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From Rome, we took the train to Venice. It was a pretty trip, particularly through the Tuscan countryside. though nothing like the spectacular train journeys we would take later in the trip.

Right before arriving in Venice, the train stopped at Maestre, an ugly industrial suburb outside Venice proper. Then it rolled over a quay, pulling into Santa Lucia station. The station was like any small train station, and I had no idea what to expect next. But when I stepped outside the station, this is what I saw.

Venie-from-Train-Station

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I realized at that point that every cliche I had heard about Venice was true. It was certainly unlike any place I’d ever been before, and throughout the days I was there, I continued to be astounded by the beauty of the city. That beauty was evident everywhere, in the buildings, the sculpture, the canals with their ever changing reflections, and even a worn brick wall that had weathered to improbable colors.

Venice-Reflections

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Brick-Wall

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One of the interesting aspects of Venice was that it could be quite quiet and peaceful despite its hordes of tourists. As soon as you stepped away from the main tourist areas and started to walk the back streets, the feel of the city changed. It became easy to imagine the Venice of another time in those quiet streets.

We stayed in Giudecca, south of the main neighborhoods of the city. From the fondamente (the small path alongside the water), you could see Dorsoduro and St. Marco, areas crowded day and night. Giudecca, however, felt like an ordinary neighborhood, filled with small apartment blocks and lines of washing hanging out to dry. At night, walking along the back lanes to our B&B, we rarely saw anyone. We later discovered that Guidecca was home to a luxury Hilton and a small showroom selling beautiful home decorating fabrics made from original Fortuny designs.

On one of our days in Venice, we decided to visit Burano and Murano, two islands not too far from the main part of Venice. Once a fishing village and a place where women made handmade lace, Burano now feels a bit like a recreated village whose raison d’etre is tourism. Still, despite the fact that the food was bad and the lace on offer in the many stores is made in China, Burano was very pretty. Its distinguishing features include brightly colored houses and charming little canals. It also has a leaning tower similar to that in Pisa, though smaller.

Bike-in-Burano

 

 

 

 

 

 

Burano-Tower

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Murano is famous for its glass. Glass has been made on the island since the 13th century when glass making was moved from Venice to Murano because it posed a fire hazard to Venice’s wooden buildings. Although some Murano glass is now imported from China or made for a mass market trade, the island still contains some working factories as well as many glass showrooms selling beautiful pieces along with lots of kitsch.

As I peered into the open doors of one of the factories, a worker hammed it up for me as I took his photograph.

Glass-Factory-Murona

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A brief walk through some back streets of Murano yielded a very modern sculpture, quite different from the more sedate sculptures seen in Venice proper.

Modern-Sculpture-Murano

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Two other places stood out for me in Venice. One was the Peggy Guggenheim Museum, and the other was the Jewish Ghetto. The Guggheim Museum sported a wonderful collection of contemporary art, including works by Picasso, Dali, Klee, Rothko and Moore, among many others. The collection is housed in Guggenheim’s former palazzo, located on the Grand Canal. It is very varied and consists of both sculpture and paintings. The art works are thoughtfully presented and not crowded together, allowing visitors to savor each piece. The buildings comprising the museum are quite beautiful, increasing the pleasure of the viewing experience.

Visitor-Looking-at-Sculptures

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At the canal entrance is a wonderful statue by Marino Marini, aptly called The Angel of the City. The “angel” looks upon the canal in exuberant joy.

Statue-in-Front-of-Guggenheim

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The museum also contains a restful courtyard and some amazing views across the Grand Canal. Below are some pictures taken through a decorative scrollwork window covering.

View-from-Guggenheim-through-Scrolls

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Close-Up-View-through-Scroll

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Venice’s Jewish Ghetto has a long history and some powerful, though disturbing art. From the 16th to 18th centuries, Venetian Jews were forced to live in the ghetto, once the site of a foundry. (The word “ghetto” originated from the Italian spelling of “gheto”, the Venetian word for foundry.) Shakespeare made this neighborhood famous through his references to it in The Merchant of Venice.

Unlike in the rest of the Venice, the buildings in this area are very tall, some  7 floors high. The height of these buildings resulted from so many people being forced to live in such a small area. Several synagogues were housed in the top floors of some of these buildings.

Tall-Buildings-in-Ghetto

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

While not outwardly different from the rest of the city, the area’s main piazza contains remnants of the area’s history. Surrounding the Casa di Riposo Israelitica, the site from which Venice’s remaining 250 Jews were deported during the Holocaust, are memorials commemorating the fate of Venice’s Jews. The bronze sculpture panels designed by Arbit Blatas, a Lithuanian-born sculptor and painter, depict the brutality of the Nazis against the Jews.

Memorial-Plaque

 

 

 

 

 

Arbit-Blatas-1

 

 

 

 

 

 

Arbit-Blatas-2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Today the Ghetto area is just an ordinary neighborhood in Venice filled with people enjoying the day. It still remains as a center of Venetian Jewish life and is also visited by many tourists interested in its history.

Child-in-Jewish-Ghetto

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The question of why galleries and museums tend not to show fiber art–with the exception of exhibits that focus on fashion (such as the Iris Apfel exhibition, Rare Bird of Fashion, at the Peabody Museum of Art in 2010 or the Elsa Schiaperelli and Miuccia Prada’s Impossible Conversations exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2012)–has long puzzled me.

Several of the small museums in my area hold annual juried shows featuring local artists. It is rare to see a piece of textile art in those exhibitions, unless the art is a picture of a textile or a real textile hidden under glass, which of course obscures the very qualities that make textiles different from other media.

I am especially perplexed by this tendency when I see some of the amazing fiber art that is being created today. The Fiberarts International exhibit, at the Textile History Museum in Lowell, and the Game Changers: Fiber Art Masters and Innovators exhibit, at the Fuller Craft Museum, both show the scope and breadth of the contemporary fiber art scene.

Given that I have long pondered this question, I was very interested to see a blog post today written by Mirka Knaster, a textile artist and writer. Knaster’s post, entitled Artists and Textiles, explores the ways many famous artists have either depicted textiles in their work or created art that incorporates textiles in some way.

Mirka asks the same question I do–“Why the exclusion?”–and then speculates on some possible answers: “Objects constructed with fiber–through knotting, quilting, sewing, crocheting, knitting, weaving, etc.–are most often associated with domestic activity by women. Even when the items are prized, lower status is accorded to traditionally female work. There is also the division that arose (I don’t know in which century) between ‘fine arts’ and ‘applied arts.’ I have yet to understand why this distinction exists.”

She then goes on to cite the long list of artists who engaged with textiles in some way in their work. Among these were Henri Matisse, Raoul Dufy, Joan Miró, Salvador Dalí, Marc Chagall, Lucian Freud, Pablo Picasso, Barbara Hepworth, Sonia Delaunay, Henry Moore, Alexander Calder and quite a few others.

A number of images of the textile work of some of these artists are included in Mirka’s post. Here are a couple of examples:

Dali

“Spring Rain” (1949), by Salvador Dali. Photo: Steve Tanner. Source: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/art/9298395/How-textiles-took-Dali-and-Picassos-art-to-the-masses.html

 

Henry Moore

“Family Group,” textile square designed by Henry Moore (1944). Source: http://www.apollo-magazine.com/review-artist-textiles-picasso-warhol-fashion-textile-museum/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mirka ends her post by pointing to a recent exhibit held in London and the Netherlands: ARTIST TEXTILES Picasso to Warhol at the Fashion and Textile Museum in London (31 January–18 May 2014) and at the TextielMuseum in Tilburg, the Netherlands (14 June-14 September 2014).

While it is heartening to know that some famous artists of the past did not eschew, and even appreciated, the textile form, their interest–and the interest of museums who show their work–does not compensate for the lack of representation of fiber art in the contemporary gallery and museum scenes. Organizations such as the Surface Design Association and Studio Art Quilts Associates have made it part of their mission to educate the public and members of the art education communities about contemporary fiber. Let’s hope they succeed!

Last weekend, I went to two very different fiber exhibits in Lowell, MA, an historic city that was once the home of many textile mills during the Industrial Revolution.

Lowell is a fascinating city, and it has done a good job of preserving its textile heritage. Both the Lowell National Historical Park and the American Textile History Museum have wonderful ongoing exhibits about the history of textiles in Lowell as well as about other industries that flourished at the heyday of manufacturing in the area. The city has done a good job of reusing many of its old textile factories, converting them into residences and mixed use spaces. It is also home to a number of galleries–including The Brush Art Gallery and Studios and the Whistler House Museum of Art, housed in the birthplace of James McNeill Whistler–that show rotating exhibits of visual art, including fiber art.

People from many different cultural backgrounds, including a large Cambodian population, now reside in Lowell. The city’s many wonderful restaurants and festivals reflect the origins of its population.

Every summer, the Whistler House Museum holds a juried art quilt exhibition focusing on a specific theme. This year’s theme was How Does Your Garden Grow? The exhibit is on view through September 20th. Below are the three winning pieces in the exhibit.

ARebele_Southern Living

Ann Rebele – Southern Living

busby-echinoderm full

Betty Busby – Echinoderm

Sue ColozziColeus Up Close

Sue Colozzi – Coleus Up Close

 

Down the street from the Whistler, the American Textile History Museum is showing a very different kind of fiber exhibition: Fiberart International 2013. Sponsored by the Pittsburgh Fiber Arts Guild and originally shown in Pittsburgh, this triennial exhibition features cutting edge fiber work by artists throughout the world. It is on view at the Textile History Museum through October 26th.

Below are some images from that exhibit.

Lockhart-300x200

Cynthia Lockhart

Heard-300x200

Sandra Jane Heard

Goebel-300x200

Anne Goebel

Concha-300x200

Josefina Concha

 
Perhaps because I viewed both exhibits in close juxtaposition, I was struck by my different reactions to each of them. While I liked a few pieces in the Whistler show, overall I did not find it to my taste. It was a very representational show, and I already know that I personally prefer more abstract art. It also felt more like a traditional quilt show than a fiber show, which is not a surprise since the Whistler summer shows always focus on quilt art. While many of the pieces in the Whistler show were well done, both visually and technically, few felt innovative or were striking to me in any way.

The Fiberart International show had a completely different flavor. First, it contained many interpretations of the word “fiber,” and the participating artists used fiber in a surprising variety of ways. Second, many of the pieces in the exhibit pushed conventional boundaries. They used innovative materials, such as the plant material found in Anne Goebel’s piece. They were also innovative in their use of dimensionality, often bulging from the wall, hung around a corner, or stiffened to stand on their own. Most of the pieces in this exhibit were also quite large, asserting themselves through their sheer size. Another commonality was the use of a neutral palette. It was fascinating to see how much could be expressed using shades of white, gray, black and brown. Not every piece in the exhibit was successful, in my view. Some of the more conceptual pieces felt very cerebral and had little visual content.

My husband, however, had a completely opposite reaction to the two shows than I did. He loved the Whistler show and was intrigued by the colors of the work and the many ways in which participating artists interpreted the garden theme. He found the Fiberart International show boring, perhaps because of the subdued color palette used in many of the pieces. When we talked about a few of the pieces in the Fiberart show, and I explained some of the techniques that were used in the work, he became more intrigued, but this was on a different level from the pure visual.

For the past week, I have been thinking about these two exhibitions and pondering the question of how we arrive at our tastes and preference. Why do I prefer abstract art to representational art? Is it because I can read into the work whatever I wish or interpret it to mirror my own emotions? Why do I like art that uses a neutral palette, yet so often use intense colors in my own work? What gives a particular piece of  art gravitas, distinguishing it from its many neighbors? What is the role of beauty in art, and why does beauty seem absent from so many contemporary exhibitions? I have no answers to these questions but am enjoying the process of thinking about them. I welcome readers’ comments on these questions.

Recently I visited the Fuller Craft Museum which is currently showing several fascinating exhibits related to fiber. They include Game Changers: Fiber Art Masters and Innovators, featuring well known fiber art masters such as Michael James, Arturo Alonzo Sandoval, and Chunghie Lee, as well as lesser known but quite innovative artists who use fiber in surprising ways.

Another exhibit, Floating, features the work of Annette Bellamy, an artist and commercial fisher from Alaska. Below are examples of her work, including a large piece created entirely from fish skins. Bellamy works in several media, but her fish skin piece was particularly compelling.

 

Fuller-Art-Museum-Fiber-Exhibit

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

These exhibits are on view through the fall and are well worth seeing.

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