memory, Kyoko Kumai,
stainless steel filaments
41” x 19” x 19”, 2017. Photo by Tom Grotta

Ex Claim! by Gyöngy Laky is sure to grab your attention. Made using G.I. Joes and bullets, the piece serves as Laky’s personal examination of our complex relationships with the world around us. Laky’s works often have underlying themes of opposition to war and militarism. Born in Hungary in 1944, the physical and emotional effects of war impacted Laky from a very young age. In her opinion, “We are smart enough to have moved beyond war as a means of dealing with problems by now.”

Ex Claim! commercial wood"; 2014; G.I. Joes; acrylic paint; "bullets for building (trim screws), 64” x 21” x 7”". Photo by Tom Grotta.

Ex Claim!, Gyöngy Laky,
commercial wood”; 2014; G.I. Joes; acrylic paint; “bullets for building (trim screws),
64” x 21” x 7”. Photo by Tom Grotta.

 

 

 


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