Baskets Now: USA
|Installation view. In the foreground, John McQueen,
Welcome, Welcome, 2001; willow branches, zip ties;
each tower, 104 by 27 by 27 inches. Photos: Camera Works.
Courtesy of Arkansas Arts Center, Little Rock.
Euphoria was in the air! A festive crowd of more
than a thousand people mingled at the Arkansas Arts Center
in January for the gala opening of "Baskets Now: USA." Enter
and face: John McQueen's two willow towers. Built with stacks
of open grids, each piece was topped by a pineapple, symbol
of hospitality, fitting his title, Welcome, Welcome.
They set the mood. With a height of 104 inches, they reimagine
a basket's scale.
|Dorothy Gill Barnes, Above and Below the Earth,
1999; mulberry wood, bark, roots; 11 by 14 by 13 inches.
Collection of Ed & Jo Pascoe.
Positioning oneself at the front of the gallery, the eye was
drawn to the back wall, where Michael Davis's massively colorful
spherical basket appeared to lift off its pedestal and float
skyward. The exhibition included pieces by 52 basketmakers.
And on view simultaneously in the arts center were two other
basketry exhibitions, timed to coincide with the regional conference
being sponsored jointly with the National Basketry Organization.
Always inventive, Dorothy Gill Barnes's work,
Above and Below the Earth, featured a woven bark chalice
emerging from its tree's exposed natural roots and branches.
Judy Mulford abandoned the vessel: Mother and Child
stands upright and frontal. The female presents herself breasts
first like sculptures of ancient mother goddesses. Mulford
employed her signature knotless netting to dress her figures
and embellished them with a myriad of tiny objects usually
found in a sewing kit. Jerry Bleem molds malleable plastic
into visceral, menacing forms held together by an abundance
of overlapping staples. These perturbed objects question whether
they are baskets at all.
|Jerry Bleem, Analogy, 2001; found plastic,
thread, staples; 19 by 19 by 15 inches.
To form the interiors of his pieces in the show, Leon Niehues
experimented with black emery cloth, a dramatic contrast to
the exterior skeleton, a sparse number of curving white oak
splints. This pair was not entirely satisfying, but the artist
was risking change to see if it might take him to another place.
You could compare Niehues's meticulous early traditional work
and gauge what a leap of faith he has taken by viewing the exhibition "Baskets from the Contemporary Collection." The Arkansas Arts
Center has been collecting modern baskets since the early Eighties.
Here we could see older, formative pieces of some of the same
artists exhibiting in "Baskets Now."
|Leon Niehues, Chan Juan #63-2001, 2001; white
oak, emery cloth, brass bolts; 16 by 14 by 11 inches.
Nearly half of the artists in "Baskets Now" were
invited to submit works. Jurist Jack Lenor Larsen chose works
by lesser known basket weavers. Donna Kaplan, among a new
generation of makers, uses pliers and her hands to manipulate
loom-woven metal with linen, silk, and metallic thread. The
undulations and the light flickering from the reflective materials
give the vessel an ever-changing silhouette. Kaplan writes
that living through a 6.8 magnitude earthquake explains its
unusual shape. Another eye-catcher, Jan Hopkins' grapefruit-peel
pieces threaded together as in a puzzle, includes lizards
chasing one another around a tea cozy-shaped basket.
|Jan Hopkins, The Grass Is Always Greener,
2001; grapefruit peel, waxed linen, hemp paper; 14 by
16 by 6 inches.
For "Tradition Bearer," the third exhibition at the arts center,
John McGuire chose works with a readymade grammar and references
to functionality. Many of them were beautiful gems that remind
us of the foundations from which the new basket arises. If one
considers their prices, perfect technique, and classic beauty,
are they objects for use or objects for contemplation? A tiny
box, one with a defining black wooden rectangular frame, resembled
a miniature coffin. This was the first basket Susan kavicky
made after 9/11. For now, ideas are what the new art
-Marina D. Whitman
Marina D. Whitman is a fine arts appraiser.