Thursday, May 21, 2009

May in Chicago

I've been writing a lot about rural bliss, but this past weekend in Chicago was one of those times when urban culture was at its most vibrant. The day was gloriously sunny & cool and all of Chicago seemed to be celebrating the opening of the new Modern Wing at the Art Institute. We were there to celebrate the graduation of our son Will from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and this event was timed to engage the opening fesitivites at the Museum. Set in the Frank Gehry-designed titanium pavilion at Millennium Park, we were across a bustling, pulsing street (how Monroe has changed!) from Piano's stunning building, and the face-to-face between the park and the museum were perfect and thrilling.

Will and his fellow BFA and MFA recipients marched across the stage as music echoed against the glimmering surface. Renzo Piano, who gave the commencement address, spoke of the values of stubbornness, "soft" intelligence, and listening without necessarily obeying. I sat in the sun feeling so lucky lucky lucky to be a part of this magnificence.

Then we were all invited to join the throngs at the opening of the new wing. I thought it too was thrilling. The ceilings are scrim, above that fabric is lovely gridwork of hanging devices I should by now know the names of, above all of that, glass. The effect of the light was softened but pure and white. And I loved it as a large, 3-D textile.

The art looked scrumptious. It reminded me in many ways of why I live to be an artist. The work that is staying with me after that day in the galleries are Cy Twombly's large paintings of peonies. Made me want to work LARGE. And after reveling in their lushness, I was brought home at the end of the weekend to the still-blooming, deeply perfumed peony fields of Fragrant Farms, just east of my home.

Friday, May 8, 2009

more on Villa Farsetti



Writing about the past has made me think more about that glorious time in 1985 when I was Queen for a Day. I won a prize in the Third Venice Biennale of Architecture for a set of weavings based on the Villa Farsetti in Santa Maria di Sala. A heady time: my career was just getting off the ground then, and the publicity from the prize was extraordinary and rocketed me into the next level of notariety.

I entered the competition because my husband Ben Nicholson (who has now participated in the Biennale 3 times!) was deeply involved in his own projects (at the urging of his former teacher, Daniel Libeskind, who had been invited to participate) and he thought it would fit my interests as well. I had been making weavings which were exploring gardens & architecture as subject matter, and so the idea of making a set of weavings like a set of architectural plans, about a specific place appealed greatly to me. It gave me a new method of working too, which held for many years, making cycles of work about historic places, usually with gardens, and working from plan overview into intimate detail as a kind of storytelling.

There were 9 tapestries, including the 4 shown here of the front gardens & reflecting pool; a guest wing; a green house (see earlier post); hedgerows; stables; more gardens.

The magazine article is from American Craft Magazine, Feb/March 1986, published at the time of the birth of my son, William, who is getting his BFA from School of the Art Institute of Chicago on May 16!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

ps: going digital


I am probably not the first person to complain about the transition from slides to digital. On the one hand, fantastic! No more slide duplicating! No more boxes & drawers full of the slippery things that I always mis-filed and had to flip through to find the ones to send out to every person requesting information. Come to think of that, talk about freedom of information! Now you can send images free over the internet -- remember sending out slide sheets valued at approx. $20 apiece into the world, unsolicited, destined for trashbins? This is less painful.

But the downside is accessing images older than your digital history. I am an old person now -- really. Got my MFA (high slide era) in 1982 for heaven's sake. So when I want to put up a picture of a piece I no longer own, which I took a slide of in 1985 (like in the previous post) it's a bit dodgy. I took a bunch of slides into Gamma, a big Chicago photo place, a number of years ago, and paid something like $1-$2 each to digitally scan them. Ouch. I have made, let's say, a real LOT of work over the years, and it was hard enough to pay the photographer the first time around to document them.

And then I move to a small town of 850 people, and still don't have a photographer (but at least I finally found a good doctor -- today.) Hard to stay current. Which is the long way around of explaining the questionable qualtiy of the images you find here. But the Dr. seems to think I will live, so that is a start.

(you always want a picture. So here is a picture that started out the usual way, in a film camera, and may have found its way into my computer as a scan from a magazine article. The image is a detail of the Thousand Foot Garden: Harvest 1992, a set of 68 6" square tapestry panels depicting some of the plants growing in Thomas Jefferson's vegetable garden at Monticello, restored, in 1992)

Racine Art Museum and the Orange Show

Last year I had the odd experience of bidding on one of my older tapestries at auction. I let the other guy win. Lately I found that the other guy (gal? don't know the identity!) has gallantly offered the work to the Racine Art Museum, a longtime supporter of mine (I sell ribbons in their shop, too!). It is still working its way through the accessions process but they told me it is safe to add it to the resume.

The piece is from the 1980's, from a series about a wonderful folk art environment in Houston (where I lived for several years), called The Orange Show. It is worth a visit.
These tapestries came on the heels of my Italian-villa series that I sent to the Venice Bienale of Architecture in 1985, and were as different from the Tuscan theme as they could be. Sadly, most of the Orange Show pieces died in a fire at Van Straaten Gallery in 1989 in Chicago (the great gallery fire!) but this one made it out alive beforehand and now has made its way north to Racine.

(The tapestry shown here is a detail of "Villa Farsetti: The Greenhouse #1", which is in a private collection in Houston. Great piece, approx 10" tall x 110" across. The beginnings of thinking about ribbon as an art form!)