A SERIES of exhibitions devoted to various facets of
contemporary textile art opened in St. Louis earlier this month.
Artists are drawn to textile (or fiber) art for a number of
compelling reasons. It has a long and illustrious history to draw
from, a history in which methods have remained constant. It
presents a challenging range of possibilities to exploit, a variety
of methods and choices of materials, which today can mean materials
never imagined by fiber artists of the past.
Works can be flat or three-dimensional, large scale or
miniature. Even more to the point, the nature of much of the
material used and the long tradition of textile art (domestic and
feminine) makes it a perfect vehicle for expressing some of the
major issues afloat in the art world today, namely issues of
family, domesticity, the body and the environment.
These issues surface in the survey of contemporary basket
making at Craft Alliance, "Bridges" (devoted to the pioneers in the
field) and "Breaking the Rules," curated by Jane Sauer, herself an
internationally recognized basket maker.
With 108 baskets on view, this show represents the creativity
released by the metaphorical and utilitarian possibilities of the
vessel form, a repetition of what happened years ago in ceramics.
It takes a lot of looking to sort out the multitude of
directions. There is everything from the small, intimate,
pictorial, even narrative work , such as Judy Mulford's "The Family
- Will We Survive?" that incorporates family photographs, text and
tiny babies fitted in papoose-like cases, to formal sculptural
A basket can be a mere sketch in which the utilitarian aspect
is minimal. This is the case in Gyongy Laky's architectural
baskets, which are made basically of an open work circle of bound
A highly successful example of a sculptural object whose skin
encloses implied rather than visible interior space is Barbara
Cooper's large-scale wall piece "Plexus," made of glued wood veneer
strips in a random weave. Its entwined form and wrapped surface
emphasizes twist, a dancer's movement. Rather than appearing as a
small piece simply blown up, it achieves true sculptural presence.
In the same vein are Linda Kelly's dark, life-size baskets of
woven reeds, examples technically of basic basketry. They are most
effective seen in a grouping in a small room at the R. Duane Reed
Gallery. The gallery is showing both Kelly's and John Garrett's
work, who is also included in the Craft Alliance show.
Kelly's forms - vertical, dark, grouped like a small forest -
are very lightweight, soft to the touch, even squishy, and have an
uncanny, almost breathing human presence.
It is interesting to note that the most creative energy in art
today seems to fall into polar extremes - a cool poetic minimalism
and an obsessiveness bordering on chaos. This, I believe, is
influenced by the interest today in so-called naive or outsider
art. Maybe these are the only two choices left to us in viewing the
state of affairs in the late 20th century.
The minimalist vein is beautifully exemplified in the work of
the two Japanese basket makers, Hideho Tanaka and Hisako Sekijima.
Tanaka's "Vanishing" series baskets, made of stainless steel wire,
are formed into nest-like pod forms. His stated concern is how to
make an object appear and disappear. Some have a handmade paper
skin, part of which has been ceremoniously (in performance) burned
away to reveal structure.
My favorites are the wire ones. They are dense, complex, light
filled, evanescent containers. A beauty is in the St. Louis Art
Museum exhibition, "Contemporary Fiber From St. Louis Collections,"
curated by Zoe Annis Perkins, textile conservator at the museum.
Sekijima's pieces at Craft Alliance are fragile looped
envelopes that lie flat. They are minimalist studies in negative
and positive space. …