Thursday, March 26, 2009

Piercing and Parsing Embroidery

Tonight the American Craft Council and the Bard Graduate Center for Studies in Decorative Arts, Design, and Culture co-presented an educational program of talks titled "Present Tense: Embroidery in Contemporary Art."

The event took the form of an old school proper academic lecture – something nerds like me are never bothered by -- and was billed as "an evening investigating the beautiful and satirical world of contemporary embroidery." Luckily, the mood was more curious and embracing than stuffy and wary of subversion.

The event drew an intrigued audience of artists, students, and enthusiasts. As with all the events presented in the American Craft Council's library, it played to a full house, with every chair in the place pressed into service, and still more people standing at the back.

Independent scholar Vicki Halper started off the evening by thoughtfully presenting the evolution of contemporary embroidery art. One of the several interesting points she made was that craft has a double history: there is the inheritance of utility, and the inheritance of ornament. However ornament has it’s function too, namely to tell social status and draw respect. Her book, Chosing Craft: The Artist's Viewpoint, will be released in May.

After Halper, artists Elaine Reichek and Richard Saja took the mike. Reichek told of how she originally studied painting, at one point under Ad Reinhardt. She came to embroidery through a formal concern with “the disembodied line that wouldn’t adhere to the support,” she said. She talked of patterns, mapping, translating, interpreting.

Unfortunately I had to leave part way through Reichek's talk, and completely missed Saja's. Saja was one of the 2009 Searchlight Artists exhibited at the American Craft Show in Baltimore last month, and a video interview with him may be seen right here.

I am sure those who were able to hear the whole program left with rich new perspectives on this almost universally admired form of craft, and sometimes too, of art.

This program corresponds with the exhibition of historic textiles, English Embroidery from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1570-1700: ’Twixt Art and Nature, on view now through April 12 at the Bard Graduate Center.

Posted and image of Vicki Halper by Amy Shaw for Greenjeans.

No comments: