Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Masters Art Quilts vol 2: a review

attachment I was lucky enough to be sent a copy of Masters Art Quilts Vol 2. Major works by Leading Artists, curated by Martha Sielman and published by Lark Books in 2011.


The concept of the book is a wonderful one: leading artists in the art quilt medium from around the world are represented with a short introduction and almost a dozen images of different pieces. Nearly all the artists are absolutely amazing and you find yourself drooling over their work. The square format is very appropriate to the medium and the book has a generous 414 pages. The great artists we all know are included and also some that are not so well known and it’s excellent to have several pieces by the same artist. So many shows, and therefore show catalogues, are so very bitty because of the arcane rule of one person one piece. Most of the pictures are a good size – thank goodness none of that arty trend of a small photograph in the middle of a white page! The text often gives interesting information about technique – which I know we’re always curious about!

Some of the artists are amazing and very often I’d only seen one or two pieces of their work before, so it was a real treat to see so many examples. Leslie Gabrielese’s work is fascinating and one or two bigger details reveal the technique. While at first sight his quilts look very representational, as you examine the technique you can see that he has totally justified the use of fabric as his medium. His subtle use of commercial fabrics is elusive until you come in close, and then the stitching adds a wonderful edge to every line. Shades of Edrica Huws! Plus marvelously balanced compositions.

I would have liked to have known the rationale for choosing these 40 artists…some are obvious – like Dorothy Caldwell and Rachel Brumer serious artists who’ve been making work for a long time with several museum shows to their credit, but others not so well known – or known more for popular success as teachers and entertainers…rather than for their art work. It is also good that some not so well known artists who are doing very interesting work are also included. I often wonder if there are hidden geniuses out there who just don’t enter shows and we never see their work. (which is one reason I’m against very high entry fees).

There are only a few criticisms I would make, specifically these relate to the quality of some of the photographs, the size of some of the details, the introductions, and some points regarding the design of the pages.

Photographs. So often it comes down to the quality of the photographs; we hear that all the time from jurors and now that there are such excellent digital cameras out there, there is really no excuse for blurry images of which there are quite a few in this book I presume the artists submitted their own images (Horst-Beetsma for example) but I wonder if the editor should have culled those that were not very clear or at least asked the artist to resubmit.

Details. Sometimes the details are apologetically tiny and timid. I would have loved some good sized details but a very small detail that is only about 5% bigger than the picture of that section in the quilt as a whole has little point and is distracting. The ones that show a close up of the stitching, however, are very good. And we could have used more details especially of complex work like Anna Torma’s. Overall more and bigger details would be most desirable. Sometimes details reveal really striking stitchery even though the full composition can be somewhat awkward and unresolved. Composition counts!

Text: It’s great to include a pithy comment by an artist e.g. Dorothy Caldwell: “I have deep respect for cloth. It’s very powerful when it retains traces of its previous life, gathers history, and becomes something new.” But some of the comments tend toward the obscure and meaningless. Most, however, are fascinating: some artists prefer to stick to descriptions of technique, others talk about their philosophies.

While the text by the curator is kept fairly short and to the point giving a few details about each artist, I would have liked a little more bio – you don’t really need to describe the quilts when you have the pictures right there. More information about the artist in a more tabular form: place of residence, education (brief), shows (major only), website, main construction and style would have been useful. Also, their major strengths as perceived by the curator and her reason for including them. Plus, I think, everyone would be fascinated to know their answer to the question “how do you start?” It’s always good to have real details instead of just vague generalities. I think also an alphabetical sequence would help one to find them; I don’t know what the rationale of the actual sequence was and I found myself hunting around to see if various folk had been included.

Page Design: Love the square format reminiscent of the quilt, but don’t like the edge of each page having the artist’s name so large - very often it crowds the image and just looks messy. Also don’t under stand why each page has a half inch of grey along the bottom? Did the book designer think we wouldn’t know which way was up?

More strengths!
didn’t see the first Masters book but was told that the second one includes a lot more international artists and they are magnificent – especially the Australian ones. Their aesthetic is so strong: pure and clean, minimal without being boring and with wonderful surface texture. In fact there’s a very clear national feel to a lot of the work: the Australians: bold and clear, the Japanese: delicate and detailed, the Europeans: sophisticated and rich. Complex and somber and memory laden from the Middle East. Obsessive precision from Switzerland. Alas, not everybody’s country of origin is mentioned. An interesting and revealing extra would have been a map of the world with the artists location indicated. We could then see just how far this movement has extended.

Unlike many show catalogues, I felt that nearly every quilt was worthy of inclusion – so there were lots and lots to ponder over and think about and a stupendous variety of images and styles, techniques and colorations. The overall concept of the book is great – it’s an encyclopedia of major quilt artists; this is a book to savor over several evenings and then dip into over and over again.

This is a wonderful and extensive collection of some of the best of our time; an important addition to an art book collection. Thank you, Martha, for a great idea! And thank you to Lark books for publishing the book and for sending me a copy!      Elizabeth


June said...

Great review, Elizabeth. I just received my copy and once I get through the pile on my desk, am thinking about a review also. It was fascinating to see your observations. Thanks for the care that this review reveals.

Elizabeth Barton said...

oh do give post a link to your review when you do it!! Battling reviews!!

bj parady said...

I reviewed it on my blog too, but now after reading yours I feel like I've failed the book report :) Any how, I agree it is overall a good book to study in depth. Especially since I want to let the art stand on its own with little explanation.

My review is at http://bjparady.com/blog/2011/12/13/masters-of-art-quilts/

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the review, Elizabeth. It seems I became aware that it was on the market, you reviewed it and a friend brought it over today for a brief opportunity to skim over it.
I can't wait to get my copy.
I agree that it is a great edition. I have the first volume and go back to it time and time again.
Linda G