Saturday, June 12, 2010


Coyotes have long been proud emblems of Santa Fe kitsch - and here's a new one to add to the pack, howling on the back of an oversized rustic chair down by the railyard, somewhere at the back of the youth center next to SITE Santa Fe. It's hard to know whether one would characterize the piece as craft - I guess I always think of craft as being on a smaller scale. It was, nonetheless, also in proximity to the craft market - which included some beautiful pieces of jewelry, some interesting - if not to my taste - pottery with transfers on it - and a good deal of, yes, near kitsch, taking inspiration from red chile peppers and turquoise and lotus flowers - not exactly indigenous to New Mexico, but up there with all kinds of native incitements to spiritual self-help.

And then later we went to an exhibition of Book Arts in Eldorado's La Tienda - which is now a community-based collection of stores and spaces - which had everything from some extremely elaborate cut-out, collaged, concertina-ed books, to quilted and felted images/texts hanging like a postcard display, to other folded, pleated, gummed, stitched, and taped. This, in turn, sent me back to Lucy Lippard's essay "Making Something from Nothing (Toward a Definition of Women's 'Hobby Art',"which dates from 1978, yet in many ways works particularly well, now, with the revival, the fervent embrace of craft art during the past couple of years. And the questions Lippard raises were particularly pertinent in relation to the exhibition, for whereas almost all of the book art on display was woman produced, and much of it was woman-centered in a diffuse kind of way ("soft" rather than hard subjects), not much could be called feminist - with the exception of a small photo album of solo women (I wanted to know more - were these found images from flea markets or junk stores or even - a good source for images of unknown women - from eBay? Had they been scanned and darkened - for the black and white was very crisp - and then printed out again?) who may or may not have been given their actual first names, their actual sentiments, in the album's labeling. Yet, given the craft/artisan revival, is it still true that "only in a feminist art world will there be a chance for the 'fine' arts, the 'minor' arts, 'crafts,' and hobby circuits to meet and to develop an art of making with a new a revitalized communicative function?" I'd rather think not: this was still a local gallery in a half empty shopping center fourteen miles out of town, with a fine ginger cat wandering in from the non-profit 2nd hand bookstore opposite. Even if some of the exhibitors came from further afield - I suspect that it would take a different, fine-art controlled (however experimental) a setting to give even the imaginative/beautiful pieces full credence. In this setting - I know they aren't books; I'm talking generically about craft - Margaret Wertheim's amazing crochet coral reef project would be in danger of looking like a quaint little piece of whimsy.

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