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The Miller Gallery's Nancy Crow retrospective finds her taking quilts to a new level. 

The Regina Gouger Miller Gallery hosts the largest exhibition to date of illustrious quilt-maker Nancy Crow. More than 50 quilts dating from 1988 to 2008 testify to this artist's versatility and virtuosity in her chosen medium. Her fantastic use of color, and sophisticated design sensibility, are on par with any contemporary painter working in abstraction; unfortunately, and for little reason, artists like Crow, working with fabric, dyes and thread, are often relegated in art history to a position below artists working with oil paint and canvas. This exhibition, curated by former Miller Gallery director Petra Fallaux, succinctly demonstrates that fiber arts deserve an equal ranking in the "hierarchy" of arts.

The earliest work in the exhibition, "Mexican Wedding Ring #1," is quite different from Crow's later work. In this large (72-by-72 inches) quilt, Crow used commercially dyed cottons, whereas in most of her work after 1991, the cotton fabric is hand-dyed, often achieving intense and glorious colors. The earlier quilt, still fantastic, presents a symmetrical kaleidoscope pattern, featuring diamond shapes in brownish hues surrounded by 12 color-wheel-inspired squares and striking, contrasting black and white areas.

In the early 1990s, Crow had self-proclaimed creative block. Struggling with her symmetrical quilting style -- created using templates -- she came close to abandoning quilt-making all together. Instead, inspired by contemporaries including Anna Williams, she began working more intuitively, using different dying techniques and also "free-cutting," in which patterns are cut without templates. Most of the quilts in this exhibition are from after 1991.

Crow's versatility is obvious: Her patterns range from the geometric to more organic, colors from saturated and intense to subtly mottled effects created using shibori (a more sophisticated type of tie-dye). Crow also achieves such novel effects as segments that appear to have been "drawn" on the fabric. The quilts are cut and machine-pieced by Crow and then either hand- or machine-quilted by assistants.

The striking quilts in the "Constructions" series utilize intense pinks, oranges and reds, among other colors, and the patterns are predominantly vertical or horizontal. Many of the patterns were inspired by tall trees, or by the gridded ceiling of Crow's barn in Ohio. These quilts vary from the complex "Constructions #82" -- a large work in reds, yellows and blues, with black lines delineating the vertical pattern -- to the petite and simple "Constructions #90," a predominantly orange composition in which just two vertical and two horizontal stripes break up the solid color field. Crow's inventiveness while working within the stylistic parameters of a particular series is rather remarkable.

In the "Markings" series, fabric is monoprinted and/or silk-screened to suggest lines drawn in pen and ink. "Markings #8," on a brilliant red background, presents hundreds of splotchy black marks; "Markings #7" offers obsessive, Cy Twombly-like scribbles on a beige and grey backdrop.

Each work in this three-floor exhibition is magnificent, and due to the sheer number of quilts in this retrospective, more than one visit to the Miller gallery might be necessary to fully appreciate the breadth and depth of Crow's work in the fiber arts.

 

Nancy Crow: Works from 1988-2008 continues through Aug. 15. Regina Gouger Miller Gallery, Purnell Center for the Arts, Carnegie Mellon University campus, Oakland. 412-268-2618 or www.cmu.edu/millergallery

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