Perhaps the title to this post should be "How much or how little?" Historically, art galleries have minimally used labels on the work they exhibit. Usually, just the title and the name of the artist...perhaps the medium, but not always, perhaps the date.
|"War Sucks" by Kristin LaFlamme|
As I have mentioned before, in my previous life, I was a museum curator in historical museums. I went the other way. We identified the piece, we put it in its cultural context. I viewed exhibition text/labels to be written like an outline. The big headings, smaller parts, and once you got down the the label, the really fine bones of the work. My viewpoint was, don't put a book on the wall, but provide the information if someone wants to take the time to read the individual object labels. I thought that people would scan what they wanted and if they wanted to read more deeply, they'd go beyond the object name, date and materials. If they didn't, they wouldn't. Yes, in the case of the Artist Village at IQF, I would have welcomed something to identify each of the artist's works...instead of making me ferret, guess and deliberate....
I had been contemplating writing about labels and interpretation and had mentally been framing the discussion when Vivien Zepf wrote a really interesting blog post on understanding art included in Fiber Philadelphia as explained to her by Frank Hopson at the Snyderman Works Gallery. If you haven't read the post, you may find it here. Vivien was wondering why some of the pieces were included in a fiber show, even though they weren't made of fiber. Frank ably led her to some new understandings and thoughtful considerations about art.
Which brings me to the above piece. This is Kristin LaFlamme's work, "War Sucks" which is included in the Art Quilt Elements exhibition at the Wayne Art Center. One of the people at the opening who was standing next to me took one look at the quilt and said "I don't like it." Not being someone who easily keeps her mouth shut, I started talking to her about it, and what Kristin was communicating. First, Kristin is an army wife married to a really neat guy, Art, who has seen I think 7 deployments as he is career Army. This is part of a series that Kristin has been working on, or rather is related to a series called "The Army Wife" and reflects the observations of one who is up-close and personal with her subject matter. I pointed out the chamoflage fabric taken from Art's old uniforms, the raw edges, because war is raw on every level. The stuffed and unbound edges...the fact that the "batting" was an old army blanket.....and the choice of commercial fabrics, the patriotic ones contrasted with small floral prints...and the rawness of the slashing of the words across the "homey" aspect of a quilt. Not all quilts are pretty. Some quilts talk....loudly, but it is up to us to be able to listen and in this case, "knowing" Kristin and her work helped as there was little interpretation there (you had to be able to make it to the book which had the artists statements-- themselves limited to 100 words-- in the opening crowd.
The quilt suddenly became something more...While it "spoke" it needed an interpreter who had some more information to make it understandable on more than a superficial level. Kristin's blog goes more deeply into the piece and you may read it here.
|"I Feel Free," Brooke Atherton,|
But then again, recently on either the Quiltart or the SAQA Yahoo group someone shared her understanding of a piece which was on exhibition at the Crane Building for Fiber Philadelphia. It was a large installation which the person saw as being Hijabs....and it spoke to her as to what she connected with. She studied it for a long time...and the artist, who happened to be standing nearby came over and spoke to her about it since she had been looking at it for so long. She explained what it meant to her....which wasn't the artist's intent at all....and then the artist explained what he was communicating, which she also understood.
In some cases with art, we don't have the knowledge of what the artist intended to communicate....we just have our own reaction and interpretation. This understanding is valid and certainly a personal resonance is part of fully interacting with art....
Somehow, in the best of all possible worlds we would have the combination of the two...the opportunity to look at a piece and form our own opinions and understanding, then to go to a fuller explanation of the artist's intent.