Category Archives: Contemporary Art

Thinking About Art & “The Mending Project”

The first in a series of post from the Ramona Lindsey, Director of the KMAC Education Department.

What is art? Is art an object to be seen? Or is it a functional thing created with the finest workmanship? Can it be a combination of beauty and function? Or is it the sharing of ideas? This post does not answer this age old question. Instead it raises more questions.

KMAC recently closed Food Shelter Clothing, curated by Chief Curator and Executive Director Aldy Milliken. His show included Lee Mingwei’s The Mending Project. The installation asked art patrons to bring in items of clothing to be mended or repaired by an artist mender. In 2009, The Mending Project debuted at the Lombard-Freid Projects (New York, NY). The New York installation resulted in long lines and hundreds of mended garments.

While KMAC’s reiteration did not draw hundreds of participants, we did bring in a faithful group of community mending volunteers. Many members of the Louisville Area Fiber and Textile Artists (LAFTA) volunteered as KMAC artist menders. During their September meeting, Kathleen Loomis, a noted textile artist, led the group in a discussion of The Mending Project experience. Kathy asked me as KMAC’s Director of Education and fellow LAFTA member to share KMAC’s perspective of the project.

Kathy described Lee Mingwei’s installation as relational aesthetics. I prefer the more relatable term participatory art. Both terms refer to the artist’s ability to create an environment where the viewers or visitors become a part of the art through an interaction or performance. Mingwei’s Mending Project created a space where two strangers shared themselves through an action (mending) and conversation (storytelling). In participatory art, the artist does not force a particular outcome but desires spontaneous, organic responses. Kathy shared with LAFTA members her disappointment in the number of garments that were mended. Actually, KMAC hoped for greater community participation. But is quantity an accurate measure of effective art?

Also during the discussion, Kathy shared entries from a communal journal kept by KMAC artist menders in which they wrote their daily thoughts after their volunteer mending shifts. Kathy started by sharing several entries, each mimicking statements similar to “No mending today!” Then she read a question left by one of the menders which read, “There may not be any mending, but what IS happening here?” Finally, Kathy quoted her response: “I think we are building a community— not with people in torn pants, but among ourselves! If you’re not mending, would you add some stitches to my swatch and make collaborative art?”

Proudly, she showed us a beautiful piece of fabric carefully embroidered using the colorful thread Lee Mingwei selected for his installation. K_Loomis_GroupArt

Her readings compelled me to wonder, “What is effective art?” Does effective art challenge people to push beyond constraints? Does it prompt new questions? Does it provoke creativity? If the answer is yes, then I believe The Mending Project is an example of effective contemporary art. It allowed a community of textile artists using traditional hand stitching processes to engage with the community. The menders’ journal and Kathy’s collaborative art are a real life display of KMAC’s slogan, “Art is the big idea, craft is the process!” You can read more about Lee Mingwei’s art at http://www.leemingwei.com/.

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Docent. Funny Title for a Fun Job

Docents are one of the best assets to museums. They volunteer their time to learn in-depth about exhibitions and then share their learned knowledge with visitors on guided tours. They field questions and comments about art, the process of art,  and who it is making art in order to aide patrons to a better understanding of something that can be intimidating. It’s a stimulating exchange of ideas and insight between guide and guest.

KMAC recently revived the docent program and we welcome Dana Moore and Gretchen Treitz Brown to the team of dedicated museum volunteers. The current exhibition The New Art of the Loom is their second exhibition giving guided tours. They also guide school field trip tours. Docent tours are available every 1st and 3rd Saturday of the month at 3pm. Simply meet at KMAC’s front reception desk. There is no added fee for the guided tour.

We asked Dana and Gretchen to give us a few observations about being a docent and how they came to volunteer at KMAC.

Gretchen Treitz Brown
“As a docent, I provide tours to facilitate a rewarding museum experience.  I love to help the viewer connect with a piece.  I feel privileged to receive the training from KMAC curators and educators. At KMAC, there is a rich and diverse audience; my experience has been with local, national, and international visitors.  My conversations with visitors bring out more and different ways to view things–visitors and docents can interact and learn from each other.  Each time I give a tour, I notice something new.  Something magical happens when a visitor takes the time to contemplate a detail I might point out.  I tend to talk about my favorite pieces, however, it has been so valuable to learn about an unfamiliar artist or process.  Besides the continuous training process, I enjoy the additional reading and studying about each exhibit.  I can answer questions, thus offering a more satisfying experience.  My interactions with a piece are heightened when visitors share their insights, whether students or adults.  Because I have a significant commitment to the visual arts, it has been a joy to attend curator tours, lectures, exhibition openings, orientation, and on-going training.”

Dana Moore
“I first became aware of KMAC when my son was small and he participated in Winter Break workshops and Summer Art Camp.  I have participated in several hands-on workshops and even worked with metal in a session taught by Craig Kaviar.

I’ve always had an interest in art since childhood and love the process that goes into creating an artwork.  My family loves to travel and museums are always on our list of places to visit.

I am a retired Speech Language Pathologist who worked primarily in the public schools.  Volunteering as a Docent will still let me show students the process and creative thought that goes into a work of art.  I like listening to the KMAC staff and always look forward to learning and seeing new exhibits.”

If you’re passionate about art and love to share this excitement with others, consider becoming a KMAC docent. Email Dane at dane@kmacmuseum.org for more details.

Looming Large

KMAC has gone stark weaving mad.

Artists from 16 countries currently fill our two main galleries with over two-dozen loom woven works. Shown in conjunction with the traveling exhibit The New Art of the Loom: Contemporary International Tapestry, KMAC has organized Looming Local as a response to some of the issues raised by the international artists. The works on view range in size and content from the large 8 ½ x 11 foot tapestry Porter with Bicycle: Espagne et Portugal by South African artist William Kentridge to the small, intricate and colorful weavings by Kentucky artist Tori Kleinert.

William Kentridge, Porter Series: Espagne et Portugal, 2004, 99 x 130" Stephens Tapestry Studio, Johannesburg. (Courtesy: Marian Goodman Gallery, New York)
William Kentridge, Porter Series: Espagne et Portugal, 2004, 99 x 130″ Stephens Tapestry Studio, Johannesburg. (Courtesy: Marian Goodman Gallery, New York)
Tori Kleinert, Hidden Semblance, 2004
Tori Kleinert, Hidden Semblance, 2004

The New Art of the Loom consists of contemporary tapestries that connect with the large, ambitious, narrative works that dominated artistic production in early Modern Europe. These early tapestries functioned as a decorative way to display a coat of arms, relay a familiar story or to illustrate scenes of victorious battles, but they also provided warmth, covering the walls of large drafty castles. After falling out of favor due to growing feminine and domestic undertones the tapestry was revived by British art activist William Morris in the late 19th century, making weaving fundamental to a burgeoning international design movement that promoted artisanship and hand-made activity.

Looming Local takes a peek at the immediate surroundings of the museum to show how four artists are exploring similar issues as their international counterparts and taking the weaving tradition into the more creative, expressionistic contemporary art form that it is today. Both exhibits combined communicate a broad range of materials, methods and multiple weaving processes. The four artists represented in the local show, though rooted in a loom based practice, are markedly different from their peers in technique and composition.

Spring on the Mountain, 2008, 30 x 62" Courtesy of the artist and Craft(s) Gallery, Louisville, KY
Dobree Adams, Spring on the Mountain, 2008, 30 x 62″

Dobree Adams creates loom woven works that capture the landscape in a manner intended to evoke the intermediate or transitional states that are associated with Tibetan Buddhism. The spiritual and meditative qualities that imbue her work connect well with other artists on show in the museum who deal similarly with nature, particularly with the tapestry “Without Notice” by the Japanese artist Miyuki Tatsumi. Adams and Tatsumi are both drawn to the calmness of nature, but also to its power to change and dominate our lives in mysterious ways and without warning.

Miyuki Tatsumi, Without Notice, 2008 8'3" x 3'10"
Miyuki Tatsumi, Without Notice, 2008
8’3″ x 3’10”

Tori Kleinert’s small format works, though diminutive in size, are big in meaning and content. They pack in loads of bold color and act as deeply personal explorations of ideas and emotions often connected to the history of female craft activity. She refers to the figures in her work as ancestors or semblances, an evocation of the spirits who live on informing the work of contemporary tapestry artists from around the world. Kleinert’s Terroristic Semblance from 2003/2004 commemorates the lives that were lost on September 11, 2001.

Tori Kleinert, Terroristic Semblance: Destruction of the Fold, 2003/2004
Tori Kleinert, Terroristic Semblance: Destruction of the Fold, 2003/2004

A sharp use of color adds intensity to her subject matter and relates to New Art of the Loom artist Christine Altona’s work, also from 2004. Based on an article in the Boston Globe about alleged child abuse, Altona created this particular tapestry as a tribute to the children who have been abused in the Roman Catholic Church. Several red cardinal hats are placed at the top of the work above a knotted red circle, suggesting the strong and powerful looking down on the weak bound together in struggle. The blue represents the earth and the prevalence of this transgression around the world.

Christine Altona, Hallelujah-Boston Globe, 2004, 7'8" x 7'3"
Christine Altona,
Hallelujah-Boston Globe, 2004, 7’8″ x 7’3″

Arturo Sandoval is an art professor at the University of Kentucky and a well-known weaver from the region. His sole work in the show is part of a long running series that looks at American democracy and one of the most potent symbols of our culture, the American flag. Sandoval conceived the State of the Union series in order to work through personal issues related to his time serving in the Vietnam War. His desire to create a political art series was to commemorate the sons, daughters, mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers who lost their lives in battle. The newspaper headlines and magazine images that are woven into this series were initially collected from 1980-1984. He has since continued the series as way to further express his feelings toward the recent war in Iraq.

Arturo Alonzo Sandoval, State of the Union No. 5: Baptism by Fire, 1984,  41” x 47”
Arturo Alonzo Sandoval,
State of the Union No. 5: Baptism by Fire, 1984, 41” x 47”

The most divergent work away from any form of traditional tapestry seen in either the local or international exhibit comes from Looming Local artist Philis Alvic from Lexington, KY. Her recent work consists of assembling remnants of older tapestries into fabric constructions, which she refers to as Portals. In this ongoing series of works, suggestive of windows, doors, and curtains, she intends to communicate the ideas of transition, passage, and change. Through the technique of fabric collage and drapery these works move into the more three-dimensional space of wall sculpture.

As Alvic digs through her own personal archive incorporating material from previous work she evokes the idea of the artist entering a metaphorical portal, passing from one era of creativity and production into another. In this particular series of works Alvic is weaving together remnants as well as personal histories. There are a number of transitional concepts related to creative growth and change that could be applied to this series. The idea of the portal as a signifier for moving from one period of life into another is an important factor in the life of every artist. It can often be a struggle to shift focus and enter new unknown territory, but it can also be a time when an individual artist develops greater clarity and confidence in their work.

Philis Alvic, Dark Entry, 2013 74” x 52”
Philis Alvic,
Dark Entry, 2013
74” x 52”

EXPO Chicago: A KMAC Donors’ Field Trip

KMAC ‘s Donors Circle brought a hale and hearty group of 14 to EXPO Chicago a week and a half ago. We spent our days cruising the contemporary art offerings out on the Navy Pier. In the afternoon, we enjoyed Kentucky hospitality in the form of tastings of Old Forester provided by Brown-Forman happening at the KMAC booth, which featured selections from recent museum exhibitions: Denise Burge, Matthew Ronay, Elijah Pierce and more.

photo (98)

Outside the art fair, we had the opportunity to visit some outstanding private collections including those of Paul and De Gray, Gary Metzner and Scott Johnson, Richard and Ellen Sandor, and Susan Goodman and Rod Lubeznik.

On Friday, September 19th, Richard and Ellen Sandor impressed us with their extensive body of photography and related objects (over 2,000 pieces from the 1840s to the present) and awed with their encyclopedic knowledge of the contexts in which their historical images were conceived. I especially admired a photo of poet Marianne Moore in her tricorn hat/George Washington getup. The couple’s “Outsider Café”features well-known naïve and intuitive artists Lee Godie, Martin Ramirez, Sharon Scott, and Bill Traylor.

 

On Friday night, we attended gallery openings at Kavi Gupta’s two spaces. I particularly enjoyed watching a documentary that Mickalene Thomas created in memory of her mother, who many will recognize as the principal subject of her work. The film plays continuously in a family room setting, complete with wood paneling, a sofa, and coffee table. That night, Kavi Gupta graciously included us in a party at his place, where we mingled with art stars like Jessica Stockholder. Kavi put a picture of Martha Slaughter and Henry Heuser on Instagram!

photo (12)

On Saturday morning, we ventured to the Gold Coast—where we took in magnificent panoramic views of Lake Michigan at the home of Susan Goodman and Rod Lubeznik. Our group took note of a ceramic portrait bust by Klara Kristalova and a felt piece (resembling a Matisse paper cut-out) by William J. O’Brien. In the bathroom sits a humorous multi-media sculpture by Tokyo-based artist Ken Kagami.

On our final morning in Chicago, we stopped at the warehouse studio of Tony Tasset (husband of well-known Chicago painter Judy Ledgerwood) who manipulates quintessential American imagery in bold colors. He chooses to work in a vernacular of existing genres to communicate with simple signs. His egalitarian, open system of meaning resembles a love letter to 70s super graphic art (such as Robert Indiana).

photo (99)

We had an absolute blast in Chicago. And I am now rested enough to say that I enthusiastically anticipate the next Donors’ Circle trip—to New York City in March! I hope you can join us.

–Leslie Millar, KMAC Donor Circle Member

Carrying the Torch: Walter Early Sculptures

ImageDenise Furnish and Walter Early: Color Stories Installation View

This is the last weekend to check out the exhibition Denise Furnish and Walter Early: Color Stories. Here on the KMAC blog we have explored the processes, motivations and cultural implications behind Denise Furnish’s repurposed quilts, and now we take a deeper look into the salvaged and reshaped forms from sculptor Walter Early.

Walter Early arranges broken and displaced forms into new settings and new relationships. His work, A Day in May, was included in last summer’s 7 BORDERS exhibition here at KMAC. In that work he repositioned a set of tobacco sticks, removing them from the environment they are typically associated and presented them in the gallery, on a shelf, leaning against a wall. This was intended to give new context, form and meaning to this common tool for curing tobacco leaves. The sticks take on a vista like quality where a viewer can get a sense of looking into a forest or a line of tress along side a road. This idea of play in altering an object’s former meaning continues into Early’s recent sculpture made from clay, wood, MDF, and steel.

For the pieces on display at KMAC Early sourced his materials from fellow sculptors, who had thrown out some of their failed experiments intending for them to be melted down and destroyed. Taking his welding torch and working in a similar twentieth century modernist language as Anthony Caro and John Chamberlain, he manipulates the shape, color and volume of his metal castaways. Once the desired form is achieved he power coats the surfaces of his sculptures in bright, bold, monochromatic colors. Caro and Chamberlain are well known for pushing the formalist art boundaries of modernist sculpture. They are important in the context of Walter’s work as they both represent the shift that allowed for a broader range of materials and practices to be brought into the art discourse. Early furthers the objectives set forth by these artists, maintaining the relevance for the appropriation of found materials. Through a series of rigorous alterations Early presents anew these remnants from other artists, providing a narrative for the material as it moves from its previous state into its new form. After reworking the borrowed metal he reverses a pivotal move made by Caro, who famously removed sculpture from it’s plinth, and places the finished works onto pedestals, or in this case onto whitewashed pieces of furniture, reestablishing the previously abandoned forms as artworks, elevating them to a new domesticated status.

My Neighbor the Artist

Written by KMAC Donors’ Circle Member  Merrily Orsini

Denise Mucci Furnish used to be my neighbor across the street. Before she was a known artist, she was an innate artist. Apparently born as such, she was encouraged by life’s experiences to make art whenever possible. I have a vague memory of meeting Denise, or at least seeing her work, as far back as 1970, when, in Lexington, I saw some cloth dolls she had made. Occasionally, these dolls still haunt my mind. They were ethereal dolls with little bound cloth bodies and round sock faces— beautiful dolls, and dolls that seemed to scream, “Let me out!”

It was a few years later, in 1979, that I ended up on Everett Avenue, across the street from the Furnishes. In 1980, Denise started attending the Louisville School of Art. Her quilts morphed from folded,piles on the top floor of her one time elegant and gabled three-story house, to hanging on the wall, as art. It was a bit later, in 1984 that I purchased my very first original piece of art, Salute to the Sun (Eclipse), from a real gallery. It was the first official piece of art that Denise ever sold. This quilt, made lovingly by Denise Mucci Furnish, still hangs proudly and emphatically, at the entrance to our home. I still enjoy it daily, if not hourly, and it is still as poignant as it was that first time when I was drawn to purchase it, even though it was well beyond my means at the time. However, that quilt is priceless when it comes to the enjoyment and the memories it evokes.

The years between 1980 and 1985 were some of the most interesting years as I watched an artist come into her own. The Mount St. Helens’s eruption in 1980 somehow consumed the artist across the street. There were many variations in her artistic obsession with Mount St. Helens. One of the most interesting, and, a variation of which I have now framed in my office for daily viewing, is making little volcanoes out of dryer lint. The dryer lint is screen filtered into a circular doughnut shape with a small hole in the middle. When dissected into fourths, it makes perfect little volcanoes. A housewife might see dryer lint as something to be cleaned from the filer and tossed, but not the artist. The artist sees opportunity. The artist sees possibility. The artist sees.

Note the color of the lint? It differs according to what is being dried—reds,colors, or denim. The texture also differs, and that is what the artist saw. Try tossing feathers in the dryer and see what happens (not to the poor unsuspecting clothes, but to the lint filter art fodder residue?) What about glitter? It is really amazing how much art can come from a common household dryer when seen through the eyes of the artist. And, those volcanic lint quilts and collages got better and better, more colorful, and more textured, until the eventual end of that dryer. And, for the artist? Another medium to explore with one exhausted.

A life making art. A life enjoying art. Are these two so far apart? I think they are. The artist has a special way of looking at life, interpreting it, finding ways to use common items or common visuals as art. That interpretation, of course, is not what the viewer, or the art collector understands, even when articulated succinctly by the artist. Because, as everyone knows, art is in the eye of the beholder. But the joy, sorrow, jubilation, and emotion are resident as well in the viewer of the art, and, it is this emotion that moves one to enjoy art, to buy art.

Denise Furnish & Walter Early: Color Stories is on view through March 16.

Denise Furnish on KMAC Radio

Tune into ArtFm Louisville for the KMAC radio hour today at 11am to hear Denise Furnish discuss her work currently on display in the museum. She will talk about her ongoing series of painting experiments inspired  by the use of discarded quilts. The discussion will address artist Robert Rauschenberg’s own use of a quilt in the “combine” Bed from 1955 and how this work became a direct influence on Furnish’s work. Image

Denise Furnish, Blue, 2005, 73″ x 68″ Discarded Catch Me If You Can Quilt, acrylic

The significance of the American quilt is bound to our nation’s pioneering history and is situated in a craft tradition that celebrates the ingenuity and collaborative spirit of early American women. After making new clothes for the family, quilting groups would convene to transform their remnants into uniquely patterned bedspreads and baby blankets. Furnish is inspired by this history and through her evolving process of reviving quilts that have been used as dog beds or thrown out due to being threadbare and worn she preserves the conversations that were had during the original communal construction of her fabric painting surfaces. The voices of the women and their care and concern for those around them is radiated and brought back into the foreground due to her use of bold, vibrant colors. Her process could be seen as a kind of repairing technique or decorative bandaging where the new surface becomes the focus and the craft is one of preservation and/or protection. The original fabric is covered forever, but it’s now safeguarded always there beneath the layers retaining its rich, storied past.

The current exhibition at KMAC called Color Stories combines Furnish’s work with a series of sculptures by Walter Early, who likewise fuses contemporary conceptual art practices that explore issues of consumption, waste, and identity with the challenges of modern art aesthetics surrounding form, color and production.

Listen in today for more info on this exhibit and enjoy some music selections inspired by the work.