Archive for the 'contemporary art' Category

The biggest art prize in the world (by Kathleen Loomis)

Big news in the art quilt world recently is that an art quilt just won a HUGE prize in a competition in which it was pitted against art in all mediums.  The winner is Anne Loveless, of Frankfort MI; the competition is ArtPrize, held in Grand Rapids MI; and the prize is an astounding $200,000, said to be the world’s largest art award.

ImageAnn Loveless, Sleeping Bear Dune Lakeshore, 5’ x 20’

The competition has been going on for five years and is in two parts: one where the winners are chosen by public vote, and one where a professional art jury selects the winners.  Apparently the public section is something like the Oklahoma land rush, where the Sooners lined up in their covered wagons and sped into the sunset to grab the best plots for homesteading.  Any artist in the world can enter the competition, as long as he or she finds a place within three miles of downtown Grand Rapids to display the work, and jockeying for good space begins many, many months before the competition opens.  This year there were more than 1500 entries.

Once the work is installed, anybody who wants to visit can check out the art and cast a vote during the 19 days of the event.  After a week they announce the Top 100, Top 50 and Top 25; towards the end the Top 10 are named and there’s another round of voting.

The winning quilt had to overcome a huge setback near the end of the competition when the federal government shutdown closed the Gerald Ford Presidential Museum.  The quilt and three others in the top ten had been displayed at the museum, a prime location for the competition.  For the last several days of the event, Loveless moved her quilt to a tent outside the building, and slept there to guard it, and to lobby visitors for their votes.

The fact that a quilt won the big prize was received by the art quilt community as wonderful news, but what does it mean to the larger world of high art?  Perhaps not much.

The art critic for the Detroit Free Press, for instance, commented that “there’s quality art to be found at ArtPrize, but you have to wade through a lot of dull, second-rate and amateur work, too.”  He mentioned twelve works that he particularly liked, but they were all in the professional category, not in the public vote running.  Another art  professional, who runs a college gallery, told a local TV station that many of the top vote-getters had “entertainment value, but not art value.”

One of the artists on the professional jurors’ short list wrote in a blog, “ArtPrize is populist. The classic definition meaning that populism is a revolt against elitism.  In practical terms, this is exactly what ArtPrize is and this is good, but unfortunately it engenders limitations. By looking at this year’s popular winning entries and those from previous years three elements are consistent; the art work is large in scale, it is extremely well crafted, and it is easily accessible, no guesswork is needed to immediately understand what is being looked upon. In other words it is easy on the eye and easy to immediately understand.  What goes through the mind of most non-expert viewers, I would suspect, is a wow factor, an immediate acknowledgement how difficult and time consuming it was to produce the work, coupled with a keen appreciation of the talent that went into its creation. Thus a vote is given, not only because the viewer may “like” the piece, but also as a reward for the diligence and craft that went into creating it.”

That description fits the winning quilt perfectly.  In fact, Loveless said that in her two previous ArtPrize participations, “I realized you had to go big to be seen in ArtPrize.”

Loveless, of course, saw larger implications in her big win.  She told the local newspaper art critic, “Textiles aren’t considered fine arts. They think of the quilt on the bed. But definitely this is art.  I think next year, we’ll have a lot of textile entries. I think I’m paving the way for quilters in general.”

I’m sure she’s right that there will be lots more quilts entered in ArtPrize next year.  But I think she and all the quilters who exulted over the news are whistling past the graveyard when they think winning the big one will raise the profile of quilts in the high art world.  The professional jurors didn’t give it the time of day, nor did they choose anything that was among the people’s favorites.

In fact, one might cynically argue that when a quilt won the public vote, it ensured that the pros won’t look at another quilt for many years.  Just as the artist commented above that populism is a revolt against elitism, elitism is a revolt against populism.

The jurors went instead for more cerebral installation art.  The big winner with the jury ($100,000) was Carlos Bunga, a Spaniard, who made “a site-specific, architectural intervention…that uses cardboard, tape and paint to re-imagine a gallery in the former Grand Rapids Public Museum.”  No danger of that one winning the public vote, just as there’s no danger of a quilt winning the jury.

ImageCarlos Bunga, Ecosystem

Hand it to the Machine? Celebrating technology (by Olga Norris)

Tuesday 15 October 2013 is Ada Lovelace Day, an annual celebration of women in science, technology, and engineering.  The other day there was an interesting article in the Guardian newspaper linked to this celebration, and highlighting the attitudes to women using technology.  I was amused to read that the author, Helen Czerski likened learning to use an arc welder to icing a cake, and immediately thought of Sokari Douglas Camp, whose splendid sculptures are made by welding.

Sokari Douglas Camp: The Finger 2011 Steel, beads, tin can, silk thread

Sokari Douglas Camp: The Finger 2011 Steel, beads, tin can, silk thread

In the textile world we have been used to using advances in technology forever: the loom and the needle for a start.  And in our textile world it seems to be women who use the technology designed and devised by men.  On the other hand, I’m always delighted to find a user who is quietly competent at taking her sewing machine apart and putting it together again.  Way back at the end of last century I attended a workshop on machine embroidery by Pamela Watts who was also learning to fly a helicopter.  Women certainly seem to be eager to embrace technological advances in the textile world.

There is as much of a buzz around the latest machinery as there is at the thread and fabric stalls at exhibitions like the Festival of Quilts, and the Knitting and Stitching Show in the UK.  Books can hardly keep up with all the ways of exploiting the newest gadgets to prod and pull, join and cut stuff.  Folks are also always finding new ways of using kitchen technology to help with making art: microwave ovens for dyeing, liquidisers for mushing paper, etc.

The point of technology is to help us achieve, to push us further from the smallest incremental aid like the rotary cutter’s advance on the scissors to the great leap forward of using lasers.   The Schiffli Project has spurred many works of art, such as recent pieces by Alice Kettle (an interview with Alice here).

Alice Kettle: Ormopenthesis 2007 Schiffli Project 160 x 160cm

Alice Kettle: Ormopenthesis 2007 Schiffli Project 160 x 160cm

Sarah Hartland has experimented with an industrial laser to etch fabrics in her printmaking explorations.  Karina Thompson used digital stitch in her art, as does Charlotte Yde, better known for her art quilts.  Sculptor Janet Echelman is a great advocate for modern technology use in making art.

Janet Echelman: 1.26 Denver 2010 Sculpture Project at the Biennial of the Americas

Janet Echelman: 1.26 Denver 2010 Sculpture Project at the Biennial of the Americas

I also remember being blown away on seeing Marilene Oliver’s take on printmaking at her degree show at the Royal College of Art a few years back.  Now living in Angola, Africa, I am interested to see how her work is developing.  The article below was found in the yellerzine blog on her exhibition at Edinburgh Printmakers earlier this year.

Marilene Oliver: work in the Confusao exhibition 2013

Marilene Oliver: work in the Confusao exhibition 2013

Marilène Oliver
Edinburgh Printmakers
16th March-11th May 2013

Oliver has worked for many years with medical imaging data to create sculptures and installations. This solo exhibition, the first since the artist has moved to Sub Saharan Africa, sees the artist refining her practice to a series of dark and haunting etchings. Continuing her project of working with the anonymised dataset Melanix, Oliver uses radiology software to produce digital 2D renderings that are later combined with intricate collagraph drawings. Oliver’s inspiration for the images in this series comes from the many powerful experiences she has had since living in Africa that have caused her to rethink her relationship with the scanned body. Whereas before the CT dataset was a material that she could manipulate and transform to create complicated sculptures, it now has a strong symbolic resonance, signifying privilege both in terms of wealth and access to digital technology. In ‘Confusao’ Melanix is shrouded in the dark, weightless void of digital space, emerging to find herself appropriating traditions and rituals of African cultures she barely understands but is captivated.

Marilène Oliver works at a crossroads somewhere between new digital technologies, traditional print and sculpture, her finished objects bridging the virtual and the real worlds. She works with the body translated into data form in order to understand how it has become ‘unfleshed’, in the hope of understanding who or what it has become. To this end she uses various scanning technologies, such as MRI and PET, to reclaim the interior of the body and create works that allow is to materially contemplate our increasingly digitised selves.

This is just a tiny number of those who grasp the tools they need to make contemporary art – and who let the tools lead them to stretch their ideas.  But a niggling attitude seems to persist in appreciating art – even from those who are creators themselves.

Why is it then that having something made by hand seems to carry so much approval as being better, more authentic?  And why is using the computer in any form seen as an advance too far?  Why still the dismissive statement used about the computer as tool – as if the artist’s thinking, creativity, decision-making, and even hand skills had somehow been removed the moment that switch went on.  As someone who extensively uses a computer where others use a sketchbook and more, I have become perhaps overly sensitive to denigration of that use –  but why this recurrent disproportionate praise for the hand made?

In this morning’s newspaper I was interested to read this last sentence from Grayson Perry in an interview: “I think the artists who will go down in history are the ones who in some way respond to the moment they’re in.”

I would like to know what others think about the technology we all use to make work, and whether the less technology we use – the more primitive the tools the more worthy/authentic the work.  Is the means of creation really more important than the intention and/or the end?

A publication and a publisher hit the dust (by Olga Norris)

From the age of four I wanted to be an artist.  Later I grew to appreciate writing in its various forms, and was lucky enough to have a fulfillingly creative career in publishing.  When the career became distinctly less creative I turned my attention more fully onto becoming more involved with personal expression.  This was aided and perhaps even specifically directed by an inspirational magazine I found while living in the USA in the very early 80s: Fiberarts.  

I did not turn to textiles immediately.  Such is the power of the accepted view of what being an artist is that I worked first in acrylics on paper.  But I subscribed to Fiberarts, just as I had subscribed to Crafts magazine for years previously.  It was a combination of my previous experience with textiles as a child, the constant inspiration and broadening of my thinking by reading Fiberarts, and the encounter with a fascinating exhibition entitled Art of the Stitch by the UK Embroiderers’ Guild which finally tipped me over.

 I found a voice of my own at the turn of the century, but the desire for incoming inspiration and information about the work of others, their expressions and their intentions has not diminished.  I am sad that Fiberarts is now no more.  I must admit that I have been expecting it ever since it was bought by a company which seemed primarily interested in enormous circulation; but I take no pleasure in being proved right.  I am only glad that the Internet is there to supply serendipitous delights – but what is missing there is critical nourishment.

 I had hoped some years ago that Telos books would grow into a list spanning from introductions to the artists in various countries using textile as their medium, through monographs on particular artists, to academic texts.  The visuals were stunning.  The design seductive, but the text was sadly lacking, and increasingly more so as the price increased.  Even a book addict hooked on art textiles stopped buying some years ago now.  So now Telos is also no more.

 Does this mean that there is no market for thoughtful, thought-provoking critical analysis within and about art which uses textile forms and techniques?  Have those of us who want to exchange thoughts more about intention than technique been swamped by the seemingly ever increasing thirst for the latter?  Is it out there and I’ve just missed it somehow?

Reaction and/or judgement? (by Olga Norris)

Deep thought

I have recently made two visits to a solo exhibition of a celebrated textile artist – one whom I have admired for many years and whose work I have loved.  But on seeing the show my anticipated delight was abruptly turned to disappointment and doubt.

In this post I want to discuss my response and ask questions of others out there rather than to talk specifically about the work in question.  I want to think out loud about how we form our critical responses to work.  I want to find out how others deal with instant instinctive reactions, quietly considered judgements, and gradually – or even dramatically evolving opinions.

As I say, the artist is one whose work I have responded to positively for a long time, and that admiration has persisted throughout  my own education within the field.  I understand so much more about technique on many levels now, but this work has remained up there as excellent and inspiring.  I would place the artist up amongst the special few.

This exhibition contains one large piece in the familiar style, but also many illustrating a new approach.  I found those to be ‘too easy’, taking advantage of technique perhaps to speed up completion.  I found that they appeared deliberately commercial – meaning made to make more product from a ‘name’ – rather than speaking with an integrity of their own.  I find that they are not good work – and by that I mean so much more than just that I did not like them.

I was downcast and confused.  Because these days I am in a precarious emotional state personally I wondered whether my judgement had gone haywire.  Was I dismissing these works because they seemed rough, and different?  Was I unwilling to accept that the artist’s approach had changed?  Should an artist not be entitled to take advantage of esteem and ‘churn out’ a few lesser pieces (if they are indeed generally accepted as lesser) in order to make a living?

I felt that here was an area for further pondering.  I can make use of my few free hours to make the short journey to visit the show again and again to examine and re-examine my reactions.  On my second visit I noticed that all the smaller pieces I find attractive -‘acceptable’! – have been sold, but those which I find unresolved and unsatisfactory still unsold.  But is that just good old convention at work?  Is that simply the market asking for more of what it already has deemed acceptable – and thus makes it so difficult for anyone with a well defined style of work to change in any way?

I don’t think that I am stuck in my opinions, but then perhaps I wouldn’t.   I would like to read what others think about this general principle of an approach to work, and how one gauges whether a work is good even if one doesn’t like it – or obversely judges that a work is slight even if one likes it tremendously.  Do changing tastes affect the integral quality of  work?

Simple power (by Olga Norris)

Sometimes a visual piece stays in the mind beyond any memory of the context, or any impulse to find out more about it and/or the artist at the time.  When this happens to me I find that more often than not the work has a powerful simplicity: a clear sense of itself. 

One such piece which I remember distinctly is the one below:apologies for the small size

For My Mother (Vogue 1977-1997), 1998     Tracing paper and marker

I did not take a specific note of the title or the artist at the time, and it is only by chasing around Google now that I have now found that the latter is Emily Jacir.  The piece was part of an exhibition I saw in Oxford in late 2003 entitled Veil.  The show itself was culturally thought-provoking as also noted by a local reviewer, who like me was particularly drawn to Emily Jacir’s piece. 

This is how the artist described the work as developed for another exhibition:

“The work is a selection of three pieces from the series entitled “From Paris to Riyadh(Drawings for my Mother, 1976-1996)”. These pieces are based on my memories of traveling in and out of Saudi Arabia. On the airplane from Europe to Saudi Arabia, my mother would black out with a marker all the exposed parts of female bodies in the latest Vogue magazines in order to bring them into the country. In “Novembre 1977”, “Avril 1984”, and “Mars 1991″, I have traced all the illegal sections from each month onto vellum. The tracings from each issue becomes a piece comprised of drawings in which all that remains are the black shapes. Marker on vellum documents all the illegal sections from these months. Each of these pieces are laid out in the shape of a page and hung in order corresponding to the pages of the magazine. These drawings represent the space in between a place where the image of woman is banned, and a place where the image of woman is objectified and commodified.”

What I saw in Oxford was one piece on sheets of tracing paper, not vellum.

What struck me at the time was that it was a powerful piece visually, before I had read any explanation.  I enjoyed its lack of frame, its ‘povery’ of materials.  I was also intrigued that it could be described as a kind of quilt form made up as it was by repeated rectangles comprising flat shapes in two colours.  It would work as an abstract art quilt if rendered as such.  Then I found that this domestic art form would indeed be appropriate.

On reading the label I discovered that it deals with both the daily domestic and the political on the obvious level concerning the veiling of Islamic women – but also aspects which pertain to fashion magazines, for all kinds of women.  Emily Jacir has taken what might be described as an oppression-reactive negative act and turned it into an enlightening thought-provoking statement while making a pleasure-giving object.

But I think that it is important that the piece itself, its simple presentation, works even without the explanation.  I believe that this makes for more powerful, and certainly more memorable art.  I have come to believe that the most enduring art wears its complications in layers, to be revealed on examination but not necessarily immediately on initial encounter.  Yes, the work must attract us and hold that interest, but be sufficiently rewarding at that point.  Any ensuing curiosity then can reinforce the initial satisfaction further.

The trick is of course to be able to make such work: to keep it powerfully simple at surface, while stitching in layers of back story, links, and springboards to further inspiration in others.  Only the great achieve this, but one has to keep trying.  I find with my own work that the more I contrive to include in my designs the less successful they are.  Cutting out seems to be a positive act, although then the danger is that the result is bland.  Ah for the ability to stride purposefully along the tightrope!

I am interested to read what others think.

Musing on Museums (by Clairan Ferrono)

Before I get started on my museum musing, let me note that mine was the last post on this blog.  And that was over a month ago.  Is anyone out there interested in posting regularly or occasionally? This blog has been an important ingredient in my personal art education, so I should hate to see it fade away.

(Now I must also tell you that most of the images you will see in this post are not those I saw at the museum, but ones I scooped off the internet!)



Last week  another art quilter (Glenys Mann of Tamworth, Australia) and I went to the recently opened Modern Wing of the Art Institute of Chicago.  As you might imagine, this has gotten rather a lot of press here in Chicago.  Not only is a major portion of the modern collection  available for viewing and gathered together for the first time, the building itself is attracting a lot of attention.  We entered from Millenium Park, itself a worthy attraction!  I have no way of knowing the architectural significance of the building, but I can say it’s a pleasure to be in and look at art in:  light, airy and spacious.



On the ground floor is a special exhibitions hall.   I was happy to see the Cy Twombly exhibit (see a previous Ragged Cloth post on Twombly); all the work was new to me, but I felt like he was an old friend.  I could go through quite quickly, knowing where in his oeuvre things occurred and how they connected, and just concentrate on paintings I was particularly drawn to. And this viewing, then, provided a context I hadn’t expected for the rest of my visit.



The sections we visited were divided into American Art 1945 – 1960, American Art 1960-present, and European Art 1945-present.  As regular readers of RC know by now, I love Abstract Expressionism, so the 1945-1960 section was attractive to me.  The Rothko, Newman and Pollock were very nice, but not my favorites, so I moved on.  I was reminded that I don’t like de Kooning, Rothtenburg, or Kline, but maybe I’d like to learn more about Kline.  As you know, I believe that it’s hard to like or even to look at with appreciation artists that one has no “way into.”  And that’s how I feel about Kline.  So perhaps further study will lead me to appreciate him more.

I was particularly drawn to Joan Mitchell’s City Landscape (below).  It seems to represent the ganglion of a city’s nerves in the center of the painting which is vibrant and energetic and full of motion.  Note to self:  look at more Mitchell.

Mitchell City Landscape

Mitchell City Landscape

We then moved on to the more contemporary Americans.  I was immediately struck by a fairly recent Jasper Johns encaustic piece whose name I did not remember to write down, although I sketched some parts of it and wrote extensive notes about it.  It was a large painting, almost entirely gray, hinged on the side with parts of doors and  a cord hanging down from it.



I was particularly impressed by the painting, which  had shapes reflecting the shape of the cord, an actual shadow produced by the cord, and painted shadows.  Reflections of reflections of reflections.  I had never before been particularly interested in Johns, although I do remember wanting to see the Grey exhibit and not being able to.  So now I shall have to investigate Jasper Johns more thoroughly.

Then I looked at some paintings by people I had never even heard of (which is not surprising as I know very little of the contemporary art scene) :

Ellen Gallagher Untitled 1999 , Mary Heilmann Heaven 2004, and Margherita Manzelli Dopo la fine 2008. (I remind you that these are not the images of the paintings I’m writing about.)



I was very intrigued by these three and spent quite some time taking notes on each of these artists’ works, vowing to look them up and see more work by them.



By the time I had found the David Hockney and the Gerhardt Richter, I was too tired to look more than cursorily.  After all, I am a member of the museum and can come back and look whenever I want–how lucky am I?!  And then my friend came back and insisted I look at the Joseph Cornell with her!  And I adore Cornell, so off I went, glancing at Lucien Freund and Francis Bacon as I went (two I don’t like, important as I know they are. . . .).



After we had sat down and had something to eat, my friend and I were able to discuss what we had seen.  And I started to think seriously of what the curator does and how it affects our vision of art in a museum.  Why are certain paintings grouped together? We so rarely get to read why a curator makes the decisions he/she makes.  If I am in a room with 4 or 6 or 10 artists, loosely associated in time, and my knowledge of art history is weak, then what do I learn by the association?  I have to be very, very attentive to make out the connections (assuming the curator is a good one and there are connections other than simple chronology), unless I have prior knowledge  of a group or a period.  I have realized that I really prefer to see a large body of one artist’s work at a time so that I can educate myself, make observations and connections, and get a feel for what the artists is doing over a  period of time.  But a large collection, like that of the Art Institute, is great for introducing me to the myriad of artists I have not seen before, or showing me a side of someone I had previously rejected, or revealing to me themes or ideas  or commonalities I had been previously unaware of  among a group I know something about (our old friends the Abstract Expressionists, of course!).

I wonder if your recent viewing experiences at museums have been at all similar to mine?

Maya Lin: Systematic Landscapes (by Eileen Doughty)

Maya Lin, with sculpture from Bodies of Water series

Architect and artist Maya Lin has developed a large body of work relating to landscapes — large both in number and scale. I visited the Corcoran Gallery of Art, in Washington, DC, to see her indoor pieces.  (The show runs through  July 12.) Many readers will recognize Lin as the architect of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial on the National Mall.  However, that was decades ago, and she does not want to known solely by that one iconic monument.  In an interview in the Washington Post, she described her delight when a visitor asked about her newer pieces without mentioning the iconic monument.

Columbia River (pushpins)

Columbia River (pushpins)

Walking up the marble steps to the galleries, the first installation on view was “Pin River – Potomac.”  It is composed of hundreds of mundane metal-headed pins pushed into the wall, maybe 10 x 10 feet in extent.  It looks very accurate to my cartographer’s eye, with the two branches of the river starting as thin lines in the west, merging in West Virginia and widening as it nears the Chesapeake.  It is (or should be) recognizable to anyone familiar with the geography of this region (I live in Virginia), but to others it may be more abstract.  For example, the catalog/book of Lin’s landscape body of work includes a similar push pin map of the Columbia River (shown here), long and thin and not at all recognizable to me.  Outside of any other cartographic context, it becomes simply a sort of meandering, sketched line.  The shadows of all those pins adds interest.

2 x 4 Landscape

2 x 4 Landscape

The floor of the first room was almost entirely filled with over 54,000 sections of wooden 2×4 blocks at various heights, forming a hill or ocean swell (or both), named “2×4 Landscape”.  I felt as though I were looking from a great height over a vast ancient city of small earthen buildings packed together, seeing only the roofs.  The block heights vary from a few inches to perhaps 10 feet, too high to see the top surface.  They are laid in a grid, as if on top of graph paper, but small variations suggest the hand(s) of people who laid down all those blocks; the human element is implied by imperfection.  Neighboring blocks are at slightly different heights, and variations in color of the wood also are a delight to the eye.  Lin wished that the Corcoran would allow visitors to walk up the hill — wouldn’t that be fun!  However, apparently the Corcoran thought otherwise.

Atlas Landscape

Atlas Landscape

The only color in the otherwise monochromatic  exhibition was a set of atlases, displayed open, where Lin had meticulously cut out contoured sections through a dozen or so successive pages, resulting in cratered voids.  The visible parts of the pages were like sedimentary layers of rocks.  One atlas had index pages cut away, teasing the eye with black-and-white patterns from the bits of visible place name indices.

“Fractured Landscapes” were a series of very large rubbings, sepia-toned pastel on paper. A pane of  plate glass was cracked (I can imagine it being dropped and left flat on a floor), and Lin then laid paper over certain sections to make the rubbings.  The patterns are highly suggestive of river systems.  What a clever way to find complex natural lines in a simple manufactured material.

Fractured Landscape

Fractured Landscape

Similarly, “Plaster Relief Landscapes” used the medium of plaster on one white wall of a hallway.  Lin sculpted four types of landscape patterns in the plaster, smoothing the edges of each rectangular area nearly seamlessly into the wall.  There were no boundaries.  To me, they were suggestive of sand dunes, irregular hills, a canyon, and islands in a braided river.

When in a boat, do you ever wonder about what is below the water surface?  The “Bodies of Water” series uses beautiful Baltic birch plywood to show us the hidden volumes of the Caspian, Black and Red seas (see image at top).  Think of the land holding the water being used as a mold, and these sculptures are what are formed in a sort of lost-wax process.  The top layer of plywood corresponds to the surface of the sea, and each layer beneath conforms to the detailed curves of the bathysphere.  They look a bit like aircraft carriers, precariously balanced on pedestals.  The surface is a light tan, showing the grain of the wood, similar to ripples or contours; the layers below show the gorgeous dark amber variations of the plywood edges.  I wished that they had been displayed bottoms-up, accenting the unknown parts of the seas, making it easier to see the depths but  abstracting them more.

Water Line

Water Line

One of the most satisfying sculptures was “Water Line”,  completely filling a room with a wide grid of black wire, with various points touching the floor or the ceiling.  The viewer must walk underneath it.  It maps the area around Bouvet Island, a very isolated spot in the South Atlantic.  The wires are much like drawn lines, with small bumps and irregularities showing the hand of the artist.    Lin seems to be playing with  how we normally read maps, making you look up towards a surface and read a map larger than yourself — or be inside the map.

Outside of that room were smaller woven wire sculptures, “wire landscapes”, a few feet across, showing one hilly feature each.  After the majesty of “Water Line” these seemed more like sketches.

Blue Lake Pass

Blue Lake Pass

“Blue Lake Pass” fills the final room.  Lin invites the viewer to literally walk in her scaled-down Rocky Mountain landscape. The installation is split into 20 sections (laid out 4 x 5) with enough space for a person to walk between (but not wheelchairs, I noticed).  The heights ranged from 6 inches to perhaps 5 1/2 feet — a very human scale, though the viewer cannot see the entire surface from any one point.  Instead of horizontal layers of wood like “Bodies of Water”, “Blue Lake Pass” is composed of vertical layers of plywood, each layer individually contoured.  A multitude of lines become three-dimensional.  It brought to my mind a lush surface of brushed corduroy, so tempting to touch.  I wanted to be able to vary the lighting, shine a flashlight across the hills,  play with the shadows; walking amongst the sections changes the shadows somewhat as various surfaces of the plywood are revealed or hidden. Like a feminine personification of an Earth goddess, it is all naked, lush curves.

I am envious of being able to work so big.

For many of these installations, Lin collaborated closely with scientists; truly they are art and science combined.  She has found beauty in geography, and shows us the complexity of the landscape in simple monochromatic lines, depicts our fragile world in strong materials.

Doubtless, many assistants were needed to install the largest pieces, if not use the tools to make them.  However, this exhibition shows one artist’s consistent vision.  The Corcoran’s website has a short video, showing two of the pieces being installed and indicating the vast room-filling scale.

Visit Maya Lin’s website to see more of her indoor and even larger outdoor installations.

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