Last night I attended the opening in Chelsea of a very intriguing show. Curated by Terry Winters, a New York painter, the show is called Roving Signs. It could also have been titled Roving Lines or even String Theory—as the show brings together a disparate yet interestingly related groups of artists and their work that touch on the pathways—of lines, music, color, narrative.
A large group of string figures, constructed from cotton string by Harry Smith (1923-1991) aligned along a long wall in the whitebox gallery of Mathew Marks (located in a space at 522 W 22nd St. On view July 12- Aug 16, 2013) stand as reference to the physical act. Finger-manipulating loop into loop to create abstracted discrete figures like drawing or performance art—here, one after the other each frozen in time appear as a moment, an unrecognizable yet familiar image, at the same time.
These simple esoteric objects are juxtaposed to another abstracted vision– of quilts by Rosie Lee Tomkins (1936-2006) a quilter from Arkansas known for her freehand eye-dazzling masterpieces.
Fig. 4 The velvet one adds depth to the experience, with its animal-pelt like presence, creating a powerful visual and tactile aura. Fig. 5
The set of surprising works (at least surprising to me) by Anni Albers: lithographs of lines and masses—
These tracings of imagined threads, interlacing like a woven sequence yet abstracted as three-dimensional masses create a conceptual dilemma as they collapse movement and physicality. They seem more poetic than the loom-woven textiles we normally associate with her work and appear like engraved markings on stone—remnants of some ancient system.
Moving from the physical to metaphysical the wonderful abstracted video by Nancy Dols of the hand of a master fiddler—Tommy Jarrell–tracing the pathway of his bow arm as he plays….
Hard to capture from the video, but imagine the line forming, weaving back and forth as the musician creates his magical and soleful tones.
And while other works in the exhibition include pieces by Donald Judd, Colin Nancarrow and The Center for Land Use Interpretation, a favorite of mine was the set of photos by John Cohen. A man of many talents, known for his music and photography, his photos of weavers and spinners in Peru form the 1950s and 60s are unsurpassed in their ability to render not only amazing details of technical and anthropological interest, but also to the moments where the threads and life intersect.
His photo of the blessing of the warp is one.
Please forgive my lousy photographs: go see the show. It makes you think about textiles and their essence and meaning in an entirely different context.
Fig. 1 Harry Smith String Figures
Fig 2+ 3 Harry Smith String Figures
Fig 4 Rosie Lee Tomkins Quilt
Fig 5 Rosie Lee Tomkins Quilt
Fig. 6 Annie Albers Line Involvement VI , 1964 Lithograph
Fig. 7 Annie Albers detail from a Line Involvement series 1964 Lithograph
Fig. 8 Tommy Jarrell from Nancy Dols video
Fig. 9. John Cohen, Blessing the Warp photograph