Born in feminism as a proclamation of the value of the female craft, fiber arts today have diversified greatly without losing their social conscience. Here, traditional fiber works by Aviva Alter and Rebecca Ringquist co-exist with quasi-outsider installation by Danny Mansmith. The strongest works were by husband-husband team Miller & Shellabarger. Cut paper silhouettes of the two men face to face with entangled beards commute a fierce and uncomfortable intimacy. The silhouettes are accompanied by actual intertwined facial hair that serves to intensify the feelings of closeness. Danny Mansmith’s installation of homespun objects included stuffed and embroidered cubes, paintings and branches and wrapped plush characters. The personable objects convey a glimpse of an enchanting domestic world but ultimately clash with the sterile surroundings stealing the installation’s quaintness. Rebecca Ringquist’s ornate, embroidered wall hangings include scraps of printed fabric and crochet. Ms. Ringquist’s work is quite stunning with its cavalcade of cute imagery, but it’s that imagery that too often falls into cliché without transformation. Similarly Aviva Alter’s deconstructed military uniforms with embroidered textual additions read as didactically as the cultural conformity that she criticizes. As the fiber arts widen, “Soft Life”’s shortcomings reveal the necessity of mining the current psychology of materials for fresher perspectives. (Dan Gunn)
Through Mar 30 at Hyde Park Art Center, 5020 South Cornell, through September 28.