New York City Art Adventure (Before Covid19) Part I of 2

Just recently four boxes arrived at my door. They contained the contents of my “sabbatical studio” in Brooklyn and receiving them represented the last tie to my brief but fun time living in New York City last fall and winter. I can’t believe how much time has passed since then! I have been in a Corona fog - seems like it was just Groundhog Day–and still is, right? I alluded to my experiences there in several past blog posts (A Field Trip to Brown Grotta, Tapestry in the Galleries: Alexandra Mocanu, A visit with Erin Riley), but I realize that I never blogged about why or what I was doing in NYC in the first place.

The reason behind the whole venture was that my husband was taking a six month sabbatical to do research with a cancer data company based in Manhattan. We arrived in early October and were slated to stay through April. We lived in Chelsea, just blocks from the gallery district. Heaven! I rented a small studio space at the Textile Arts Center in Brooklyn and set up shop with my small Hagen loom. 

We ended up leaving March 1st, but not for the obvious reason. At the time of my flight, I thought I was just going back to Washington to attend a workshop with Gerhardt Knodel. My husband was going to go skiing with his buddies. Our flights were packed and no one was wearing masks or gloves – still very normal given the worrisome news reports about the virus in China. It wasn’t until we got back to Seattle that the Covid19 situation started to sink in. Having recorded the first known US case in January, the first reports of community transmission in Washington State came out February 28.  Upon my return I learned of friends and neighbors who were sick. When the shelter at home orders came, we were kicking ourselves for not seeing it coming. Needless to say, that was the end of our adventure; we never went back to New York.

So what did I do during my four months in New York, you ask? I considered taking classes, but ultimately rejected the idea because I did not want add stress to my life, and didn’t want to buy a ton of supplies. Instead, I roamed the city soaking in all the art, writing in this blog about some of the many exhibitions I saw, and fervently posting photos of textile work on my Facebook page @Ellen Ramsey Tapestry. I reached out to other weavers, and a few reached out to me, and thus I ended up making some wonderful new friends. I joined the Textile Study Group of NY and found a fantastic community there. I recorded months of nonstop inspiration, but I did not share much of what I was doing in my studio. I did make stuff – actually, a lot of stuff by my standards!  I’ll write about the work I did in the next post.  First, I’d like to share some of the great textile work I saw but did not previously blog about.

Museums

There is no lack of textile work on display in NYC museums!  MOMA’s gallery re-install was a highlight, which included a room dedicated to textile art.  It featured the usual suspects, but honestly not the best examples I’ve seen from most of them: work by Stölzl and Albers, a small Sheila Hicks, and a sculptural piece by Magdalena Abakanowicz anchored the room. Happily, there was more textile treasure to be found in other areas of the museum, and seeing it included with work in all mediums, rather than separately, made it all the more exciting.  In a gallery dedicated to feminist art, there stood a huge, larger than life Mrinalini Mukherjee sculpture, and some interesting machine embroidered fabric collages by Romanian artist Geta Brâtescu (1926-2018). Both celebrate female cultural heroines.

The Whitney had a great show during this time as well: Making Knowing: Craft in Art 1950-2019. I was thrilled to see work by Lenore Tawney included there, having never seen her work IRL.  But I think my favorite piece was this painting “My Two Handicaps” by Faith Ringold that honors Barbara Chism. I found it very moving.

The Cooper Hewitt collection did not disappoint with some amazing triple weave by Maria Eugenia Dávila and Eduardo Portillo of Venezuela, and an open warp piece by Ed Rossbach. I also happened upon a show of Albers inspired work at the Hunter College gallery that featured an Ed Rossbach work.  This is true weaving porn.

The ones that got away: I was saving the Cloisters and the Brooklyn Museum for spring weather. I had plans to visit Dance Doyle, then in residence at MAD. Also on my calendar were Sandford Biggers at the Bronx Museum of Art, Marie Cuttoli tapestries at the Barnes Foundation, Boro Textiles at the Japan Society….Oh well.

Galleries

SO many galleries, so little time.  I was amazed by how much textile art was shown in gallery settings in just the few short months I spent there.  The first major gallery show I saw was Brent Wadden at Mitchell-Innes & Nash.  I had only seen his work in magazines or on the internet, so I was delighted to see that there was some attention to texture, though minimal, in the actual weavings. Wadden insists on his work being viewed as paintings, which I find so limiting. I would prefer this work if he would ditch the frames and go really wild with the weaving and piecing. 

Also in November I discovered Cue Art Foundation and found it a welcome home for textile based work. Possibly my favorite gallery show of all the shows I saw in NYC was Sarah Amos at Cue. I loved the scale of her work, the layering of lines both printed and embellished, and the gorgeous textures – it reminded me of Maximo Laura’s work in some ways. She begins by printing on industrial felt, primarily with white ink on dark grounds. Then she stitches and sews on top to create very engaging, high contrast, compositions featuring surreal “figures.” 

I saw work by emerging artists at several venues in the cold month of January.  Swedish artist Linnéa Sjöberg showed bondage themed work at an obscure Chinatown gallery.  She appliqués clothing and accessories onto her cotton rag tapestries. Apparently, she views her life as performance art, and the weavings as a by-product her experiences– which are pretty dark whether real or imagined, near as I can tell. (Think Girl with the Dragon(fly) Tattoo?)

Another emerging artist, Korean American Kim Westfield, showed tufted work inspired by Korean pop culture, cuteness, and Korean attitudes about women. There are quite a few emerging artists working with tufting that you may have heard of or seen on Instagram.  I think its accessibility as “fast craft” has made it attractive in this moment but honestly, I’m not a fan.  Something about tufting lacks substance, but applied to comic book type imagery like Westfield’s, it does hype the cuteness factor. The concepts and ideas behind the work are not especially cute, and I suspect the contrast is the point.

Julia Bland is an interesting artist who showed at Derek Eller Gallery in February. Her forms are very ‘classic’ (dare I say “pretty?”), but her materials and how she composes with them is entirely unique. She uses ropes and wires interwoven with areas woven cloth or canvas to make geometric abstractions. She paints on the various fiber elements, which makes for an interesting surface.  They operate as paintings, sculptures, and textiles in equal parts.

The last gallery show I saw was a show of work by Josep Grau-Garriga (1929-2011) What a great example of the adage that “everything old is new again.”  I’m sure this work will inspire more artists to see the potential of fiber as a medium. I’ve personally never seen his work shown outside of Europe, and never an entire gallery devoted just to his work either. His prints are also incredible.

The ones that got away: April shows of Terri Friedman at Cue Art Foundation, Diederick Brackens at Jack Shainaman,  Eva Hess at Acquavella Gallery, Bisa Butler at Clair Oliver Gallery, Craft in Art at Site Brooklyn…*Sigh*

Community

There are so many inspiring artists to seek out in NYC. I blogged about meeting Erin Riley, who was a big one on my list. The other really big one for me was meeting Helena Hernmarck. She gave a program for the local guild in Beacon, New York in early February. I had the pleasure of attending, and meeting her in person, along with tapestry weaver Robbie LaFleur. (great blog: www.robbielafleur.com.  Without Robbie, I would not have known about the program. The daughter of a friend of hers is Helena’s assistant.) Helena had an exhibition at Shelter Island NY during my time there that I never got to, but fortunately I got to see the spectacular new commission she did for 33 Hudson Yards. (To see the Shelter Island exhibition go to https://www.shelterislandhistorical.org/helenahernmarck.html). 

I found community with the TSGNY group and had the honor of exhibiting with them during my stay.  I posted all my photos of the show on FB (@Ellen Ramsey Tapestry). I had the pleasure of meeting several artists I had known of for a long time, like TSGNY founder Nancy Koeninsburg and weaver Betty Vera.

So much to be inspired by in such a short time!  It is truly a great time to be a textile artist. I can’t wait to go back to New York City when (if?) life returns to normal!


Stay tuned: Next post I will show you the work I did while in NYC and what I am working on since my return.

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