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Jae Yong Kim: Donut Craze

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Snailing on the Hill. Courtesy of artist’s website.

Jae Yong Kim has made a name for himself with his humorous, pop-art inspired ceramic creations. This December, the Art Alliance is pleased to present Kim’s installation, Donut Craze. Consisting of dozens of individually crafted ceramic donuts, Donut Craze explores issues of consumption, globalism, mass production, and pleasure through the lens of the humble glazed donut.

Currently based in New York City, Kim grew up in Seoul, South Korea, and has travelled extensively. Much of his earlier work revolved around the notion of home as, in his words, “a verb rather than a noun.” Before creating his donuts, Kim used cartoon-like snails to express his ideas about home and belonging. These slow-moving creatures literally carry their homes on their backs, so home is wherever they happen to be. Similarly, Kim has spoken of his own sense of home as a sense of constant movement and, most importantly, creative work. To make is to be at home, wherever in the world the artist finds himself.

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Donut worry be happy. 2013-2015. Ceramic, under glaze, luster glaze, Swarovski crystals, mixe media. Courtesy of Artsy.

Closely associated with American popular culture that has spread its franchises across the globe, the donut speaks to the rootless globalized world of production and consumption. Rather than offering us an overt critique of this reality, Kim’s work conveys an almost child-like joy and pleasure. His glazed donuts look good enough to eat, and viewers can’t help but smile at their bright colours and sometimes humorous shapes. Kim has said that he targets his work at young people, aiming “to make them happy.” Kim’s artistic process is also guided by the principle of pleasure: he works with each individual donut until he is happy with it, a process which takes three or four firings in the kiln over the course of many days. We might even think of the kiln as being like a baker’s oven, and indeed Kim has organized his studio to look like a bakery, with trays full of glazed donuts.

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Donut Madness, detail. 2013. Ceramic, luster glaze, glaze, Swarovski crystals. Courtesy of Ferrin Contemporary.

Despite their mass-produced appearance, each of Kim’s donuts is individually crafted in his workshop. The layers of glaze are meticulously applied, sometimes playfully alluding to the work of artists like Jackson Pollock, Claes Oldenburg, and Yayoi Kusama. Some of the donuts are shaped like Mickey Mouse heads, tempting the viewer to bite off an ear. Our consumer culture is made literal here, but it is also frustrated, because we can’t actually eat Kim’s ceramic donuts. After our initial delight at these whimsical donuts, we start to ask questions about production and consumption in a globalized world. Can we really just take uncomplicated pleasure in these donuts, or should we instead be asking, who is consuming whom?

Donut Craze will be on view from December 10, 2015 to January 3, 2016. The Art Alliance is open Tuesday through Sunday, 12 to 7 pm. Closed on Mondays.

Text by Flora Ward, Intern.

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Dona Dalton: Serious Fun

Philadelphia-based artist Dona Dalton makes serious toys. Her hand-crafted wooden objects blur the line between toys and sculpture, and ask us to take play seriously. These hand-painted pieces have the charm of old-fashioned wooden toys, whimsical animals on wheels, with articulable limbs. Dalton works with pine and poplar wood, using a bandsaw, a sander, a rotary carver, and a drill. The child-like naiveté of her work is combined with close observation and careful depiction of animals, as well as unusual imagery drawn from Egyptian mythology. Dalton has written that her goal is “to capture the gesture, personality, and something of the spirit” of the creatures she carves, transforming them into animate “companions” for your home or office space. Come by the Art Alliance’s pop-up shop, Geppetto, and find your own carved wooden companion!

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Kingfishers: Cerebus Dwarf, American Pygmy, Ruddy, Malachite. From the artist’s website.

 

 

Many of Dalton’s pieces are inspired by the close observation of animal behavior, including her series of birds. Each bird seems full of life and personality, conveyed by subtle details of body language. Brilliantly colored kingfishers perched on painted wheels seem to converse, their long beaks extended eagerly to chat with their fellows. The subtle carving of their bodies suggests feathers, catching the light and appearing to flutter. Plump Carolina wrens huddle together conspiratorially, their ruddy coloring contrasting to the brilliantly colored wheels. Their unlikely wheels ground Dalton’s birds, transforming them into humorous hybrids similar to those found in the pages of medieval manuscripts.

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Carolina Wrens. From the artist’s website.

Some of Dalton’s work is inspired by her study of Egyptian mythology. Dalton depicts gods and goddesses from the Egyptian pantheon, such as Horus, Seth, and Anubis, in the flattened, two-dimensional manner characteristic of Egyptian art, but they all sport unlikely wheels. In addition to single pieces, Dalton also makes ensembles, rather like dollhouses. In her piece, Things To Do, that most Egyptian of buildings, the pyramid, is transformed into a funerary dollhouse, complete with everything needed for the afterlife, including food, furniture, servants and, of course, the mummy itself.

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Things to Do Pyramid. From the artist’s website.

 

The Art Alliance is pleased to present Dona Dalton’s work as part of its holiday pop-up market, Geppetto. Geppetto will be open Tuesday through Sunday, 12 to 7 pm from December 10, 2015, to January 3, 2016. Please note that the Art Alliance is closed on Mondays.


Asimina Chremos: Not Your Grandmother’s Doilies

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Boise Doily. 100% cotton (commercially dyed), blocked and starched. 2014. Courtesy of artist’s website.

HomeWork, guest curated by Alex Stadler, explores the themes of femininity, domesticity, and textile-based craft through the idiosyncratic work of two contemporary Philadelphia-based artists, Erin Endicott and Asimina Chremos. Chremos is an unconventional combination of dancer and crochet artist. She uses both these art forms to experiment with improvisation and free-flowing movement, be it of bodies or of thread. Chremos uses a traditional craft in non-traditional ways, eschewing patterns and predictability to create doilies unlike any you have ever seen.

Chremos learned to crochet from her two grandmothers, one Greek and the other American. Her use of this traditional technique evokes the generations of women whose textile crafts have long been excluded from the rarefied world of Art. Originally a private dwelling and now a public institution dedicated to the display of contemporary craft and design, the Art Alliance is both a domestic interior and an exhibition space, making it a particularly evocative venue for Chremos’ work.

Chremos plays with asymmetry and color, the forms of her work arising from the process of making rather than from a predetermined pattern. Her crocheted doilies call to mind the slowly shifting forms of clouds or the changing colors of the evening sky. These organic forms are the result of the improvisational nature of Chremos’ creative process. They are material traces of the movement of Chremos’ hands, as well as impermanent traces of the movements of the artist’s mind.

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Images, from top: Prismatic, crochet doily photographed by AC; Asimina Chremos in solo performace at the Museum of Contemparary Art, Chicago, photographed by Ruth Lopez.

This sense of transience and flowing movement that we find in Chremos’ crochet work is also evident in her work as a dancer, which is likewise grounded in a spirit of improvisation. Chremos has collaborated with musicians who improvise as she dances, creating a synthesis of music and movement that is transient, impermanent and ever-shifting. A spirit of play–what she has referred to as the mischievous “imp” in impermanence–infuses her work, seeking to inspire those most fleeting of feelings, joy and delight. Color, movement, and craft all come together in the work of Asimina Chremos, her doilies creating a joyful dance of thread that is sure to delight viewers.

HomeWork will be on view at the Art Alliance from December 10, 2015, until January 3, 2016. Gallery hours are 12PM – 7PM Tuesday through Sunday, closed to the public on Mondays.

Text by Flora Ward, Intern.


Erin Endicott: Healing through Stitches

Contemporary textile artist Erin Endicott considers her works a type of drawing, one through which she can best express herself. Walnut ink stains vintage fabric as red, white and brown threads are woven into the cloth. She engages with her works on a psychological level as well. For Endicott, the process-oriented medium she works in is indeed a healing process.

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J.L.L. 1885-1920. Drawing, hand stitching, walnut ink on antique fabric. Courtesy of Artist’s website.

Through her works, Endicott heals her wounds by bringing them to light in visceral forms. She uses vintage fabric passed down by women in her family. Symbolically, her personal history is woven in the fabric that serves as the basis for the following work she performs. She stains the fabric with walnut ink. The ink’s natural flow shapes and tones the “wounds” that the stains represent. Working with this method, Endicott relinquishes control over the outcome of this staining process and trusts the ink’s organic flow completely. She then stitches over the stained fabric, often in red, white and brown threads. Healing comes through this meditative stitching process for the artist, stitch after stitch, hour after hour.

Besides the healing magic in the creation process, Endicott’s works are packed with symbolism of the marks she leaves on the fabric. Growing up in the scenic city Port Republic, New Jersey, the artist often draws her inspiration from the nature. Patterns of veins and roots, as well as shapes of cells and seeds are common themes throughout her works. The various clothing pieces she chooses to work on also serve as a metaphor for one’s skin, conveying a strong sense of intimacy.

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Healing Sutra #11 (Detail). Hand embroidery on antique baby bib stained with walnut ink, beads. Courtesy of Artist’s website

 

Born in a family of textile artists, Endicott developed her penchant for this medium quite naturally. She studied textile design in Scotland and received her BFA in textile design at Moore College of Art and Design in Philadelphia. A long-time art teacher, Endicott recently decided to pursue her art career full-time. Her works have been exhibited at museums, galleries and other art organizations worldwide.

From December 10 to January 3, Endicott’s newest works will be exhibited at the Philadelphia Art Alliance along with Asimina Chremos’ crochet works in the HomeWork exhibition, guest curated by Alex Stadler. Weaving improvisation into their creation process, these two artists deviate from fiber art’s historical association with domesticity and femininity as suggested by the exhibition title.

 

Text by Qianni Zhu, Intern


Sleepers in the Borderlands

The fruit of an unusual collaboration between visual artist Marta Sánchez and poet Norma Cantú, Transcendental Train Yard is a series of serigraph prints that create a verbal and visual landscape of dreams and memories. Their work occupies borderlands both literal and figurative, between the nations and languages, between the past and the present, between sleeping and waking experience. Sánchez was born in San Antonio, Texas, and is now based in Philadelphia, while Cantú, now based in Kansas City, Missouri, was born in Mexico and raised just across the border in Laredo, Texas. In the process of their long-distance collaboration, these two artists discovered the many resonances in their shared background that come through in the dream-like words and images of these prints.

Marta Sánchez, Loneliness/Soledad, 2004

Marta Sánchez, Loneliness/Soledad, 2004

Sánchez has long been fascinated by the train yards near her childhood home in Texas, which were so integral to the local landscape and to her own family history. It was the trains that brought her grandfather, a lion tamer from a circus in Mexico City, to San Antonio, where he met Sánchez’s grandmother. Cantú’s grandfather worked for the railway in San Antonio before the family moved to Mexico. These two artists have moved on parallel tracks, their lives and the lives of their family members crossing borders back and forth to forge a mestizo identity, a rich mixture of cultures and languages.

Eight of the ten prints published in the book Transcendental Train Yard are on view on the third floor in the Shanis Programming Space at the Art Alliance from October 25 until November 4. The suite begins with Soledad/Loneliness, which depicts the distinctive landscape of the train yard as seen through a shifting veil of memory and loss, and framed by the body of a woman whose grieving face hovers above the scene like a sorrowful moon as she embraces the figure of an elderly man. Sánchez’s print responds to the loss of her father, and Cantú’s poem was completed soon after her own father’s passing. The print evokes a shared grief that plays out across the landscape of the train yard, uniting the two women’s experiences and emotions across the distance that separates them.

Marta Sánchez, Prelude/Preludio, 2003

Marta Sánchez, Prelude/Preludio, 2003

In the pages of the book, these themes are laid out for the viewer in the first print, entitled Prelude/Preludio. A recumbent figure stretches across the composition, with train cars visible in the background as if through a window. It is not clear if he is dead or merely sleeping. The poem speaks of the “fiery gold crown sunset” and the moonlit arrival of trains, but also evokes a struggle between life and death. As Constance Cortez points out, Sánchez’s print recalls Frida Kahlo’s 1937 work, The Deceased Little Dimas, an uncanny painting depicting the body of a deceased child, dressed in a long robe and crown, surrounded by flowers. Rather than looking directly down on the figure with a detached, almost scientific perspective, as we do in Kahlo’s painting, Sánchez shifts the position of the body so that the viewer feels as though she is alongside the boy. Prayer cards with what appears to be the abstracted form of the Virgin Mary surround his bed, watching over him. Strong horizontal lines run along the length of his body, converging on the figure’s head, like the rail tracks of a dream landscape. In this borderland between sleep and wakefulness, between life and death, the train tracks and the rail yard evoke distant places and domestic intimacy, the journey and the arrival. The work of Sánchez and Cantú transforms the heroic landscape of the West, criss-crossed by train tracks and populated by men and machines that are constantly on the move, into a vast and mysterious interior landscape of shared memory and experience.

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A limited number of signed copies of the book, Transcendental Train Yard: A Collaborative Suite of Serigraphs, art by Marta Sánchez and poetry by Norma E. Cantú (San Antonio: Wings Press, 2015) are available for purchase at the Art Alliance.

Text by Flora Ward, Intern


Judith Schaechter + Warren Seelig: Shadow and Light

Material Legacy offers a diverse range of artistic voices across a range of media, from the hushed whispers of Adela Akers and Lewis Knauss’ textiles, to the vividly dramatic stained glass of Judith Schaechter and the absorbing abstractions of Warren Seelig’s textile-inspired sculpture. While at first glance the work of Schaechter and Seelig might seem radically different, the contrast between the pieces on view at the Art Alliance creates a productive visual dialogue that challenges and engages us. Both artists push the limits of technique and medium to immerse viewers in their own highly original worlds of shadow and light.

Warren Seelig, Shadowfield/Slate (2015)

Warren Seelig, Shadowfield/Slate (2015)

Judith Schaechter, The Battle of Carnival and Lent (2011)

Judith Schaechter, The Battle of Carnival and Lent (2011)

Hung at the viewer’s eye level, Seelig’s Shadowfield/Slate (2015) seems to stare darkly across the second floor of the Art Alliance at Schaechter’s monumental stained-glass window, The Battle of Carnival and Lent (2011). The colorful, action-packed window draws us in, our attention held by the complex detail of the composition. The title is a direct reference to Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s famous 1559 canvas, The Battle of Carnival and Lent. Bruegel’s painting is a humorous take on the difficult transition from the free-for-all of Carnival to the abstinence of Lent, a time when Christians are supposed to refrain from the pleasures of the flesh in memory of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. The carnivalesque costumes of the figures in Schaechter’s work evoke Bruegel’s battling peasants, but close examination reveals multiple layers of visual reference. 

Judith Schaechter, The Battle of Carnival and Lent (detail)

Judith Schaechter, The Battle of Carnival and Lent (detail)

Bodies litter the foreground, small black and white skeletons arising from them like the souls of the dead, while flames loom ominously in the distant background. We are confronted not only with an allegorical battle between excess and restraint, but also the cosmic drama of the Last Judgment, when the souls of the dead are judged at the end of time. The outcome is far from clear: two large figures in the foreground are locked in a battle of tug-of-war, while in the background, two child-like figures mimic their struggles on a smaller scale. This moral ambivalence is appropriate given the original context of this work, which was made for display over the entrance to Philadelphia’s Eastern State Penitentiary, which served as a jail from 1829 until 1971.

Judith Schaechter, The Battle of Carnival and Lent (detail)

Judith Schaechter, The Battle of Carnival and Lent (detail)

Judith Schaechter, Prometheus (2011)

Judith Schaechter, Prometheus (2011)

Judith Schaechter, Noah (2011)

Judith Schaechter, Noah (2011)

Judith Schaechter, Mary Magdalene (2011)

Judith Schaechter, Mary Magdalene (2011)

A handful of other pieces in Material Legacy were also part of the installation at Eastern State Penitentiary, including Prometheus, Noah and Mary Magdalene. The strict vertical confines of these compositions were fitted into the narrow windows in the prisoners’ cells, their Biblical and mythological figures appropriate for the larger themes of sin, punishment and redemption. Unique among Schaechter’s artistic production, the stained glass panels from Eastern State Penitentiary were created to be viewed in an architectural setting, with natural light. This is the first time that these pieces have been shown publically since 2010-11, when they were in situ at the prison. Even then, it was difficult to see the intricate details of the composition of The Battle of Carnival and Lent. Now hung at the viewer’s eye level, visitors have a unique opportunity to engage directly with Schaechter’s work and enter the complex, colorful and morally ambiguous world of her stained glass compositions.

Looking across the gallery, the carefully poised, solidly opaque materials of Seelig’s Shadowfield/Slate contrast to the bright, transparent colors and frenetic action of the stained glass. Nevertheless, Seelig’s visual world is every bit as individual and absorbing as Schaechter’s. Seelig’s work occupies a unique place in between multiple media and techniques. The great-grandson of a textile machinery designer, Seelig has been pushing the limits of fiber and textile art throughout his career. While his use of three-dimensional space has a clear sculptural quality, the geometric armature of his shadowfields resembles the warp and weft structure of woven textiles. His series of shadowfields opens up the flat surface of the textile, transforming it into a dynamic matrix in which light and shadow dissolve the distinction between object and ground.

Warren Seelig, Shadowfield/Slate (detail)

Warren Seelig, Shadowfield/Slate (detail)

Warren Seelig, Shadowfield/Colored Light (detail)

Warren Seelig, Shadowfield/Colored Light (detail)

Light is as important in Seelig’s work as it is for Schaechter, creating shadows that produce an elusive three-dimensionality that dissolves against the flat surface of the wall. Shadowfield: Slate traps natural materials found by the artist on his seaside walks within a carefully structured web, the individual pieces casting a dense thicket of shadows against the wall. In vivid counterpoint to the opaque gray slate and its dark shadows are the colorful lucite sun-catchers of Shadowfield/Colored Light (2007). Here, the transparency of the medium underscores the important role played by light to create an expanded field of color, a kind of three-dimensional stained glass.

The juxtaposition of Warren Seelig and Judith Schaechter’s pieces in Material Legacy sheds new light on the work of each artist, encouraging us to reflect on their complex visual worlds.

Text by Flora Ward, Intern    


Adela Akers + Lewis Knauss: Veils and Screens

Material Legacy showcases a diverse range of media, including fiber, glass, and clay, from artists who are well established and highly esteemed in the Philadelphia area. In this post, we consider the relationship between two of these artists, Adela Akers and Lewis Knauss, by focusing on a handful of works currently on view at the Art Alliance. Adela Akers’ The Grid (2008) and Gold Inside (2008) resonate with four pieces from Lewis Knauss’ series, Sitting with Deborah, including Bayview (2012), Calm (2012), Glisten Clear (2013), and Still Fog (2014). These works ask us to slow down, look closely, and listen attentively. The horsehair in Akers’ weavings whispers to viewers, while the dense thickets of knotted fiber in Knauss’ work absorb sound, drawing the viewer into an interior landscape. The mysteries of memory and vision, the transience of place and time–these are some of the themes explored in the work of these two artists.

Adela Akers, The Grid (2008)

Adela Akers, The Grid (2008)

Adela Akers, Gold Inside (2008)

Adela Akers, Gold Inside (2008)

I focus on a series of pieces by Akers and Knauss that take the familiar if abstracted geometrical form of the window, drawing a veil or a screen over it with horsehair and bamboo. Akers’ 2008 works, The Grid and Gold Inside, share a similar palette of warm reds, standing out among the other pieces on the gallery walls. Looking more closely, we see that these two weavings are reversed mirror images of one another. The Grid uses a rhythmic pattern of gold foil wrappers to create a frame around an empty central square, while Gold Inside places these metallic foil fragments within the central square. The distinction between interior and exterior space, between subject and frame, is blurred, and the viewer is not sure if she is inside looking out, or outside looking in. In a 2008 oral history interview with the Archives of American Art at the Smithsonian, Akers spoke about this quality of mystery, saying “there is something intriguing to me and mysterious about an opening, not because of what’s around it but what’s inside that I don’t see, that I don’t know; it’s the unknown.” The Grid and Gold Inside confront viewers with the unknown, drawing them into the mystery through a fine veil of horsehair and linen.

Lewis Knauss, Bayview (2012)

Lewis Knauss, Bayview (2012)

Lewis Knauss, Calm (2012)

Lewis Knauss, Calm (2012)

Lewis Knauss, Glisten Clear (2013)

Lewis Knauss, Glisten Clear (2013)

Lewis Knauss, Still Fog (2014)

Lewis Knauss, Still Fog (2014)

Upstairs on the second floor, situated like a gentle punctuation between the dynamic forms of Warren Seelig’s sculpture and the colorful drama of Judith Schaechter’s stained glass, is the work of Lewis Knauss. Four pieces from the series Sitting with Deborah stand out for their horizontal composition and relatively shallow projection from the wall. Instead of the dense thickets of fiber that surround them, Bayview (2012), Calm (2012), Glisten Clear (2013), and Still Fog (2014) appear like screens drawn between the viewer and an imaginary landscape on the other side, tantalizingly out of view. Like Akers’ pair of warm-hued weavings, these four pieces by Knauss form two pairs whose composition and coloring echo one another. Bayview and Glisten Clear are painted with metallic colors that subtly reflect light, while the bamboo weft of Calm and Still Fog look almost like window shades with their dense horizontal slats. In his artist statement for Snyderman-Works Galleries, Knauss has stated that he uses textile as a “medium to explore [his] memories of place,” while his meticulous artistic process evokes the patient looking required to truly be present in the landscape. Knauss offers this meditative experience of place to his viewers, drawing us in the textured surfaces that seem to suggest a landscape visible only in the mind’s eye.

Given the subtle visual resonance among these pieces, it comes as no surprise that the artists themselves have worked together. Lewis Knauss was among Adela Akers’ first students at the Tyler School of Art, where she taught from 1972 until 1995. Knauss received his MFA from Tyler in 1973, and taught at Moore College from 1982 until 2010. Both artists have strong ties to the Philadelphia area and have left a lasting legacy as teachers and active participants in the craft community. The exhibition at the Art Alliance represents a unique opportunity to see the work of these masters of fiber in dialogue, and in a larger artistic conversation that spans diverse media.

Text by Flora Ward, Intern