Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The ART of Gees Bend



Pettway/ Mark Rothco


Pettway/Frank Stella

Bendolf/Mondrian


Pettway/ Barnett Newman

There seems to be less than universal accolades for the phenomenon of the Gees Bend quilt/art. Well at least amongst art quilters I hear on various e-lists I am on. The most recent was to question whether the popularity and critical acclaim these artists have received may be just clever spin doctors and self serving curators trying to drum up business. I confess, I am puzzled that some fail to see the remarkable beauty and ART these works display. A lot of the nay sayers mention "poor workmanship and materials" as a reason to dismiss them. Others don't see how outsider ladies could be possibly be making art when all that they were doing was making warm bedding out of reclaimed garments. I was struck by the originality of the works when they first appeared at the Whitney in New York, and that was only from looking at the online pictures. When I actually saw the show in Orlando I felt MOVED by them...not just from the history of their makers but for the amazing instinctive beauty of the designs and use of the faded pentimento in the fabrics. I wish I had that seemingly ingrained intuitiveness as I design MY work. One of the artists when asked HOW she developed the design replied that she cut up the various colored shapes, moved them around on her bed until they "looked right".

Well isn't that what all artists do? At least those that pursue excellence and personal input in there work? I googled some well known modern artists such as Paul Klee, Mondrian and Rothco and was struck by the similarities of composition and expression to the Gees Bend work. I am convinced....these are ART!

13 comments:

Kim Ritter said...

The Amish quilts also hold up versus pop art. The use of black and bright colors way back in the 1800's surprises people as being before pop art!

Stacy said...

These are beautiful pieces. To my mind; any person who sits in judgement of other artists work by using some so called 'higer standard' has lost the message of art and beauty entirely. I may be drawn to some pieces more than others, but it's not for me to say those ladies weren't artists simply because they weren't buying $90.00 dollar a yard fabric or sewing it on one of their $4000 machines.

Jess said...

The exhibit that I saw of the Gee's Bend quilts in Santa Fe bothered me not because I don't think the quilts are ART, but because of the pretentious way in which they were presented. The women who made the quilts very obviously did not have anything to do with writing the double-speak that was plastered on the walls around them. All of the supporting materials, with the sole exception of a video of interviews with the quiltmakers themselves, was absolute gibberish, and detracted from the quilts.

To my mind, if you feel the need to present an exhibit in a museum by telling the public what to think about it, and what importance to place on it, then you're not letting the work stand on its own merits. I think the Gee's Bend works have the potential to stand on their own, and that the story behind them is compelling enough without the curators and agents stepping in with this idiotic hype that does nothing for the works themselves.

Terry said...

Bravo Pamela. I have loved these quilts since I first saw them. Before I knew the story. Before I read any "hype". I too am amazed by quilt artists who fail to see the art and the soul of this work. Sadly, they are missing out.

Dindy said...

Thanks for your lovely thoughts Pamela. In response to some of the comments from your readers, our goal at Tinwood in creating the wall text is educational and contextual and the museums concur otherwise they wouldn't place the text on the walls. Because the mainstream have kept the information about the artists of Gee's Bend out of text books and the Art World at large, we strongly believe the public deserves information about these amazing artists. The quilters also agree with the wall text as they are the sources for a great part of the information that we back up by research.

We would like to suggest that you remove the images of the Pettway quilts from your blog due to pending litigation by the artist over copyright infringement. There are many quilters (including Mary Lee Bendolph)who understand the nature of fair image use but Ms. Pettway is not one of them.
In support of your gracious thoughts, please note the correct spelling of Bendolph and Rothko.

Mary Bajcz said...

I'm moved by these pieces, too and am glad that they have been recognized by curators at major museums (and the USPS!) I've become less and less concerned by things like evenness of stitches in my own work because that really doesn't have anything to do with the beauty or functionality of the work unless one is thrilled by technical perfection.
Thanks for this post, Pam. You are one of my favorite artists!

Rosemary@semo.net said...

Hi Pamelala, I particularly savored your comparison photos of a Gee's Bend quilt, and a Modern artist. I've seen the Museum exhibits twice, once in Wisconsin, once in Florida, a few years apart. Both exhibits, while different, created awe in my soul. The sheer presence of the large works in stunning designs also brought to my mind the well known painters in the Modern style of art. There were a few quilts that stood out to me as exceptional, and are memorable to me, years later. Thank you for your thoughts. Putting your thoughts into words, with comparison photos is important. Thanks. Rosemary

Wild Thread Studio said...

I'm with you all the way, Pamela. Gee's Bend quilts are true outsider folk art and of the utmost value - both in their cultural/societal aspects and in their artistic presentation.

Natalya said...

thank you for these well chosen words and the side by side pictures... I did see the Gees Bend quilts at the Whitney and they are wonderful art.

Marilyn said...

When I saw the Gee's Bend exhibit here in Memphis, I was totally blown away with the artistic acheivements of these quilters. It really doesn't matter how the quilts are presented or what "spin" has been put on them, They stand alone as art.

ann said...

I've heard about them for a while. However, I haven't seen them. THEY ARE GORGEOUS! Definitely ART! I am totally impressed with the sensitivity of the designs. WONDERFUL!

My quilts have a LOT on stitching imperfections. I do hope that is not what people concentrate on when they see them.

I also agree with the design method; I use the same technique. I think many of us do.

ann said...

I've heard about them for a while. However, I haven't seen them. THEY ARE GORGEOUS! Definitely ART! I am totally impressed with the sensitivity of the designs. WONDERFUL!

My quilts have a LOT on stitching imperfections. I do hope that is not what people concentrate on when they see them.

I also agree with the design method; I use the same technique. I think many of us do.

bernard n. shull said...
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