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'Uncommon' Works at the Museum of Wisconsin Art

May. 16, 2012
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The tie that binds the artists of Uncommon Threads: Contemporary Wisconsin Textiles, now on view at the Museum of Wisconsin Art, is the versatility of fabric as an art medium. Some artists approach textiles with traditional practices such as quilting or making clothing, and others use material for collage and sculptural creations. The variety in construction is accented by the range of subjects; some are purely decorative and whimsical, while others convey clear messages.

The meticulous construction of many pieces reveals attentive craftsmanship, as seen in Sharon Kerry-Harlan's Ballerina. From afar this large piece has the appearance of a quilt decorated with paint. Kerry-Harlan sticks to dark tones, contrasting with the earthy brown fabric and creating a halo effect around the focal point of the composition: a standing woman who seems to float on her toes while her muscular, elongated arms reach to the sky. She is a powerful image, but look closer to note the stitching on the background, suggesting streaming rays of energy.

Other pieces in the exhibition are diminutive and use the delicacy of size to their advantage. Marna Goldstein Brauner's Kid Gloves are a surrealistic delight. These ladies' gloves are printed with images of fashion model mannequins. Things get particularly interesting in places where details are isolated, such as the thumbs of gloves that show a figure's eye, but turned upside down. It's like something the subversive Surrealist Man Ray might do if he were a glover.

Composing on a small scale works to great effect with the black stitching of Chris Niver. He uses pieces of cloth that call to mind handkerchiefs where landscapes are economically drawn, from tranquil river scenes to the majesty of Niagara Falls. If these pictures in thread seem to recall other images, you are on to something. Niver's four pieces are modeled on paintings by earlier artists, such as Gustave Courbet and Tzu-Chiu.

One of the most direct commentaries on social issues is Lee Ann Kleeman's Our Planet in Peril: Which Turn Will We Take? The work is a tiny, wall-mounted cabinet with a knob on top that turns a carefully stitched disc inside, a vibrant representation of the globe with rich blue seas and lush land. But twist the knob, and the opposite view of the earth is a desert wasteland, dried and barren, decorated with little more than smog-like winds. There is a small mirror in back, catching your reflection as the world spins from a desirable situation to a dire one.

A cheerier cosmos is represented in Lisa Binkley's Adoration, where an understated swirl of black beads and gold star-like accents surround a blue-green bauble of an Earth. The scene is beautifully detailed, presided over by a tiny jewelry piece of a sun set amid vibrant heavens of red and orange. It is yet another way of recreating and reinterpreting the world one stitch at a time.

The exhibition continues though July 15 at the Museum of Wisconsin Art in West Bend.


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