Wednesday, July 05, 2006

White on White (and a little rambling)

Holidays are the best time to be a New Yorker. Like Christmas, for example: if you head to midtown on Christmas Day you'll have the city to yourself, which is such an amazing luxury after the pre-Christmas shopping ordeal that midtown becomes during November and December. On Christmas Day there are no cars, no crowds, just you and a lot of quiet. You might not get the tree at Rockefeller Center all to yourself, but you'll be one of very few viewers on Christmas morning.

Summer is relatively quiet as well because everyone goes to the beach (the Hamptons or the New Jersey shore) or leaves on holiday. But New York is so hot and humid during the summer that it's not much fun. Which is why everyone leaves, of course.

Unfortunately, we were here over the sticky-hot Independence Day weekend, so we decided to make the most of it and headed to 53rd Street for an orgy of museum-going. At least the museums would be cool and not very crowded. We stopped at the American Folk Art Museum (the White on White (And A Little Gray) exhibit), the Museum of Arts and Crafts (Eames Lounge Chair), and the MoMA (Against the Grain).

Lisa was right; the White on White show is lovely. It's also much smaller than I expected. There are nine coverlets in the show, each more than 100 years old. Yet they all seem surprisingly contemporary, and it was a pleasure to step right up close to them to examine the handworked details. One trapunto coverlet was covered in the smallest quilting stitch I've ever seen. The candlewicking on another reminded me of the current trend for sashiko. And as the review in the New York Times suggests, the textures and mood of white needlework on white cotton evokes a spare, modernist feel that reminded me of the work of Agnes Martin, one of my favorite artists.

To me, one of the greatest pleasures of the show was to return home and re-read this paragraph in the review from the Times:

"This show traces the influence of neo-Classicism through the nonprofessional ranks of homemakers, embroiderers and amateur artists. Everything in it was made by women, whose place in art history is steadily increasing. This exhibition contributes to that expansion and suggests a possible answer to the question asked by the title of Linda Nochlin's famous 1971 essay, "Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?" To wit: there have been; they just didn't work with paintbrushes or hammers and chisels."

You go, crafters! Keep those needles busy.


  1. oh how lucky that you are so close to that museum... one of my favs!

    that show - small, but big punch! and YES!! agnes... sigh.... you have read "writings", yes?? double sigh....

    and the nyt paragraph. excellent... indeed!!

  2. speaking of the Jersey shore, Liesl, do you guys want to come visit come the end of July?...

  3. I've been meaning to see that show at the Folk Art Museum-- thanks for the reminder. Some of the most amazing whitework I have ever seen is on display at the Shelburne Museum in Vermont-- have you ever been? They have a beautiful and huge collection of quilts. Even my husband was impressed!

  4. The only thing I miss about living in a big city - museums. Ok, shopping a little. But we had a 4th parade on our street with bikes and dogs and kids decorated with red,white,and blue. It was really fun. P.S. I used to love to macrame.

  5. I'm not doing a NY summer visit this year, but I wish I could see that exhibition. Sounds wonderful.

  6. I've long been an admirer of white on white. Thanks for the virtual tour through the museum.
    Never heard of Nochlin's essay, but reading the title, I thought, "What about Mary Cassatt, Freda, Camille Claudel...??"
    And a google search brought up this page:
    Many did indeed use paint and brushes, but as an affirmation of the NYT reviewer, check out the Medieval Period and the Bayeux Tapestry.

  7. amen sista! I love NYC in the summer (aside from the sewer facials) just because youve got the whole city to yourself -- especially on the hot days.