Often snubbed in the art world, red-and-white patchworks are finally getting a huge display at the Armory—but is dangling them in midair treating them like high art?
In what must be a rather large room at her secluded New York country estate, Joanna Rose’s collection of more than 1,000 quilts has been safely preserved since the 1950s. Roughly a year ago, Rose decided to rescue her treasures from their cedar-lined cave and unveil them to the public in time for her 80th birthday (which coincidentally fell during the American Folk Art Museum’s Year of the Quilt). Her birthday wish was the seminal vision of Infinite Variety: Three Centuries of Red and White Quilts, on view through March 30 at Manhattan’s Park Avenue Armory. A kaleidoscopic installation of 650 quilts spirals up to the ceiling in a grand display.
This gravity-defying mosaic was built in just two days by the New York-based firm Thinc Design. Hanging on circular structures made from modest wire and paper tubes, the quilts construct the architecture of the exhibition. “We wanted to really transform the way people could see these [quilts] and relate to them,” said Tom Hennes, founder and president of Thinc Design. Rooted on the ground at the center of the installation is a circle of chairs representing the 19th-century ritual of social gatherings known as “quilting bees.” A spiral motif repeated throughout the show reflects the buzzing whirl of creativity inherent in the traditional sewing circle.
The eye-catching red and white quilts in a dizzying array of patterns—no two of which are exactly the same—definitely possess the “wow” factor. As Maria Conelli, executive director of the American Folk Art Museum, put it, the installation “tosses these hundreds of quilts into space like so many playing cards, where they hover weightlessly, seemingly frozen in mid-air.” However, this raises a crucial point: The patchwork spreads aren’t a card trick. With an entire space devoted to them, they’re asking to be considered as meaningful works of art spanning three centuries. Would the Park Avenue Armory string hundreds of Picassos or Rembrandts on wire and dangle them 45 feet in the air? Of course not—the art world would go ballistic.
“We wanted to create an atmosphere where people could focus on individual quilts but not become fatigued,” Hennes said, suggesting an audience might have grown weary of subjects displayed in a less spectacular manner. Yet great quilts—like great paintings—shouldn’t require ostentatious presentation.
taken from “The Daily Beast” and written by Lizzy Crocker