By Christina Wood
You could say that the exhibition currently on display at the Cornell Museum of Art at Old School Square in Delray Beach is held together by a thread. Fabricated, which has been extended through May 7, is a delightful showcase for contemporary artists who wield needles and scissors rather than paint and canvas to create highly collectable fiber art.
The popularity of fiber art may be due to the often personal connections we have with the traditional crafts that fiber artists are so dynamically reimagining. Then again, it may be in spite of our familiarity with the craft world.
“Fine art has always been painting or sculpture. It was marble, not thread,” says Marusca Gatto, director of operations at the Cornell Museum, which will close for a $500,000 renovation when Fabricated has run its course and has plans to reopen with a new exhibition in October. “Now, traditional crafts are being seen in a whole new light.”
The line between contemporary craft and the kind of fiber art that makes Fabricated such an engaging show is a fluid one, perhaps seen clearly only through the eye of the beholder. Melanie Johansen, the show’s curator, places work by artists who have taken traditional crafts like quilting or sewing to the next level on the side of the line reserved for contemporary art. “I think the artists in this show have taken something familiar and transformed it,” she says. “They have something to say.”
Fabricated includes a variety of works, ranging from the two-story cascade of Amanda McCavour’s Neon Clouds to the almost microscopic biotopes created by Amy Gross and from the political statements inherent in Natalie Baxter’s soft sculptures to the whimsical yarn works of Boynton Beach-based Jamie Leigh Griffiths.
Using sewing and quilting techniques learned from her grandmother, Baxter explores concepts of place identity, nostalgia and gender stereotypes in her work. “I create soft sculpture[s] that playfully push controversial political issues,” she said in a statement. Fabricated includes examples from Warm Gun, a recent body of work inspired by the nation’s complicated relationship with guns. “I strive to create approachable work with an accessible entry point to unpack political issues that have become points of division in today’s political and social landscape,” she explained.
Also in the show are pieces from the Brooklyn-based artist’s Bloated Flags, a series of stuffed, swollen versions of the American flag made using a variety of flamboyant fabrics. “With these sculptural pieces, I am interested in the flag as a symbol with a variety of representations and swaying definitions of pride and shame,” she explained.
The work of Delray Beach-based artist Amy Gross has captivated visitors to the Cornell Museum. Her intricate hand-embroidered and beaded fiber sculptures – made with only manmade materials – reflect her fascination with the natural world.
Janice Redman, an English ex-pat living in Massachusetts, wraps, stuffs and sews vintage, well-used household items and mummifies them in muslin and plaster. Billy Kheel is a Los Angeles-based artist who spent weekends exploring the shores of the Intracoastal as a child when his father rented an apartment in Delray Beach. His work goes beyond traditional associations with felt and craft to delve into emotion.
Originally from Brooklyn, Beth Scher explores themes of femininity, feminism and the roles of women in the military in her Delray Beach studio. “I portray young women who intentionally seek to display their sexuality and vulnerability, yet are trained killers, in a position of power and placed in serious conflicts,” she said in a statement. “The materials I utilize enabled me to integrate my vision of women and war with the way many feminist artists approached their work. Yarn woven through nails hammered into board is a technique I have discovered to be unique, yet suitable for the work I wish to create.”
Fabricated is also interesting when you take a peek behind the scenes.
“Everything for ‘Fabricated’ was economical to ship because everything is pretty light,” Johansen says.
The shipping for The Herd by Tasha Lewis could almost be considered a work of art in itself. The work is composed of 18 deer-like creatures leaping through walls and plexiglass in one of the second-floor galleries at the Cornell. Each blue body is about the size of a dog. “Those deer came wrapped up in a couple of boxes and they were very light,” Johansen says. “[Tasha Lewis] had fit them in just so, kind of molding them around each other.”
As they were unpacked, Johansen and her team took photographs so that, when the show has run its course, The Herd will fit back into the two boxes that brought it to Delray Beach. “We catalog how to pack everything because every single one is different,” Johansen says. “Sometimes the packing is so smart! I can’t help but think that whoever sent it is not only a talented artist but also a genius. It’s amazing.”
Installing The Herd was also a noteworthy effort. While the figures fit together in a very specific way for purposes of shipping, there are no rules when it comes to installing them in a gallery or museum setting. “It’s up to curators to figure out the space, see what feels right and then install it,” Johansen says. “We would hang some up and then decide I want this one a little more this way and then move them around. A lot of this is really just feeling the space. We were installing that room for an entire day – eight hours we were working in there.”
She’s not complaining. “It was so much fun hanging them up.”
While it won’t take eight hours, seeing them may be just as much fun.
Fabricated is on view at the Cornell Museum of Art at Old School Square, 51 N. Swinton Ave., Delray Beach, through May 7. Museum hours are Tuesday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-4:30 p.m.; Sunday, 1-4:30 p.m. Admission: suggested $5 donation.