Thursday, June 5, 2008

vital source, review of Devotion to thread

Woodland Pattern has long been a mainstay of the Riverwest neighborhood, and over the years, it has extended its reach to include the greater Milwaukee area with programming ranging from music to workshops to art exhibits and beyond. The venerable non-profit venue is a mix of hippie, uber-hip and points between. A mural fronting the building reads “28 years of power to the people.”

Frankly though, some of that power should have been used to quell the endless, booming chatter of the 20-something woman whose loud mindlessness invaded the quiet gallery where I was trying to concentrate on writing this review. Apparently, she’d just dropped by to chat up the worker behind the desk. Quiet Please!

Reviewing the work of 15 artists is all but impossible, and I felt myself pulling away from examining each of the approximately 40 pieces. That changed as I circled the room. The lone work I gave a zero rating was “We Other Victorians” (Xander Marro), primarily because it was a bad fit with the other works. A quilt of sorts, with an edgy motif, the colors were heavy, and, well, depressing among the mostly pastel threads used in the balance of the work. That said, I understand it satirizes the dark creepy era of Queen Victoria, so perhaps it was included in the exhibit to add a note of contrastJenny Hart’s 23”x36” wall-hung wonder “Pink Forrest (Flattery plus Charm)” is, even at the lofty price of $2,300, what I most wanted to take home. Ms. Hart hails from Austin, Texas and her exquisite naughty threads stitched on sleazy orange-pink satin fabric conjure the balls-out flavor of Western kitsch. If your grandma has a really awful tourist pillow from 1940’s Texas, you’ll get my drift. Kristin Loffer Theiss from out Washington way stitched three lovely heads (perhaps family members?) in black on white material. They reminded me of loose line drawings, or threads unspooling from a bobbin gone wild. Faultless to a tee, they are marvelous in the way that Jean Cocteau’s line drawings are marvelous.

Orly Cogan contributed five works, one priced sky-high at $10,000. But what a piece it and her four others are. Surely she must know the work of self-taught Chicago artist Henry Darger (you can see his scroll drawings in the Milwaukee Art Museum folk collection); if not, it’s a real coincidence that her figures resemble Mr. Darger’s “Vivians,” sweet little girls with less than sweet attitudes who now and then sprout penises. Look here at this one: a lady, quite naked, playing ring toss with her naked partner, the object being to toss the ring over his waiting penis. These are delicate sensational works, none more so than “Bittersweet Obsession” where girls snort blow and, wearing nothing but fishnets, crouch while eating cupcakes. The thread work is light and airy; the message cuts like a pair of pinking shears. Your Great-Aunt Mavis would drop dead at the sight of it all.
I remember “Sunbonnet Sue,” do you? There were depictions of her (cut out of wood) across the Iowa lawns where I grew up, and I grew to hate her prissy demeanor. Melissa Woods gives Sue a twist when she sends Sue to War, the soup line, and/or stitches her image to include a fox, bird, and buffalo. Lisa Solomon’s work is all about airplanes and targets, with the broader message suggesting war. Nearby are 20 small pieces (all untitled) combining thread with what appear to be silk screened figures with missing body parts. They’re a deal at $50 per. If you buy one, Shannon Rankin from Rangeley, ME will be mighty pleased.

The exhibit runs through June 13th. Curated by Faythe Levine of Paperboat Gallery & Boutique, it’s a winner. VS

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