Lace – not Lace: a Spectacular Exhibition of Modern Fiber Art Using Traditional Lace Making Techniq
As an experienced lace maker and collector, I was prepared to find the current show, Lace – not Lace, at the Hunterdon Art Museum in Clinton, NJ, interesting and entertaining, but assumed that it would be no more than that. Instead I was blown away by the diversity and high level of artistic expression shown by the 41 works by the 28 artists in this exhibition, and entranced by the creativity made tangible simply by using techniques of bobbin lace, crochet, and needle lace. Pictures cannot fully capture the vibrancy of the pieces.
Kudos to guest curator Devon Thein for her initiative, persistence, and judgment; to Hunterdon Executive Director Marjorie Frankel Nathanson for her vision and support; and to the installation staff of the Hunterdon Art Museum for an extremely effective presentation of the pieces. This is the first show of its kind in North America, and with it the United States begins to catch up with Europe in the sophistication of its public’s appreciation of the fiber arts.
Most of the advance publicity featured the “Urchins” designed by Jin Choi and Thomas Shine (left), large crocheted-rope structures looking like beautiful, glowing sea urchins suspended in mid-air. They were lovely and impressive (they were on display only until Oct 10, whereas the rest of the exhibition doesn’t close until 6 January 2019), but they were also a little tired looking—dingy and slightly disheveled from traveling. They actually weren’t quite as impressive in person as in some of the beautiful photographs I had seen previously.
Instead, the overwhelmingly beautiful highlight of the show is “The Carriage of Lost Love” by Lieve Jerger. She has made a life-sized carriage of lace made of copper wire of various thicknesses, a fantastic structure of intricacy and surprising delicacy. At the Hunterdon, the installation technicians were geniuses and lighted the “Carriage” from inside as well as out, and displayed it by itself in a small room; as shown in the photograph to the right, the result surrounds the viewer with shadows on all the walls and the ceiling from the various panels in the carriage, displaying the patterns of the grounds and designs that Lieve has created.
Many of the pieces – perhaps more than half – reveal a very organic design and sensibility, sometimes quite overtly so as in E. J. Parke’s needle lace anatomy of a human arm “Anterior Aspect” (pictured below), showing muscles on one side and the interior bones on the other. Other works include a panel based on microscopic images of cells and small organisms (“Are We Made of Lace?” by Lenka Suchanek, third below), while some pieces show the grace and intricacy of an organism without being quite identifiable (e.g., “Danae” by Daniela Banatova, fourth below). All the biologically inspired pieces demonstrate how fundamental lace is – an interplay between something tangible and space, in patterns of more or less regularity.
About a quarter of the works incorporate the human form or part of it, through differing densities of lace providing a tonal palate to define shapes, shadows, and contours. Pierre Fouché’s portraits in bobbin lace have been widely exhibited elsewhere in the world; here they are represented by “The Judgment of Paris (after Wtewael) II”, a somber example (below). Somehow Ágnes Herczeg’s “II/34” (second below) is also somber, evoking a sense of pushing against confinement, as if the needle lace figure is trapped in a miasma of bobbin lace.
Another theme was architecture – there are a surprising number of renditions of buildings, but again there is something structural that is fundamental to lace: it is as much space as it is fiber, and yet a piece of lace has to hang together and maintain its structure in order to preserve the definition of those spaces.
A final note was struck explicitly by only one piece in the show, although its principles undergird all of bobbin lace: only two basic movements constitute bobbin lace, twist (right bobbin over left), and cross (left bobbin over right). This means that a piece of bobbin lace, especially a well-defined pattern such as a ground, can be specified mathematically. Veronika Irvine wrote a dissertation for a Ph.D. in Mathematics applying concepts from computational theory to expand the design space of bobbin lace grounds. She is represented in this show by an elegant three-dimensional form created from a strip with a computer-generated lace pattern, “Delle Caustiche” (below).
Many more works in this show are worth time and appreciation, if space permitted. I think the lace making community should be encouraged and validated by the success of the show, and the interest shown by non-lace makers. There was an impressive presence of lace makers at the opening on 23 September, some coming from as far away as eastern Ohio, but more impressive were the overall attendance statistics: a small museum that normally has 200 to 250 people attending a successful show’s opening saw somewhere around 500 people at the opening of Lace – not Lace.
If you can get to Clinton NJ, go to this show! It is worth a good deal of effort to see. However, if distance precludes that, the exhibition catalog is extremely well done. Good photos and evocative artists’ statements make this an effective adjunct to the show. Author and editor Devon Thein and production editor Kathleen Collins are to be congratulated on an excellent product $30 USD from Amazon* here
You can read more about the exhibition on the Hunterdon Museum's website here: https://hunterdonartmuseum.org/portfolio-items/lace-not-lace-contemporary-fiber-art-from-lacemaking-techniques/
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