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From the vault – September, 2003, art and crafts


Ed. note: In celebration of Artblog’s 10-year anniversary, we are bringing you content from our inaugural year, 2003. In September, 2003, we were mesmerized by the labor-intensive complexity of the newest work and took pleasure in the return-to-crafts movement. Femininity and sex appeal were frequently referenced but really everything looks better when it glistens with the sheen of a little elbow grease!


The labor of art


September 15, 2003


Speaking of minimalism and art going back to square one for a bit of soul searching (see Libby’s post below) I wonder if the current boomlet in labor-intensive art likewise is collective soul searching — and maybe a reaction against found object conceptualism that, for whatever its strengths, is lacking in the craftsmanship department and seems a dead end on the art family tree.

“Fiber Friends” at Spector and “Labor” at Abington display art’s return-to-crafts movement. What’s new is that the crafts adopted aren’t necessarily what you think of as high craft. In fact, there’s a lot of A. C. Moore hobbyism here in the sewing, hook rugs and origami on display.

Also breaking with some of art’s recent coolness, these works have a kind of personal mania to them that runs hot. These are works that wear their sentiments clearly. They don’t beat around the bush.

Susie Brandt’s “Some Assembly,” a red work quilt

Lauren Ashley’s red work quilts (traditional white quilts that use only red thread) at Spector are beautiful subversion of a traditional craft form. Note the non-traditional imagery – rain clouds, a bonfire — which differs from the normal nursery rhyme kitties and bunnies (detail, above of Ashley’s quilt “20 blocks). Eric Steinberg’s linen weavings, also heavy with red, seem like anti-establishment posters, only much more beautiful and poetic. And outsider artist Brian Bazemore’s soft fetish dolls – stuffed “like time capsules” (the artist told me) with things like the gas bill and other daily memorabilia – represent people Bazemore is bringing into his life – or expelling out of it. (Steinberg’s “Swell” is above, right.)

Whitney Lee, Soft Porn, latch hook rug

Whitney Lee’s “Soft Porn,” a latch hook rug and the clear show-stopper, took 350 hours to make and includes 64,000 knots. Lee, a Columbus, OH artist who got her BFA from Ohio State University and once was a Spector gallery assistant (as were Ashley and Steinberg) told me she downloads images from Playboy’s website then plots the colors and designs the rug on the computer and goes to work. (Speaking of work, see the image of Lee standing on “Soft Porn” and vacuuming it.) kaufman

Additional images are from Abington — Amy Kaufman’s “Hello Kitty,” an origami extravaganza and Susie Brandt’s “Some Assembly,”  a red work quilt based on industrial drawings that came with the artist’s kitchen and studio tool purchases ( a fan, a cuisinart).

There’s something appealing about repetitious hard work. If nothing else, it frees the mind to roam. Also, it answers the question “what should I do now?” And like Kiki Smith says in her episode in PBS’s “Art 21,” she always has something to do — she can always go in the studio and file down some of the flaws in her cast sculptures.

A final thought. Could this laborious activity be a particularly American phenomenon, coming out of our do it yourself tradition?


Clay’s a popping


September 21, 2003

When I stopped in to see Rain Harris’s “Gilding the Lily” last Tuesday at Temple’s Tyler Gallery the artist’s work was in the middle of a photo shoot. The ambiance was perfect. The pop, pop, popping and flashing of lights seemed just right for work that’s sexy as a starlet preening on the catwalk. (See detail from “Ebb”)


Harris’s porcelain poison bottles, enthroned on matching porcelain shelves surrounded by matching porcelain medallions and backgrounded by matching wallpaper — are beyond gorgeous.

They’re gorgeous taking a nose dive into kitsch — Jeff Koons without the hard on or Kate Moss in a Calvin Klein Poison perfume ad. But unlike kitsch, which aspires to comfort and the quick telescoping of an idea, Harris’s new work is a complex mix that stings as it sings.

It’s the deathly dark side of pleasure.

Harris, a Clay Studio resident artist and Leeway award winner, was dressed like the antithesis of her work — a worker bee in bib overalls and a t-shirt. She told me that the wall pieces grew out of her frustration with pedestals as showcases for her work. A truly extreme reaction but one that makes sense for work that has moved from the floor (in large pieces that resembled botanical forms ) to the wall with subject matter shifting from the garden (and the origins of poison in deadly flowers) to the boudoir’s receptacles that house the poison oils.harris03

There’s always been an anthropomorphic quality to the work. These highly-charged, female or in some cases hermaphrodite forms (neither teapots nor vessels), all non-functional except in the realm of symbol — are a royal court of characters — and another echo of Versailles on the local scene.

Millenial longing for the past or perhaps just a rummaging around in old stuff to find a way to the future, either way installations like Harris’s insinuate more than broadcast, their message a jumble as complicated as today’s front page with its warm fuzzy human interest story and news of the latest car bombings from Iraq. It’s must reading.


So much art, so little time–First Friday adventures


September 7, 2003

Sam Chung, teapot

I want to start with Astrid Bowlby’s drawings at Gallery Joe, in Old City, but I don’t have an image, so you’ll have to go to Gallery Joe’s Website to see what she’s up to. (By the way, Bowlby’s in a show that opened yesterday at the Drawing Center, 35 Wooster St., New York, so she’s up to a lot.) I’m thinking topography as I walk out of the show at Gallery Joe–and hairnets and intense energy fields.

And as usual I was in love with the work at the Clay Studio. I have to start by confessing that I never met a teapot I didn’t like, and teapots were rife. Above is one of several by Sam Chung in the niche on the first floor. This one reminded me of those traditional Japanese hair-dos. Others had subtle glazes that reminded me of skin and fingerprints.

Upstairs in the “Tea for Two, Table for Two” show, the tea sets stole the show from the table settings. Of course, unlike plates, only the insides of teapots need to be functional, leaving a lot of room on the exterior for creativity. This one is by Heeseung Lee and the next one is by Lisa Orr. Ryan Fitzer had a beautiful set that implied tremendous weight, and Geoffrey Wheeler’s pot and cups were peachy toned with belly buttons and shapes suggestive of bodies, without being too literal. Lots more worth seeing there.

West of Old City the usual crazy scene at Space 1026 included hand drawn (campaign pin) buttons for sale, bad-boy cartoons, some quite beautiful, from Canadian cartoonist Gerard Doody, and a three-day stencil show, which was chock-full of political art. The stencil here (sorry not shown) is by Roger Peat, with an asking price of $8.

And even further West, at Vox Populi (215-568-5513), M. Ho’s newsprint pages covered with images of what looked like the war in Iraq and news-like columns of color blocks and collaged flowers caught my daughter’s eye.

Well, that includes only stuff I saw. There’s lots more out there. It’s a big city with a lot of art.