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 Dec 25 - 31, 2003 
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Art Article

High Brow Seamstresses

Threads at the Richard Levy Gallery

By Steven Robert Allen

“Hats #2” by Seth Koen (acrylic yarn)
“Hats #2” by Seth Koen (acrylic yarn)

The Richard Levy Gallery isn't exactly known for peddling crafts. The gallery specializes in showcasing some of the most radical cutting edge art in town. For this reason, it might surprise many people to learn that the current exhibit at the gallery features work by artists who share a common interest in sewing.

None of the pieces in the show, though, can legitimately be described as crafts. A cursory glance at the art on display reveals that the exhibit fits in perfectly with the Richard Levy Gallery's usual experimental bent.

Washington D.C. artist Stephen Sollins removes stitches from embroidered textiles. He then uses the exact same colors and numbers of stitches to make connected patterns of squares on the same piece of fabric. His "Elegy" and "Elegy (Flowers I)" maintain the quaint feel of the original textile but with a distinctly contemporary makeover.

In two of her pieces, Lisa Solomon embroiders tiny colored robots onto white quilting fabric so they vaguely resemble baby blankets. Her third piece in the show could be from a completely different artist. In "Two Orange Planes," Solomon sews two ephemeral orange airplanes onto gauzy hand-stamped silk, creating a dreamy image that dances slightly with the mere gentle force of a viewer's breath.

“Untitled Dollar Quilt (green plantlife)” by Oriane Stender (dollars and thread)
“Untitled Dollar Quilt (green plantlife)” by Oriane Stender (dollars and thread)

Andrea Bischoff transforms sewing, that most orderly of crafts, into an art embracing chaos. In her "Lucky Chance #2" and "Lucky Chance #3," she drops strands of thread at random onto the translucent surface of tracing paper, embroidering the bits in the exact positions where they fall.

Seth Koen contributes "Hats #2," an acrylic yarn construction composed of two red suction cups attached to the ceiling that descend to pink hats. Viewers are invited to place these hats on their heads as if they were cartoonish electric chair caps lifted straight from the imagination of Dr. Seuss. Koen also presents a somewhat less intriguing floor installation, "Circles #4," consisting of three red cotton rings stuffed with lentils.

Korean artist Byoung offers small-scale geometric shapes in her embroidered work, creating what looks like a strange cross between Hebrew and some unnamable futuristic digital language.

On the far wall, we encounter the first trace of camp in Mark Newport's "Football Valentines," composed of NFL trading cards ornamented with brightly colored beads. Newport also contributes a bizarre stitched cover of what looks to be a pornographic comic book.

Oriane Stender presents some of the most interesting work in the show. In one piece, "Tower (Self/image Series)," she stitches tiny black and white images of body parts into a long vertical string of mandala-like shapes. In another, "Self/image (Large Collarbone)," she stitches black and white images of a collarbone into a rectangular pattern that plays cleverly with dark and light space.

My single favorite piece in the show is Stender's "Untitled Dollar Quilt (Green Plantlife)," in which she folds and stitches together dollar bills into a topographical shape that looks like currency from some parallel universe. Here Stender achieves an image of great beauty and originality, depicting a kind of sprawling island chain floating in a chaotic sea of distinctive green print.

Richard Levy says he came up with the idea for the show after noticing that certain exhibits and fairs around the country had started to promote work in which sewing was integrated into contemporary art. He got in contact with Solomon first, and other artists working with similar ideas soon followed. The result is an unusual and satisfying show incorporating art of a sort you won't often see here in Albuquerque.

Threads, an exhibit featuring work by various artists, runs through Jan. 7 at the Richard Levy Gallery. 766-9888.

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