My museum visits during a trip to NYC in January were inspirational. I visited the Museum of Arts and Design, and had the great luck to talk with the Friday artist in residence. Jil Weinstock was working on very cool rubber-covered crocheted items in a light-filled studio overlooking Columbus Circle, putting them into wall assemblages – tests for an upcoming exhibit in China (!). All of the crocheted items come from her extended family members. She’s interested in preservation, family ties, time. The assemblages had beauty in their geometric compositions and in the light and shadows created on the walls. The milky whites of the rubber were subtle, but with depth. (And this photo does no justice whatsoever to the piece.)
An interesting thing happened while I was in the studio. Another visitor, while appreciative of the artist’s work, was visibly uncomfortable with the concept of taking the traditional textile and “ruining” it by altering it with the rubber stiffener, as if this was a desecration of the beautifully made textile. I understood the woman’s feelings, but didn’t share her viewpoint. The pieces were given to the artist to be used in this way by their owners. Too many doilies and crocheted runners sit unused in drawers. Links to their creators are broken. If the art pieces are successful, the images created by hours of handwork will be appreciated. Viewers will think about the work that went into the individual elements. And if some viewers are upset by the current use of the pieces, well, an emotional response to art works is good!
I raved about Jil to my husband, and showed him my (inadequate) photo of her experimenting. This started a long dinner discussion of traditional women’s handwork, and art, and what is art, and who decides, and on and on. Mike couldn’t look past the connotation of doilies on a sofa to consider that the piece might have power and meaning as a construction, or interest in its play of light and dark and shadow. “Oh, you mean it is pleasing to look at,” he said. Well, yes it might be, but so are Mark Rothko’s paintings. Is a Mondrian grid more valuable as art because it is in oil paint? It’s guaranteed to make my hackles rise, to hear comments that discount the possiblity that a work might have articitic merit, just because it uses materials or techniques that might be recognized as “women’s work.”