Art / Sewn

September 14, 2012 - January 6, 2013

Art/Sewn focuses on works of art in which sewing is integral to the making and viewing experience. The exhibition attempts to blur the distinction between art and craft that is relevant today as many fine artists adopt craft forms and techniques and craft artists produce non-functional works of art.

What the works featured in Art/Sewn share is sewing—sewing on woven fabric, paper, felts and skins, as well as the technique of sewing as a means of production, as expression and as the basis of a variety of narratives. The exhibition incorporates contemporary artworks, informed by earlier generations of women, which take a variety of forms—quilts, assemblage, hangings, embroidery on cloth and paper, among others—and that consciously blurs the art versus craft distinction.

According to guest curator Ward Mintz, the exhibition “provides a vivid contemporary response to the history of art made with thread and highlights sewing as an integral element in the art-making process.”

In virtually all world cultures, sewing has been the province of women. In the early years of the United States, sewing was perceived as an important skill. At first, this skill was put to use to clothe the family, and for employing daughters of the working class. Sewing continued to be a practical skill through much of the 19th century. With the rise of the middle and upper middle class during the age of industrialization, sewing became a means of self-expression and a route to knowledge for educated, bourgeois women.

By the end of the 19th century more women were able to indulge in leisure pursuits and produced quilts and other sewn items valued more for their artistry than for their utility. By the 20th century, more women were becoming artists and designers, though few were given the opportunity to achieve the celebrity of their male counterparts. By the late 1960s and 1970s, women artists and designers demanded greater recognition and exhibition opportunities. Through the remaining years of the century, in defiance of the prevalent modernist movements such as Abstract Expressionism and Minimalism, many women adopted feminine imagery, materials, colors and techniques, such as sewing.

Three of the artists in this exhibition make quilts or quilt-like work. One, Sandy Benjamin-Hannibal, embraces the African-American quilt traditions of asymmetry and improvisation. Another, Denise Burge, combines piecing and quilting with crochet and uses cartoon-like imagery to tell the story of “the destructive interaction between ourselves and nature.” A third artist, Gina Phillips, has created a room-size installation in which a quilt, “Holt Cemetery Tooth Comforter,” makes reference to cemeteries in her adopted city of New Orleans where human teeth and bones emerge from freshly dug graves.

Still other artists, such as Emily Barletta and Linnea Glatt, borrow from the traditions of Minimalism and Post-Minimalism and create mesmerizing works that seem to substitute the needle for the pencil and paintbrush. Hannah Chalew combines drawing and sewing to chart how Mother Nature is reclaiming New Orleans neighborhoods.

The artists included in this exhibition are Emily Barletta, Sandy Benjamin-Hannibal, Denise Burge, Hannah Chalew, Elisa D’Arrigo, Linnea Glatt, Janet Henry, Cyrilla Mozenter, Gina Phillips, Jessica Rankin and Anna Von Mertens.


Related programs + events to note:

Art/Sewn will be celebrated with an Opening Reception on Friday, September 14 from 5:00 – 7:00 p.m. (free with Membership or Museum Admission) and will remain on view through Sunday, January 6, 2013 in the Museum’s North Wing. The Opening Reception is preceded by a Gallery Talk at 4:00 p.m. with the guest curator, Ward Mintz, and several of the featured artists.


View selected works in the exhibition »