Friday, May 11, 2007

Looking at and seeing quilts

A couple of days ago I received in the mail the
CD of the Empire Quilters Guild show and I could hardly wait to pop it into the comptuer. All the quilts are there and there are other features, index. etc that I haven't explored yet because right now I'm busy with a dozen details to take care of before the end of the weekend. But I have spent a fair amount of time thinking about the different experiences of looking at pictures of quilts and looking at the quilts themselves. It's the difference of a photograph of a lilac or hyacinth and standing in a garden beside a lilac tree or a bed of hyacinths ... the beautiful aroma cannot be photographed, obviously. And the tactility of a quilt cannot be photographed.

These photos, unfortunately were not well enough lighted. I saw them being photographed before they were hung. There simply wasn't strong enough light. What happens is that backgrounds are darkened and the patterns/design of the quilts are emphasized. This is fascinating, if a bit frustrating. Of course all the texture of the quilting is lost -- they become abstract paintings in a way ... and seeing them one by one, each on it's own design merits adds to the painterly feeling. I discovered this perceptual surprise back in 1973 or '4 when I saw the Holstein show that had started at the Whitney and that made quilt history. To see quilts hanging on museums walls for the first time was a staggering surprise. In fact ever since then I have preferred to see quilts hanging or at least being held up for display. I like seeing them in books and catalogs -- yet on the several occasions, gallery shows, Quilt Nationals when I have seen the actual quilts some have been far more interesting and amazing "in fabric/flesh" as it were ... while others are more interesting photographed.

I've been trying to think about fine art shows I've seen and later looked at the catalog ... I think in almost all case the real object has been more interesting, except for paintings like those of the Breugels and of Bosch where there are so many details, that sitting and studying a photograph adds to the amazement. To me, quilts are not always art or "Art" by any means, many are best on beds, as intended. But I enjoy seeing the "whole" on the wall. Although I must say it's nice to lean against a pile of pillows and look at a quilt covering you on a cool evening and finger the pattern lines, the quilting lines -- as one is not supposed to do, of course, at any quilt show. And I have to add that looking at the 171 quilts from the show, the designs are amazingly strong and colors fascinating! It was a very good show and we should all be very proud of this group of quilters.

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