This Sunday is a stellar day for free art here in Los Angeles — twenty museums, including LACMA, MOCA, the Craft and Folk Art Museum, and the Skirball, are “opening their doors wide and inviting visitors free of charge” all day long. The list of participating museums and more details are here. So here’s your chance to see the Stan’s Cafe show, or the Breaking the Mode contemporary fashion survey, or the Sovereign Threads Palestinian embroidery show… or get to all three if you’re really ambitious.
Meanwhile, in Portland, I have a piece in an adorable show closing on Monday, I Heart Portland. I mentioned it a few weeks ago over on susanstars, and I hate to shamelessly self-promote, but hey — three of my favorite artists, Cathy Pitters, Carye Bye, and Ryan Berkley, are also showing. And you don’t want to miss them either. Plus, you can have coffee and pie at Half and Half afterwards.
The September 25 issue of the New Yorker has an enticing profile of Diana the Huntress, aka Diane von Furstenberg, creatrix of the super-iconic wrap dress. I’m a huge fan of hers — I own one of her wrap dresses, a $14 find at Buffalo Exchange a couple of years ago — and I always keep an eye on her vintage pieces on eBay, though they usually get out of hand pretty quickly.
If you have the issue handy, open it to page 120 to see her first-ever advertisement, from 1972: she’s leaning back wearing a black-and-white dress with an exuberant splash of pearls, looking radiant and confident in her own design, above the slogan (written in her own handwriting): “Feel like a woman, wear a dress!” For the first time, she’d made a charming, universally flattering dress that a woman could wear from the office to dinner and then out for the rest of the night, if she chose to. The obvious love Diane had, and has, for “the alchemy of the fitting room” — the moment when a woman feels lovelier, more comfortable in her own skin, and blessed with confidence as she looks at herself in a new garment for the first time — shines through the black and white photo.
The other thing I love about her work is the details. Her fabric patterns are exquisite, like the vintage prints she’s recreated for her newer pieces, the arresting geometrics that instantly draw the eye, or the organic patterns she comes up with based on her own photographs of trees and animals.
Ironically, the only dress of hers I own isn’t a pattern I particularly like — it’s a 90s Southwest color palette, in a slinky silk knit — but I love it to death anyway, and I’ll never part with it.
I hope it will have some company in my closet sometime soon; maybe a leaf print, or one of her 70s reissues…
When Andrew and I performed our show at the Noorderzon Festival in Holland last month, I got to steal a precious hour before a couple of our own nightly performances and rush to a few other shows. I really enjoyed two in particular: New York artist Sara Juli’s The Money Conversation and the latest piece from Stan’s Cafe, a group based in Birmingham, UK: Of All the People in All the World. Now it’s touring to the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles for the next five days, en route to Australia. If you can make it over before it closes Sunday afternoon, I wholeheartedly recommend seeing it — if possible, with a little cushion of time for wandering around and thinking about it. Or a big cushion would be even better.
Today’s L.A. Times has a great preview (with the requisite cornball headline) that explains the concept much more thoroughly than I have time or room for. And the Stan’s Cafe site is well worth a visit, too. All I can say is that of the art shows I’ve seen this year, visual or performance-based, none of them have resonated with me — or stayed in my head — like this one did.
Using a simple, universal template — that one grain of white rice represents a single human being — the group of performers, wearing lab coats and hovering over intricate scales, bring all sorts of dry and dusty statistics to life. They update their installation throughout its run, including all kinds of up-to-the-minute, site-specific information gleaned from a laptop and a wireless connection: last month, they vividly illustrated everything from the number of civilian casualties in Lebanon and in Israel to the number of millionaires (and billionaires) in the world in piles of rice. Two immense stacks placed next to one another represented the duality of the number of people who will be born today in the world, and those whose lives will end. It was somehow encouraging to see that the first pile was noticably larger, just as it was dark and heart-wrenching to look at the sad scattered heap illustrating exactly how many people died in the desert trying to cross the border from Mexico into the U.S. last year.
We didn’t bring back many souvenirs from Holland — a little something for our nephew, and a vintage shirt and dress from our favorite places in Amsterdam — but I did buy a one-euro memento of the fascinating Stan’s Cafe show, a vacuum-sealed packet with four grains of rice inside. And when I went to the show here in Los Angeles this week, I got a companion piece:
If you’re not in Southern California, you can still contribute to the Statistics Center on their site, suggesting new statistics to include — or just see what other people have submitted, like the Dodgers’ single-season attendance record (3,608,881 in 1982), or the number of children who die of hunger every year (an astonishing 12 million).
Of All the People in All the World
Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles
Noon to 5 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday
Noon to 9 p.m. Thursday
11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday
Admission $8, free on Thursday and Sunday
(310) 440-4500, skirball.org
Quick, set your tivo and tune on in — Craft Lab premieres today on the DIY network! Here’s the schedule of upcoming shows — it’s on every weekday, with a different cool craft project featured daily… from recycled papermaking to cake decor like you’ve never seen before.
Craft Lab’s host, the fabulous Jennifer Perkins, says, “We did so many different projects the first season my head was spinning. And the best part is, I get to play along as the host, I don’t just stand there and smile. Now, there were some crafts I was better at than others. Is my husband going to ask me to airbrush his drum kit anytime soon? Probably not. However, at my next dinner party, I have I feel confident in my skills to carve a duck out of a summer squash. To me, that is what is so rad about the show — the diversity in the projects. I am one of those crafters with ADD, so Craft Lab and I are a perfect fit.”
Last week I filmed a Valentine’s Day episode for CL’s Season 2 with Jennifer. We made a personalized handmade wooden box while our crafty sidekicks embellished a papier-mache box with rhinestones and trinkets. For our encore, we spotlighted handmade chocolates as an extra present. It was so much fun! I also got to go out for sushi with Jen and super-talented collage artist Claudine Hellmuth, who shot her episodes the day before and gave me lots of handy tips.
Look for your crash course in box-making 101 in February 2008, but in the meantime there are 65 fresh episodes coming right up to tide you over! I can’t wait.
I love getting the chance to write my West Coast Crafty column once a month for getcrafty… but I realized I’d really like to update the older entries with new details, plus mix in a few more fun posts here and there as I come across people and projects to spotlight! So here is the new and improved home for all the crafty things I love to write about, with plenty of links to my other favorite spots online — kind of like a little grab bag of handmade treats.
I’ve added all my past columns (July 2005-September 2006), organized by what they cover — but stay tuned for some new stuff! I’ll still post my columns on the first of the month at getcrafty, of course, but they’ll live on over here as well, along with little posts on this and that. You can scroll down to see all fifteen of my west coast crafty columns so far, month by month. Next month will be an interview with Natalie Zee of the brand-new magazine CRAFT — the first issue comes out in mid-October.
Yours in craft,
New Embroidery: Not Your Grandma’s Doily, a show of unconventional and modern feminist needlework, opens at Contemporary Crafts Museum in Portland, Oregon on September 22. Twenty-one artists will exhibit their work, and one community-created piece will be spotlighted in the North Window: Stitch-O-Rama, a vintage tablecloth that’s made the rounds at crafty events all summer long, giving dozens of Portlanders a chance to embroider and embellish it with their own designs. I got a chance to talk to Namita Gupta Wiggers, one of the curators of the show, Jenny Hart, one of the featured artists, and Jen Neitzel of DIY Lounge, who’s teaching embroidery and handcraft workshops all fall to celebrate the exhibit.
the tablecloth at Crafty Wonderland in July
Tell me about the tablecloth and its journey around the city!
Jen Neitzel: DIY Lounge and many other organizations like Crafty Wonderland, Church of Craft and PNCA have all hosted an embroidery session, where people from the community were invited to embroider on a tablecloth, which moved around town to various locations.
Diane Gilleland of Church of Craft embroidering a sugar bowl
Namita Gupta Wiggers: Some marvelous things happened along the way. Unfinished pieces in one session became transformed in others – such as a half-embroidered lobster that was put into a pot by another stitcher.
At Art in the Pearl, we had an entire table full of elementary-school boys stitching on the tablecloth. At other places, the cloth had people from a range of generations and experiences working, creating the kind of exchange of ideas and experience we hoped would happen.
I also took the tablecloth camping with my family. We spend a week each year camping with 70-plus families who have all adopted through Holt International. During this year’s campout, I set up the tablecloth and people spent several hours each day stitching on the cloth. The conversations that arose were fantastic, and so many teenage boys and girls stopped to try their hand at embroidering.
Importantly, we asked our needleworkers to sign a book that will be on view in the museum. Recognizing all participants who chose to sign the book was a critical element of the work, as some feminist works from past decades do not acknowledge those who helped create the finished piece.
New Embroidery: Not Your Grandma’s Doily
How did the idea to create an embroidery show that references feminism and the new domesticity come about?
Namita: Manya Shapiro and Annin Barrett started the project just over two years ago after noticing an increase in the use of vintage and found linens in artwork shown in galleries. The imagery used by these younger artists is humorous, ironic – even subversive.
Associations with feminism are inevitable given that the materials being used are domestic textiles. But the fascinating thing about this exhibition, however, is how few of the artists feel engaged by feminism. In interviews, many acknowledged that the struggles of feminism and of women who were limited in means of visual expression in past decades is important, but the links to this past are not necessarily what is driving the concept behind the work. It is clear that artists working today are in a different place–professionally as artists, and culturally as women. This exhibition brings it out through a handcraft that links the past and present, art and craft.
The artists see feminism as something that opened doors, but the use of embroidery as a media is driven more by how it executes their concepts and ideas than a political statement in using these materials or this media.
What do you find exciting about this genre of modern craft?
Namita: This is a way for us to tell the story of how utilitarian textiles are being redefined through the hands of artists today. It shows a shift in imagery. The most recent work has a good deal of figurative imagery– but the figures are composed with heavy outlines that come more from appropriated styles and imagery from comics, scientific manuals and book illustrations than from “high art.”
Another critical angle to consider is the way in which utilitarian objects change meaning and value over time. Some artists specifically choose objects that are laden with nostalgia – family heirlooms, for example. These materials are handled quite differently than those found in thrift stores or the artists’ own closets, which are fragments or leftovers that have little to no value for use, but can be used as materials for art making.
The objects that are the “raw” materials in this exhibition were once embellished by anonymous women who used the materials to convey a particular self-image. Today, artists are using the same embroidered materials to convey a very different self-image, where humor prevails, women sport urban accessories, or the experiences of being a young boy are explored through the same medium.
How does embroidery link traditional handcraft to modern feminism and the new domesticity? Can you describe your piece specifically??
Jenny Hart: I think traditional handcrafts are being linked to modern feminism because feminist movement of the 60′s had to necessarily distance itself from those types of activities, which, creative as they may be, were viewed as domestic activities. Our generation (third-wave feminists) found itself in a place where these activities have now been absent for so long, we can re-embrace them and celebrate them.
My piece (“This Work Never Ends”) was never really meant for exhibition. I made it for myself and it hung on the back of the armchair that I sit in when embroidering. It was a little piece about how I felt about the stresses of my life, and also the enduring quality of embroidery. That it will go on forever, and so will my desire to create it.
What is DIY Lounge doing in conjunction with the show?
Jen Neitzel: DIY Lounge is collaborating with CCMG by offering embroidery lessons as part of the larger installation. Heidi Steeves and I will be teaching embroidery on vintage napkins and fabric scraps as a means to make the art exhibit interactive and involve the community. More information on workshops is here.
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Susan Beal loves embroidery and the Contemporary Crafts Museum–she married Andrew Dickson there in the Church of Craft last year! Here is the little cupcake she contributed to the Stitch-O-Rama tablecloth (at lightning speed, while vending at Crafty Wonderland):