Fiberart International

Fiberart International 2004
Pittsburgh Center for the Arts and Society for Contemporary Craft
April 3 – August 15, 2004
Museum of Arts and Design, New York City
September 8, 2004 – January 2, 2005

“Fiberart” is a contentious label for textile artists working in the United States. For some it is feared association with the term will trigger a career-threatening allergic reaction. Symptoms are similar to allergies triggered by the term craft: fear of exclusion from Fine Art galleries, endless conversations to justify prices which are often a mere fraction of that commanded by sculpture and painting and the “but I could do that” syndrome. Unfortunately, the selection of work presented by this exhibition offers examples of why both proponents and opponents of the term are vehement in their opinion. Conceptually engaging work, rigorous in its construction, is certainly on offer. But sadly so too are redundant themes and work of questionable craftsmanship, just what critics claim the term connotes.

Presented by the Fiberarts Guild of Pittsburgh, the Eighteenth Biennial Exhibition was juried by David Revere McFadden the Chief Curator at MAD in New York City, Sarah Quinton, Contemporary Curator at the Textile Museum of Canada in Toronto and Barbara Lee Smith, currently Visiting Professor at Joshibi College of Art and Design, Tokyo. While termed international, participants from outside the United States made up only a quarter of the exhibiting artists. The catalogue essay, penned by the three jurors, explains, “If the work was redolent of self-involvement and skill-based process at the expense of universality, we agreed that it was not best served by this venue. Rather, we favored objects that looked intense and risky.” This comment explains, in part, the unevenness found in the material and conceptual quality of the work. For in my experience it is precisely the type of work that is intense and risky that often denies universality in exchange for specificity. Absent from the essay was a clear definition of Fiber Art today – where it has come from and where it seems to be going.

The exhibition did include notable works that contributed much to an expanded and more dynamic definition of Fiber Art. Christine Lee’s recycled fire hose in steel frames and Randy Walker’s “Radial Saw Piece” offered a harder and more industrial edge than we usually confront through textiles. While these references the mechanical offered respite from the domestic, Ku Jahong’s “Space” reworked domestic connotations with an installation of objects reminiscent of pincushions in a magical landscape. Heidrun Schimmel and Dirkje Van Der Horst-Beetsma presented beautiful stitched works with Agnes Martin-like delicacy of line. Regrettably, the absence of a constructive introduction to the catalogue essay coupled with the uneven quality of work on display missed what was an excellent opportunity to educate the public to the breadth, quality, and diversity of Fiber Art today.

Embroidery Magazine (Jan./Feb. 2005: 47)