27 December 2007

There are no words...

Mary and I had an interesting day today. We went downtown Detroit and hit a few spots we've been wanting to visit.

First on the roster was City Knits in the Fisher building. VERY nice knit shop, oodles of yarn - all drool-worthy. I bought another mammoth sized skein in an off white color that I plan to combine with some other smaller skeins of chunky colored yarn I have. I am a scarf junky.

After we got all hopped up on fiber, we decided to visit one of the stores right next to City Knits, the Detroit Gallery of Contemporary Crafts. They were not quite open yet so Mary and I were peering through the glass at all the artwork in it. I was particularly impressed because front and center was a quilted wallhanging, about four feet wide by six feet high.

They opened, we scooted in and began to oogle everything. I was thinking pleasant lovely thoughts about the quality of the work, about the variety of art, about the stunning presentation...and then I looked up.

You see, I'm a short one. I tend to not notice details higher then 62" off the floor right away. So as I stood examining the quilted wallhanging at the front of the store (aren't fiber artists a pain in the ass? We zero in on anything made from fiber and immediately begin to visually pick it apart to see how it was made. You'll often see me looking at a piece of work with my hands either clasped behind my back or in my pockets as the desire to touch and really examine is overwhelming.) This quilt was priced at $825. It was a simple strip piecing, all commercial printed fabric. It was extremely well constructed and the colors did flow very well and my interest in it was heightened by its price simply because I realized that I severely undervalue my work. But that's a topic for another post.

My eye followed the strips in the quilt to the top and that's where I saw this:

Yes, my friends, they had a piece of fiber art that was priced at nearly one thousand dollars hanging on the wall from a freakin' binder clip.

I eyeballed that stupid little piece of metal with a vengeance reserved for only the greatest of sinners. And then I realized the blunt truth: this was the work of the gallery owner/workers.

Too bad for the lady working that that thought clicked into place just as she approached me to rant about how beautiful this quilt was.

Her: Isn't this beautiful?

Me: Why yes it is. Does it have a sleeve on the back of it to hang it from?

Her: {reaching over to grab the quilt and yank it away from the wall to look and see} Yes, it does.

Me: {contemplating a polite way to say this and coming up with none} So why do you have it hanging from a dumb paper clip?

Her: {silence}

Me: {staring at her waiting} It would seem to me that you would take more care with something that was priced so high.

Her: {thinking for an excuse that would shut me up} We don't have one.

Me: {smiling sweetly} You can get one for around $20. Actually, cheaper then that if you make one yourself from a wood slat and eye screws. That's what I do for all my fiber art. Somehow I'm doubting that if this were a painting, it would be hung so carelessly.

It got eerily quiet after that. She became busy and fled from me like her hair was on fire.

So, although I was disturbed by the blatant disrespect given to the quilt, I ventured deeper into the gallery. There were two more fiber pieces, both priced in the $400-$500 range, hanging toward the back suffering the same indignity. What's worse for those is that they were woven pieces, each with about five clips along the top. And in each place where they were being gripped by these pieces of metal, they were becoming distorted.

I turned to see the employee watching me and all I did was point at the clips.

Me: Why?

Her: {no response}

We left shortly after that. We went on to have a lovely day. We went to Pewabic Pottery where I got this:

and went to the conservatory on Belle Isle.

But now that I'm home, I keep thinking about those fiber pieces in that gallery. And more about the completely apathetic look on the employee's face when I told her I was concerned about the damage being done to the pieces by the way they were hanging them.

To be totally honest, because those fiber pieces were hung with paper clips, it made them look cheap. It made them look like something that belonged at a garage sale. It took away from their visual appeal, and because they were being damaged, it was even less likely that would be sold at all.

I don't understand why fiber art is viewed as something less worthy then paintings or drawings or pottery. I'm not saying fiber art is better, just that its not lesser value. Sometimes I wonder if its because fiber is a common thing. We wear it, we walk on it, we sleep on it, we encounter it at pretty much every turn in our life.

Is it this commonality that makes it into something that can't be viewed as art? It seems that fiber art bears a stigmatism that no other media does. I'm not really sure how this can be changed. There is such a tremendous movement from the art quilt community, so many shows, so much talent, so much passion.

How can this not be art? Fiber art has qualities that can't be matched. Its unique, its unassuming, its commonality is what draws me to it. To take something that we live with day in and day out and force it into a new light is a satisfying challenge.

I'm still bothered by this "gallery." I'm tempted to buy this book and mail it to them with a note that they don't know what they are doing by insulting fiber artists in this manner. I do know that if it was my work hanging there and I saw it displayed that way, I'd rather set it on fire then let them show it like that. It appears that for all the advancements we've made with art quilting, we still have a long road ahead of us.

1 comment:

Annie said...

I LOVED this post - loved your gutsy reaction, and honestly, I would have done the same thing. That is NO class at all! I would also contact the fiberartist who made the pieces if you got her/his name and let the person know that this display method is really tacky looking and a surefire way to lose any sales. Also, you might suggest to the fiberartist to be more proactive next time and bring her/hiw own slats and INSIST that the gallery use them.

If the gallery is so uninformed about fiberarts pieces, perhaps there are other really bad things they are doing too (like perhaps leaving a piece in the sun too long so that it fades). Boy, this needs to go up on the QA list with the name of the gallery and location and also on SAQA's yahoo group as well, and any other fiberarts groups you belong to.

Good for you! Thank you for speaking up against the abuse of fiberarts. Peace and many blessings, Annie