During the 1960s and 1970s, fiber art exhibits in major New York City galleries set the tone for contemporary fiber and textile art. A decade later the art form lost favor among gallery owners, viewers and museums, but as Sandra Sider, curator of New York Fiber in the 21st Century, at Lehman College Art Gallery, wrote that with the cross mingling of materials, the “historical divisions between ‘craft’ and ‘art’ are disintegrating. Contemporary fiber illustrates the ubiquitous nature of visual art as a trans-cultural phenomenon expressed in a variety of media.”
New York Fiber in the 21st Century focuses on thirty artists who live in New York City or nearby and whose art work is primarily in fiber and textiles and employ techniques like knitting, crocheting, quilt making, weaving, felt making, rug hooking, embroidery, needlepoint, basketry, and book arts.
The exhibit features new artists as well as recognized artists whose work first appeared during the 1960s and 1970s. According to Sider the show represents “the diversity and vibrancy of fiber in an era that increasingly values the handmade in art and the inherent possibilities of mundane materials.” Much of the work on display uses repurposed textiles and other items, incorporate found objects, including paper with text, in their art work. The forty seven pieces of art fall under three categories: abstract, representational and Neo-Funky, which combine the first two modes.
Abstract pieces using crochet techniques and felting include In Xenobia Bailey’s Medicine Mandala, a twisting snake that insinuates itself into the symmetrical structure. Initially trained as a painter, for many years Erma Martin Yost painted large abstract landscapes, but her love of playing with fabric and sewing as a child finally persuaded her to pursue her passion. For years, the art quilt was her passion but now she uses felt as her canvas. In her artist’s statement she writes, “In this medium, saturated colors migrate through the entire structure, resulting in intriguingly sensuous surfaces that are enhanced with mono-printing and applique, and found objects.”
Representational work includes Andrea Dezsö embroidered series titled “Lessons from My Mother” that share female folktale stories with an ironic twist. Ruth Marshall’s interpretation of an ocelot’s pelt was inspired by a longtime fascination with animals. She writes, “In essence the work is a synthesis of concepts relating to wildlife conservation and visually interpreting natural animal forms…Exploring the precarious balance of our relationship to nature reacquaints us with an exotic world that we are in danger of losing with all the inherent drama of that loss fueling a search for survival."
Neo-funk artists include Blanka Amezkua who, Sider notes in the show’s online catalogue, “revitalizes dainty vintage textiles by contemporizing them in gestures of multi-colored thread, stitched in counterpoint to the original design.” Textile artist and arts educator Lisa Curran’s gigantic chain-like strands of crocheted wool seem both organic and mechanical, which Sider compares to “alien appendages that remain friendly but reserved.”
New York Fiber in the 21st Century is currently exhibited at the Lehman College Art Gallery in the Bronx, NY. The show will run until May 12. For further information, please visit: http://www.lehman.edu/vpadvance/artgallery/gallery/