Critical art reviews of Detroit galleries and museums weekly

Category: Fiber Page 1 of 4

Quiet As It’s Kept @ Whitney Biennial 2022

Whitney Museum of Art Biennial 2022, Installation image

The Whitney Biennial is the longest-running survey of American art and has been a hallmark of the Museum since 1932. Initiated by the Museum’s founder Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney as an invitational exhibition featuring artwork created in the preceding two years, the biennials were originally organized by medium, with painting alternating with sculpture and works on paper. Much has evolved over the years and this year the Biennial comes after being postponed because of the pandemic. The spaces here contrast significantly, acknowledging the acute polarities in American society. One floor is a labyrinth, a dark space of containment and another is a clearing, open and light field. The subtitle of this year’s Biennial is Quiet as it’s Kept, is a colloquialism.  The quote comes from the writer Toni Morrison and is said prior to something, often obvious that should be kept a secret. The curators, David Beslin, and Adrenne Edwards have been entrusted with making the exhibition that resides within the Museum’s history, collection and reputation. This is the 18th iteration and continues to function as an ongoing experiment.

Denyse Thomasos, Displaced Burial/Burial at Gorée, 1993.

The sixth-floor section of the Biennial opens with two large-scale abstract works by the late artist Denyse Thomasos, who died in 2012 at 47. For these striking works, Thomasos was interested in creating the sense of claustrophobia felt by enslaved people crossing the Atlantic crossing and inmates being held in prisons. Her goal was “to capture the feeling of confinement,” she once said, per the wall text, as a way to explore how structures like ships and prisons have “left catastrophic effects on the Black psyche. Her black and white overlapping grids create a feeling of claustrophobia and captivity. There are two twin paintings presented here as the viewer enters a space that is entirely black. Most of this floor is divided up into rooms (all black) that serve as viewing rooms for art videos.

Rebecca Belmore’s sculpture, “ishkode (fire),” 2021

At the Whitney Biennial, center, the Indigenous artist Rebecca Belmore’s sculpture, “ishkode (fire),” 2021, made from clay and bullet casings.  The Anishinaabe artist Rebecca Belmore—who was the first Indigenous artist to present Canada at the Venice Biennale, in 2005—made this commanding ceramic sculpture from a sleeping bag cast in clay and surrounded it with an arrangement of empty bullet casings. The work, a critique of the historic genocide and ongoing disproportionate violence against Indigenous people, is a centerpiece of the sixth floor of the exhibition, illuminated from above in the otherwise darkened space. “The work carries an emptiness,” the artist writes. “But at the same time, because it’s a standing figure, I’m hoping that the work contains some positive aspects of this idea that we need to try to deal with violence.”  In the background, Guadalupe Rosales’s photographs of East Los Angeles, 2022.

Daniel Matinez, Post Manifesto for the Future, 2022

There are five photographs that document what Daniel Joseph Marinez has described as “radical performative experiment of becoming post-human and the evolution of a new species.” Martinez used his own body to interrogate and bear witness to the extraordinary moment in human history, our own self-destruction.”  The recent abstract paintings on view here involve a process of accumulation in which the surface of the canvas is constructed of sweeping gestures, letters, drips, splatters, and moments of erasure is a reflection of how we evolve in life.  The black and white silkscreened work of marks and impressions tries to articulate who we are or who we might be at any given moment: a kind of visual poem or disruption.

Adam Pendelton, Untitled 2021

Ralph Lemon is an interdisciplinary artist who works primarily in performance and has made drawings throughout his life.  For the Biennial he has created a choreography of work that is presented in a group and moves throughout the exhibition in a circle.  Every so often the work moves to a new position in the collection. Themes range from elaborate visual mediations and the nature of the artistic process itself to experiments refracting Black American culture, icons, music, and joy.  It is fair to say this is an installation of images that changes its position during the exhibition.

Ralph Lemon, One of several from an untitled series, that changes. 2022

There are five paintings by Jane Dickson who shares the hopes and aspirations that commercial signs convey both in contemporary suburban spaces she photographed in New York City during the 1980s.  The Motel is one of the five.   Dickson’s careful depictions suggest that certain violence comes with making generalizations in the writing off of those who lead their lives in the areas that are frequently overlooked or dismissed. In her statement she says, “I chose to be a witness to my time, not to document its grand moments, but to capture the small telling ones, the overlooked everyday things that define a time and place.

Jane Dickson, Motel 5, Acrylic on Felt, 2019

Coco Fusco, Your Eyes Will Be an Empty Word, 2021.

In this new video, Coco Fusco directly reflects on the death toll caused by the pandemic. We see her in a boat just off Hart Island, near the Bronx. The island has long been the site of New York City’s potter’s field, where unclaimed bodies are buried. At the height of the AIDS crisis in the ’80s and ’90s, many bodies of people whose families had disowned them were sent here; over the past two years, it has again become active at an alarming rate. Fusco tapped poet and writer Pamela Sneed, an AIDS activist who penned a 2020 memoir Funeral Diva about that era, to provide the narration—written by Fusco—for this poignant mediation on death, loss, and grief. Over the course of 12 minutes, Sneed tells us that there could be as many as a million bodies buried here, but no one accurately knows. With the staggering total death totals from Covid, she notes, bodies become numbers in ways that make us forget the stories of those who are lost. Throughout the film, like a chorus, Sneed repeats, “‘When death comes it will have your eyes,’ he said.”

If you are visiting New York City before September 6, 2022, it is always a good experience to see what is going on around the country.  Something worth note is there are four indigenous artists represented from various parts of Noth America.  The exhibitions are on floors, 1, 3, 5, and 6.

In Summary, I would agree with the art critic Peter Schjeldahl who says “ long on installations and videos and short on painting, conventional sculpture, and straight photography.” When he writes for The New Yorker. Whitney Biennial 2022

Many Voices: The Fine Art of Craft @ BBAC

Installation image, Many Voices: The Fine Art of Craft @ BBAC

If there ever was a bright line of distinction between what we call contemporary fine art and what is now considered to be craft, that line has long ago been crossed and obliterated.  The mixed bag of artifacts on display in the exhibition at Birmingham Bloomfield Art Center from May 6 to June 2 illustrates this, with a range of objects and images that contrast the useful with the expressive, the carefully crafted with the emotionally contingent.  “Many Voices: The Fine Art of Craft” takes us on a tour of the increasingly porous borders between objects that can claim to be fine art, but qualify as craft only because they refer tangentially to traditional crafts and finely handmade objects that are intended for utilitarian purposes.

Wall Vessel V, Constance Compton Pappas, unfired clay, cedar

 

Balanced, Constance Compton Pappas, cedar, plaster, clay

The objects in the exhibition fall roughly into two categories. Works by artists such as Constance Compton Pappas, Dylan Strzynski, Sandra Cardew and Sharon Harper privilege the expressive properties of the materials and push them to the limits of their identity. Often there is a toy-like mood to this work.  Any pretense to utility is deeply submerged beneath the artists’ emotionally poignant themes. Pappas’s wall-mounted, naturally irregular wooden shelves support clay objects that only refer to vessels, and certainly were never intended to function.  They are signs for cups and the considerable pleasure to be derived from them rests upon their rough, stony texture contrasted with the irregularities of the wooden support. Elsewhere in the gallery, Pappas uses the abstract shapes of 3 cast plaster houses, again placed on a raw wood pedestal in a stack, entitled Balanced, that implies a state of wonky precarity.  Dylan Strzynski’s playful, barn-red house model, Attic, made of wood, sticks and wire, suggests a kind of Baba Yaga cottage on legs, poised to jump off its pedestal in pursuit of the viewer. Sandra Cardew’s Boy with Broom continues the preoccupation with play. The subdued color and rough fabric of the golem-child is both a little funny and a little ominous. Sharon Harper’s Pink Trailer makes an interesting kind of mini-installation by hanging a 2-dimensional photo landscape on the wall behind a diminutive clay trailer, suggesting the possibility of travel through wide open spaces.

Attic, Dylan Strzynski, wood, paint, sticks, wire, string

 

Sandra Cardew, Boy with Broom, mixed media assemblage

Danielle Bodine’s wall installation, Celestial Dance, offers a floating population of tiny woven wire and paper elements that might claim to be plankton or might be satellites.  Whatever they are, their yellow starlike shapes weightlessly orbit a larger, spiky planetary body, and cast lively shadows on the wall. The basketry techniques that Bodine has employed for nearly 20 years allow her complete freedom to invent these minute entities in three dimensions.

Sharon Harper, Pink Trailer, low fire clay, photograph

The fiber artist Carole Harris, who has several works in the show, continues to be in a class by herself. From her beginnings as a more conventional quilter, Harris has traveled far and wide, taking inspiration from Asia, Africa and beyond. Her carefully composed, expressively dyed and stitched formal abstractions are emotionally resonant and reliably satisfying. The artist employs a mix of fabrics and papers, along with hand-stitching and applique, with the easy virtuosity of long practice.

Danielle Bodine, Celestial Dance, mulberry and recycled papers cast on Malaysian baskets, removed, stitched, painted, stamped, waxed linen coiled objects, plastic tubes, beads,

Carol Harris, Yesterdays, quilted collage

Russ Orlando’s pebbly pastel ceramic urn-on-a-table, Finding #171, is covered by contrasting buttons and frogs wired to the substrate. The vessel evokes a friendly presence: it wants to know and be known.

Two artists in “Many Voices,” Lynn Avadenka and Karen Baldner, are masters in the craft bookmaking/printing, whose work perfectly balances function and form, though to different ends. Baldner’s snaky, wiggly rice paper centipede of a book, Letting Go, shows how exquisite technique can pair with creative expressiveness to yield an original effect. The restrained elegance of Lynne Avadenka’s handmade screen Comes and Goes III demonstrates that utility and esthetic pleasure need not be mutually exclusive.

Karen Baldner, Letting Go, piano hinge binding with horsehair, mixed media print transfers

 

Lynne Avadenka, Comes and Goes III, unique folding screen, relief printing, letter press, typewriting, book board, Tyvek

Among the objects in this collection, Colin Tury’s handsome, minimalist metal LT Chair hews closest to traditional ideas of craft, as does Cory Robinson’s smoothly crafted side table, which looks as if it belongs in a hip, mid-century bachelor’s lair.

Colin Tury, LT Chair, aluminum, steel

 

Cory Robinson, Canberra Table, American black walnut

In this time and place, and as illustrated by the artists in “Many Voices,” the categorization of an object as “art” or “craft” has become less and less useful. Historically, crafts based on highly technical knowledge—ceramics, fiber glass and the like –have been assigned a lesser status because of their identity as objects of utility.  It is undeniable too that many of these crafts were practiced by women, which devalued them in the estimation of collectors and galleries. Fortunately, those preconceptions are receding into the past, as artists progress toward a future that is more open to new forms and voices, new materials and subjects.

The artists in “Many Voices: The Fine Art of Craft” are: Kathrine Allen Coleman, Lynne Avadenka, Karen Baldner, Danielle Bodine, Sandra Cardew, Candace Compton Pappas, Nathan Grubich, Christine Hagedorn, Sharon Harper, Carole Harris, Amanda St. Hillaire, Sherry Moore, Russ Orlando, Cory Robinson, Dylan Strzynski, Colin Tury.

Many Voices: The Fine Art of Craft at the Birmingham Bloomfield Art Center runs until June 2, 2022.

 

 

Asymmetry @ Library Street Collective

Asymmetry, installation at Library Street Collective All images: Library Street Collective

 Asymmetry, a two-person exhibition of work by Robert Moreland and Jacqueline Surdell on view at Library Street Collective until May 4, 2022, continues the gallery’s program of pairing the work of two artists in a provocative dialog.  Zenax, the recent show of Beverly Fishman and California painter Gary Lang could have been described as a more-or-less harmonious conversation; Asymmetry is something more along the lines of a very civil argument.

Untitled Yellow Square, by Robert Moreland, 2022, canvas on wooden panel with acrylic paint, tacks and leather hinges.

The exhibition demonstrates that the tenets of Constructivism–that materials and methods of construction generate the meaning and physical presence of art objects–retain their relevance well into the 21st century.   This philosophical habit of mind underpins the work of both Moreland and Surdell, but as one might expect of a line of aesthetic thought that is over 100 years old, their common starting point has diverged, resulting in endpoints that are quite far from each other in appearance and intent.

Born and raised in Baton Rouge, Robert Moreland dropped out of high school in his sophomore year and later began to teach himself about art by hanging out with friends at the margins of art school, talking to the professors and attending the occasional lecture. He worked with a woodworker for a time, where he learned the craftsmanship that is still a salient feature of his art practice.  Moreland moved to L.A. some years ago and credits the anonymity and openness of the city as a creative catalyst for his recent work.

Moreland prizes the labor of making art as a meditative act, and gravitates to the routine, everyday nature of fabrication.  The artist proceeds with deliberation when creating a piece, a working habit which he credits to his art conservator mother who, he says, showed him how to “slow down and take my time.” The artist uses hundreds of tacks—invisible on the face of the constructs–to secure the cloth on the underlying wooden components. Leather hinges connect the constituent pieces of each artwork. Taken together, these components and physical processes define his highly personal, almost ritualistic art practice.

Untitled Blue Rectangle IV, by Robert Moreland, 2021, canvas on wooden panel with acrylic paint, tacks and leather hinges.

 

Untitled Blue Rectangle IV, by Robert Moreland, 2021, side installation view.

The artist describes himself as more of a builder than a painter. These paintings or sculptures (Moreland resists referring to them as one or the other) operate as activators of the space around and in front of them. His artworks in Asymmetry, each listed as “Untitled” beside an austere description of their physical shape and color, are painted with stripes or squares of an intense single hue that follows the contours of each piece. The canvas components are stretched over rigid rectilinear –and occasionally columnar–wooden structures, which are then assembled into folded and buckled shapes that call to mind the vintage toy Jacob’s ladder, or perhaps reference industrial shapes like tank treads or conveyor belts. The 5 precisely constructed pieces installed in the gallery look as if they could fold or open or climb down the wall, implying movement event though they are static.

More defined by what they do not offer rather than by what they do, Moreland’s constructions are rigorous and demanding, their expressive content confined within narrow formal boundaries that refuse referentiality, gesture and imagery. In this, he follows in the footsteps of a well-established philosophy of aesthetics practiced by mid-century minimalists like Ellsworth Kelly and Donald Judd, artists Moreland professes to admire.

Not one but not two either (blue), by Jacqueline Surdell, 2022, braided cotton cord, steel, 108” x 51” x 11.” Photo: Library Street Collective.

In emotional temperature and methodological expressiveness, the work of Jacqueline Surdell could hardly offer a stronger contrast to Moreland’s recessive artworks. Exuberant and improvisational, her three free-form tapestries made from thick ropes and lines nearly dance off the wall. They nod to the warp and weft of traditional fiber works, but with these hefty woven pieces, Surdell has achieved a kind of painterly freedom in execution that is both novel and exhilarating. In overall shape she allows some scope to the effect of gravity, with elements of the artworks seeming to sink downward, referencing natural forms like bird nests or insect cases. Clotted knots and twisty braids surround circular portals, while individual cords escape and crawl across the floor.

As a native Chicagoan, Surdell feels related to the environment, history, and blue-collar work ethic of the city, with childhood memories of her grandmother’s plein air landscape painting adding yet another level of complexity. The physical act of creating the works, which weigh an average of 150 pounds, demands considerable physical strength that the artist, a self-described recovering athlete, has in abundance.  She often uses her own body as a shuttle, weaving pounds of rope together as she unifies figure and ground.

Earth Licker, by Jacqueline Surdell, 2022, Braided cotton cord, nylon cord, steel, 120” x 120” x 16.” Photo: Library Street Collective

Not one but not two either (blue-detail)

The palette of Surdell’s work is determined by the native color of commercially available nylon and cotton lines.  The repetitive, almost beaded effect of row upon row of knots in Earth Licker suggests a ceremonial process like the traditional craft of some imaginary future tribe. The woven elements frame and celebrate the implied portal.  In the other two pieces, Not one but not two either (blue) and Not one but not two either (red), triangular imagery points to the open spaces, setting up a bilateral conversation between a circular void and pointing chevron. Her process is open-ended and spontaneous, yet the results seem inevitable.

Fiber art, a medium long devalued because of its association with women’s work, seems–at last–to be coming into prominence as a medium. Here in Detroit, recent shows of woven work by distinguished international textile artist Olga de Amaral at the Cranbrook Art Museum, as well as exhibitions by Detroit artists Carole Harris, Boisali Biswas and Jeanne Bieri, seem to indicate that fiber art has entered a new era of acceptance as a major medium of expression. Surdell’s work is a welcome addition to this burgeoning contemporary art practice.

In this age of pluralism and inclusivity, these contrasting bodies of work by Robert Moreland and Jacqueline Surdell in Asymmetry represent two valid ways of making and thinking about art among many. Moreland’s artworks depend upon an established minimalist esthetic that retains considerable currency in contemporary art, even as Surdell’s tapestries set off for unknown territory. The choice is not either/or, but both/and.

Asymmetry, a two-person exhibition of work by Robert Moreland and Jacqueline Surdell on view at Library Street Collective until May 4, 2022

Northwest Michigan Regional Juried Exhibition @ The Dennos

Installation image. All photos courtesy of the Dennos Museum Center

Visiting the Dennos Museum Center in Traverse City is an experience unique to Northern Michigan. Situated at the base of Old Mission Peninsula, since 1991 the Dennos served as a multipurpose art and science museum, and it houses one of the finest collections of Inuit art you’ll ever see. In 2018 it underwent a major expansion, and an impressively large suite of chic gallery spaces now allows the Dennos to show off much more of its permanent collection, and it really does have some good holdings. The museum has even just been awarded status as a Smithsonian affiliate. But while the focus of the museum is on the art within, the floor-to-ceiling windows of many of its exterior galleries offer visitors a commanding view of the pleasantly forested campus of Northwestern Michigan College.  Through May 29, this emphatically northern space is the appropriate home to the annual Northwest Michigan Regional Juried Exhibition.

The show amply fills the museum’s spacious temporary exhibition space. It presents multimedia work by artists from 37 Michigan counties, including the entirety of the Upper Peninsula and much of the Lower Peninsula’s Northwest.  Submissions were open to anyone, providing that the work was created during 2021.  Juried by Vera Ingrid Grant, a curator and writer based in Ann Arbor and whose accomplishments include fellowships at Harvard and Columbia universities, the 90 works on view represent highlights from the show’s nearly 400 submissions.

Dennos Museum Center in Traverse City Installation image.

Any juried show is destined to be varied in scope and media, and these works are certainly diverse– there are 83 artists represented, after all. Painting, sculpture, photography, and illustration join forces with quilting, fabric art, wood art, and pottery, blurring boundaries between fine art, folk art, and handcraft. Nevertheless, some themes do emerge, such as our shared experience of Covid-19, here directly addressed in about half a dozen works. Several works offer social commentary on timely subjects like media saturation and information overload.

Many of these works take the landscapes, waterscapes, and textures of Northern Michigan itself as their subject. Ample views of Grand Traverse Bay and Lake Michigan’s sand-dunes firmly locate this show in Northern Michigan. Thomas Guback’s Northport Sailboat Race is a photograph that beautifully transposes the lucid diamond-tipped ripples of Lake Michigan’s waters into black and white, applying some of Ansel Adams’ magic to demonstrate that color isn’t necessary to give the viewer an arresting image. And Lynn Stephenson’s tightly rendered pencil drawing of a row of weathered, neglected dock pilings captures a sight common at any marina on Lake Michigan’s shoreline; Stephenson renders the texture of the mostly rotted wood and the ripples of the water with impressively photographic, illustrative detail.

Lynn Stephenson, Still Standing [detail]. 2021, Colored pencil on Paper.

Other artists engaged Northern Michigan’s geography in more playfully abstract terms.  Susan Yamasaki’s Hieroglyphs applies perpendicular, geometric sections of birch bark and mixed media to create what could pass as Northern Michigan’s answer to Mondrian’s Broadway Boogie Woogie. And the Best of Show award went to Kevin Summers, a multimedia artist whose Michigan Shoreline is a conceptual installation comprising driftwood, electronic fans, and sound.

Susan Yamasaki, Hieroglyphs. 2021, Birchbark and mixed media on birch panel.

 

Kevin Summers, Michigan Shoreline. 2021, Driftwood, fans, and electronics.

Certain to be a highlight among visitors is the mural-sized bead tapestry by Marie Wohadlo, 10:23. Gently backlit, this work comprises nearly a million individual luminous glass beads. It’s a work that invites viewers to play the same game as one might play with a pointillist work by Seurat. Step up close, and the individual beads create a pixelated, abstract void. Step back, and they materialize into a photographic rendering of two distant faces. The planning and execution of a work on this scale is impressive, even allowing for photographic and technological assistance.

Marie Wohadlo, 10:23 [detail]. 2021, Glass bead tapestry.

Marie Wohadlo, 10:23 [detail]. 2021, Glass bead tapestry.

Shows like this have a leveling, democratizing effect on art. There’s nothing to differentiate the skilled amateurs from the seasoned professionals.  And in the absence of any descriptive didactic panels, viewers are left to interpret these works entirely on their own. Perhaps this is a good thing; too often I find myself relying on an exhibition’s expository text to do much of the thinking for me.  But here, viewers are given the opportunity to approach the work on their own terms, and the works on view are given the chance to speak for themselves.

The 2022 Northwest Michigan Regional Juried Exhibition runs through May 29, 2022. Views of the evergreens on the NMC campus are available all year round.

 

 

 

Olga de Amaral @ Cranbrook

Olga de Amaral: To Weave a Rock at the Cranbrook Art Museum 

Bogotá-born and based fiber artist Olga de Amaral is now receiving her first U.S. retrospective at the Cranbrook Art Museum in a joint curatorial venture with the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, the institutional hotbed of Latin American scholarship, primarily driven by well-researched exhibitions. This current show, which traveled here from Texas, is a rare treat since Latin American programming does not feature centrally in the Michigan cultural agenda.

By way of introducing the non-utilitarian textile practice of this Colombian artist to an audience mostly unfamiliar with her rich practice from the last five decades, the Cranbrook Art Museum commissioned a short video displayed in the entrance space, directed by Andrew Miller. Filmed in close-up in what appears as a single take, the artist directly speaks to the viewer about the essential role that color, texture, and structure, alongside the simplicity of a geometry of squares, circles, and triangles, play in her woven, braided, and knotted fabric “constructions” in space.

 

Such concerns are perfectly in keeping with the principles of an abstract artist whose series of works are distinguished by permutations in technique accompanied by a plethora of intricate color, texture, material, and shape variations developed throughout her career. In the 1960s, the planar tapestry-style weavings, often featuring a fringe above or below, allowed the viewer to look through the existing wool threads onto the support, the white wall.

Installation shot, Olga de Amaral: To Weave a Rock, Cranbrook Art Museum, Photo credit for all images except noted: PD Rearick

Amaral first encountered a loom at Cranbrook, even taking one back to Bogotá. Most countries where abstraction was central between the 1940s and late 1970s were immersed in lengthy periods of dictatorships during those decades. Whether despite or because of the political situation, Amaral’s frequent years abroad, always returning to Bogotá, heralded an international career. After initial training in architectural drafting at the Colegio Mayor de Cundinamarca in Bogotá before coming to the U.S. to briefly study English at Columbia University in New York, she transferred to Cranbrook in 1954. During her two years in Michigan, she accomplished the most conspicuous of her transformations as a non-degree seeking student trained by the Finnish-American textile designer Marianne Strengell. Back in the 1940s, artists such as Strengell and Anni Albers at Black Mountain College began to pave the way for a more experimental approach to weaving, opening it up to integrating concerns from the “other” arts of painting and sculpture.

Amaral’s iconic Carretón negre (Black Clover), 1973, reminding us of the sculptural work of Eva Hesse, is displayed prominently as a signature work to be seen immediately upon entry to the exhibition. As it sits on a low white pedestal, supported by a hook, the bulbous knot exudes a tremendous sense of weight. This sculpture is indicative of how in the wake of process-oriented soft sculpture many artists chose to make visible the fact that material behavior in space controls shape. It was appealing that this occurs beyond the immediate control of the artist as a force of nature.

A pictorial play with light and air as forces of transparency in the first tapestries gave way in the 1970s to a radical pursuit of free-standing and free-hanging objects suspended from the ceiling.

Installation shot, Olga de Amaral: To Weave a Rock, Cranbrook Art Museum

The weavings gain an unprecedented degree of volume in space driven by a sculptural monumentality that explores weight, mass, and gravity as form-giving forces. As a direct response to the developments of Minimalism and Postminimalism when artists became attentive to the architectural context, the behavior of the art material, and the bodily experience of the viewer in space as a mobile entity, fiber art as an independent art form was born in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and Amaral emerges on the forefront of it with the Muro tejidos (Woven Grid Walls.)

Made from wool strings and horsehair braided together, Muro tejido, 1972 (the second work from the left in installation shot 2), rejects the rigidity of the right angle that dominated the loom-based tapestries from the mid-1960s. As weighty and sagging dividers of space, these “physical structures” from the 1970s break with the order of the grid, often omitting the horizontal line of the weft in large sections in an emphasis on materiality as a force of expression. This is accompanied by hand-tying and wrapping increasingly tactile materials of coarse horsehair, broad straps of linen, and even bands of plastic directly into the constructions. Secondary to concerns with shape and volume, color in this period is somewhat subdued to greys and browns and bound to a traditional waving process of dying the thread before the weave. Increasingly, throughout the 1990s and 2000s, the color becomes a vital force when fabric works are made entirely off the loom.

Installation shot, Olga de Amaral: To Weave a Rock, Cranbrook Art Museum

This stellar show of about fifty works shines a light on those terrific leaps into space and color by Amaral, so that viewers can study the formal changes in a mostly chronologically organized lineup from 1965 to 2017. The five curatorial themes of “Rebel Warp,” “Radical Materialism,” “Alchemy,” “Space Odyssey,” and “The Line” cut through an artistic oeuvre characterized by series that often carry associative references to the landscape of Antioquia dominated by the Andes Mountains and prehistoric Colombia.

Of special note in this regard is a series of luminous golden plaques begun in 1996, the Estelas; the title is the artist’s creative composite of the Spanish words for star and fabric. Tightly grouped together in a black niche, about a dozen items hang from the ceiling on transparent nylon wires. The crusted surfaces shimmer brilliantly in the light, strongly enhanced by their contrast to the surrounding black wall paint.

Installation shot, Estela Grouping, 2007, linen, gesso, and gold leaf, Olga de Amaral: To Weave a Rock, Cranbrook Art Museum, Photo credit: Nadja Rottner

Ancient cultic monuments, stone tablets, or gravestones come to mind that brings ideas of ritual, commemoration, memory, and the passing of time on a cosmological scale to the fore. All the while, the double-side sculptures items float precariously in space with changing impressions of light and color lending a quality of impermanence and fragility to the Estelas that seems contradictory. Color is no longer the result of a fabric dye but added onto a linen ground with a tool, stabilized by gesso in the manner of a painter. Words such as off-stretcher painting, free-hanging sculpture, or off-loom weavings characterize her objects as Amaral continues to abandon the fundamental concept of weaving—the opposition between the warp and the weft—entirely in the most recent decades of her practice.

One such example hangs to the left of the Estelas. Suspended from the ceiling and about two feet away from the wall, a black and dark green curtain-like item leaves a strong but unstable and fluctuating cast shadow with a wave pattern behind it.

Olga de Amaral, Entorno Quieto 5 (Quiet Environment 5), 1993, Wool and horsehair, 86 ½ x 86 ½, Courtesy: Case de Amaral.

In Etorno Quieto 5 (Quiet Environment 5), 1993, we encounter an alternative conception of surface and support from the Estelas. Two superimposed planes of differently colored fabric celebrate the freedom of the vertical line from its horizontal imprisonment, creating a wave like vibration of shape reminiscent of the illusionism of optical art when an artwork sets in place shape and color oscillations subject to the viewer’s eye-brain response. Then there is the fact that the fabric threads literally move in infinite ways by circulations of air.

Extending this push toward opticality into a room-spanning environment, the viewer encounters the impressive installation of the Brumas (Mists), 2013, made from acrylic, gesso, and cotton on wood, toward the end of the gallery. Hung off four black rectangular panels (each about 75 x 35 inches in size), myriads of colored threads hang loose. Cut at different lengths, the impression of triangular shapes is only upended when the moving viewer comes in closely.

Installation shot, Olga de Amaral: To Weave a Rock, Cranbrook Art Museum

This work, among others from the last three decades of her practice, is directly inspired by two forms of geometric abstraction, known as Optical (or Op art), a style of abstract art based on patterns and optical illusions, and Kinetic art (objects that have moving parts). Both became popular in Venezuela in the 1950s and 1960s represented by artists such as Carlos Cruz-Diez and Jesús Soto. Their works included small and large-scale abstract sculptures in bright colors and industrial materials that promote the experience of color by the viewer, through his or her own subjectivity, in an individual, emotional and virtual way, changing the way we perceive space, light, and movement.

Behind the Brumas in the last room on the left, three recent tall knots from 2016-2017 are suspended from the ceiling, all the while touching a floor pedestal. Nudo 19, 27, 25 are colored in non-naturalistic turquoise, yellow, and magenta (made from linen, gesso, acrylic.) They stand in front of two vibrant tapestries titled Lienzo en dos colores (Canvas in Two Colors), featuring a blue and green color combination and one in red and magenta that matches the knots. These works recall an artist’s statement from the video, namely that mixing colors in fabric art is like painting, except that paint is replaced by died threads that are interwoven, be it on a machine or by hand.

The show brings out beautifully how the work as a whole oscillates semantically, formally, and procedurally around artistic and intellectual concepts of opposition such as opticality versus gravity, the industrial and the indigenous, the hand and the machine. Air, movement, gravity, and water evoke ideas of natural change and impermanence. They stand in a productive dialogue with concepts such as universality, the cosmological, and the monumental. It is those tensions, among others, that animate the work from within.

Olga de Amaral: To Weave a Rock at the Cranbrook Art Museum through March 20, 2022

Page 1 of 4

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén