While contemporary art has become ever more hands-off conceptual under postmodernism, many crafters have been doing what artists used to do: make things whose unique visuality provokes a passionate and important engagement with the world. Specialists in glass, ceramic and fabric have been doing this for generations, so one can hardly join the curator of this exhibition in asserting that these contemporary practitioners “challenge the expectations of their discipline.” But one can certainly thank him for presenting three “refined and distinctive artistic voices.”
The best piece in this show is a tapestry woven fifteen years ago by Anne McGinn, titled “Corrugated Futures, Commodity Chain.” Although the title suggests a biting social commentary, the piece itself offers glowing doors within doors within doors—a compelling invitation to a world of mystery, excitement and revelation. Her more recent work in etching or ceramic plates is more about balance and endurance. She is a master of graphic design, but falters when venturing into large, free-standing stoneware.
Frank Connet has been more successful in transitioning from two to three dimensions. His best piece is also his earliest. “Passenger” (2005) offers a flat pattern of movement and mystery created with a very precise application of shibori resist dyeing. It feels like a train trip through a scenic foreign country. More recently, he has pursued a more ambivalent visual experience with shapes that feel unfamiliar and just a bit ominous. Electroplating his shibori folds into three dimensions, he has twisted up some fascinating shapes, not unlike the weathered rocks prized by Chinese scholars.
Finally, there is Lialia Kuchma, who, rather than being a conventionally defined craftsperson turned artist, appears like a high modernist geo-form painter who prefers to draw her straight lines with thread. Like painters, she conspicuously signs her tapestries in the lower right corner. They are all crisply designed manipulations of pictorial space. Like so many other artists affiliated with UIMA, she retains the Modernists’ commitment to a brave and beautiful new world. Given subsequent world history, especially in Eastern Europe, that is no small achievement. (Chris Miller)
Through December 4 at the Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art, 2320 West Chicago