New York Fiber in the 21st Century

The very same yarn, thread and fabric that we wear and use everyday is now on display at the Lehman College Art Gallery. For centuries, the art of weaving, spinning, knitting and crocheting enabled the creation of such great works as the Unicorn tapestries of Medieval Europe and ornately detailed Persian rugs. During the 1960s, with the return and interest in the Folk Arts, there was a renaissance of fiber arts as artists experimented with new fabrics, dyes and colors.  This trend still continues today, as exemplified in the gallery’s new exhibit, New York Fiber in the 21st Century, in which local artists contributed their recent works to showcase the growth of fiber art.

Upon entering the gallery, a set of works by the artist Nancy Koenigsberg greet the viewer on left wall.  Titled Light and Tempest, these square pieces are made up of coated copper wire, and were created in 2010. These works, as viewed side-by-side, create an interesting visual contrast. The bright, shiny copper of Light differs greatly from the shiny black coating on the copper wire of Tempest. Their fibers are tangled in an intricate web, and beginning from the top of the works, seem to unravel naturally. The gallery’s light reflects off of the metallic hues of the wire to create ripples of light that move across the surface as the viewer walks back and forth.

Some of the other fiber artworks on display feature iconography or recognizable images. An eye-catching piece on the back wall of the gallery titled Hello (2010), by the artist Al Kijima, is a compilation of bed sheets, pillowcases, blankets and aprons. The artist managed to sew together fabric images of the cartoon strip Family Circus, and the cartoon character “Strawberry Shortcake” with flowers, animals, Native American images and even a Jonas brother to create a quilt that is truly one-of-a-kind. This work is an example of how fiber arts allow the artist the flexibility to create a collage from a variety of objects without the texture overwhelming the visual effect of the blended figures.

Another interesting artwork featured in the exhibition is the Island of Langerhans (2011) created by Lina Puerta. Upon first glance, the piece appears to be an open briefcase and inside is a panel covered in fabric and rhinestones. Within the bottom of the briefcase is a glazed clay fountain that bubbles up with water, surrounded by artificial plants and model trees. The work, which depicts the serene quality of nature trapped inside a briefcase, creates an interesting visual dichotomy that prompts the viewer to consider what we should be carrying around all day.

New York Fiber in the 21st Century gives viewers an opportunity to examine an artistic medium that is underappreciated and underrepresented in museums, but is significant nonetheless. Fiber is able to mix function with form in ways that compel the viewer to examine the role of fiber in their own lives, from the blankets they sleep under to the copper wire that carries their electricity and the bags they tote their books in. Fiber is an essential tool that is a part of everyday life, and should be considered an important artistic medium. 

The exhibit is on display until May 2nd; the gallery is open Tuesday through Saturday 10am until 4pm.  For more information: http://www.lehman.edu/vpadvance/artgallery/gallery/

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