ART REVIEW : Fuller Craft exhibit mixes politics and art
The Patriot Ledger
By Jody Feinberg
During this raucous election season, artists in the exhibit “The Faces of Politics: In/Tolerance” seem particularly relevant.
That’s what guest curator Bruce Hoffman anticipated in 2014 when Fuller Craft Museum asked him to plan an exhibit.
“I was watching television and reading the news everyday and it was already getting gut-wrenching,” said Hoffman, a contemporary textile curator and director of Gravers Lane Gallery in Pennsylvania. “I thought spring 2016 will be a crazy time.”
With the exhibit title “Faces of Politics” as a directive, 20 artists addressed issues many people today find intolerable: gun violence, racial injustice, gender discrimination, wildlife extinction, economic inequality and the eroding American dream. Created in ceramic, fiber art, sculpture and mixed media, the 28 works are likely to challenge expectations of craft as decorative and non-controversial.
“People don’t expect to see a political exhibit at a craft museum,” Hoffman said. “The decorative arts are much more powerful than people think. They can be very thought provoking. Part of what I wanted to create was to start a conversation and for people to bring their own experiences to the works.”
As a piece that inspired Hoffman, “Lynched Tree” by Joyce Scott is both disturbing and artful. Hanging upside down from the ceiling, a hand-sewn plastic and glass bead female – who has been lynched and raped – slumps onto the floor, surrounded by blown glass and metal innards.
“This was a pivotal piece,” said Hoffman, who first saw it when it hung from a tree in New Orleans. “It’s wrenching, but there are many beautiful aspects to it as a sculpture. And it has a huge educational element.”
Several other works address violence, in particular death by guns and poaching. In “Stigmata,” tiny items that cover two stainless steel mesh cylinders resemble lace, but actually are plastic guns. Like a gunshot wound seeping blood, the cylinders have an open hole medallion in the center made of red copper wire. The name “Stigmata” seems to express the shame and disgrace artist Lindsay Ketterer Gates feels about gun violence.
In the interactive memorial installation “Spinning Strands: Knitting Together Lives Lost,” Melissa Maddonni Haims crocheted a variety of soft yarn balls and assembled them seemingly randomly on the wall, where each represents an American child killed by a gun. In a notebook on a nearby school desk, visitors can see the name, age, and place of death for each of the 823 children killed by guns in 2015 and write a child’s name on a spool of fabric. When the exhibit ends, Haims will create a new work out of the fabric.
In “Homage to Tyke,” Wendy Maruyama made a large elephant head mask from pieces of wood tied together with string. The string evokes the African elephants’ precariousness hold on life, since currently one is killed by poachers roughly every 15 minutes.
Money is the motivation behind poaching, just as it was behind the 2008 financial crisis and subsequent housing crash. In a whimsical look at greed and carelessness, Mara Superior made “Piggy Bankers/The Great Recession,” a three-tier porcelain bank topped with a gold pig, adorned with hanging plates painted with words such as “complex financial instruments” and “over leveraged,” the piece highlights the events that caused and followed the “financial tsunami.”
In another inventive look at the housing crisis and the dominance of American commercialism, Amy Orr cut and assembled thousands of plastic cards (credit, membership, gift, health insurance) to create “House of Cards,” a Colonial style doll-house furnished home. It’s surprisingly pretty with its patterned floors and colorful surfaces, despite being built out of instruments of debt.
Like the evaporation of the dream of home ownership, “Tears for America,” by John Eric Riis expresses loss for the fracturing of national ideals. Made entirely of delicate tiny Swarovski crystals, the wall hanging is a close-up of the face of a weeping figure, whose eyes drip three large tears and whose thumb – polished with the American flag – holds a blue cloth over its nose.
Other works deal with prejudice towards Americans who are Muslim, black or gay. In the cotton quilt “State of the Union No. 14: Matthew 18 verses 21-22,” for example, Arturo Alonzo Sandoval overlaid a photo of gay marriage opponent Kentucky clerk Kim Davis with the words “Forgive.”
As a whole, the exhibit bears witness to American life, expressed in “Witness (And Then There Were None)” by mixed media artist June Lee. Set on a shelf against a hot pink background and the exhibit’s introductory text, it’s a series of identical gray heads, whose eyes, ears and mouth are covered by brightly colored hands. With their refusal to hear, see or speak up, the heads are a warning about the consequences of fear, denial or indifference. But the pink background hints at hope if people are tolerant and feel connected to each other.
“Pink is a shocking color, but in many cultures its also a peaceful and loving color,” Hoffman said. “That’s what I wanted people to walk into, because those heads are a draw.”