The current NEW/NOW exhibition features the unique installations and works on paper of Elana Herzog, a New York based installation artist. By attaching found textiles—often shredded bedspreads and other fabrics—to walls using thousands of judiciously placed metal staples, Elana Herzog creates patterns of color and form directly on the wall. She further dramatizes this process by ripping away some parts of the stapled textiles and leaving evidence of where the fasteners once were. Her work is part performance because the creative phase is punctuated by the ebb and flow of application and removal, addition and subtraction, creation and destruction.
Herzog gleans her inspiration from New Britain native Sol LeWitt, the late genius of contemporary conceptual art, as well as Frank Stella, who pioneered large and explosive three-dimensional painting. However, unlike these artists, she has a strong affinity for textiles and often uses cheap, even tacky materials. She describes her work as follows:
My work negotiates a thin line between attraction and repulsion, pain and pleasure, vulgar and sublime. I am fascinated by the way form is generated by growth and decay, construction and destruction. My work has a relationship to Modernism which is both reverent and irreverent…To the extent that I operate from a position of alienation, my relationship to both high and low culture remains vicarious. Site-specific projects are a large part of my practice. Each site has its challenges: formal, conceptual, and practical. Curiosity and desire confront the demands of the physical and institutional world—space, time, and resources.
The site-specific piece The Elephant in the Room was made for the NEW/NOW Gallery at the NBMAA. The expression “the elephant in the room” refers to something that is present but not generally acknowledged. Usually, exhibition spaces are designed to be neutral: when entering a gallery, one expects to view artworks without visual distraction. When entering the NEW/NOW Gallery, Herzog was struck by the visual distraction in the form of an Emergency Exit door, which is surrounded by signs, alarms, lights, and other electronic sensors. Generally, the viewer disregards this prominent component of the room. For Herzog, the exit door is the elephant in the room in the New/Now Gallery and she decided to emphasize its presence instead of ignoring it.
The composition of Herzog’s New/Now artwork is inspired by the mural series The Arts of Life in America by Thomas Hart Benton on view in the very next gallery. Herzog’s piece is specifically inspired by Arts of the City, the only mural with an irregular shape. When Arts of the City was created, it was made to fit around the windows of the room it originally occupied at the Whitney Library in New York City.
Herzog decided to appropriate this shape for her piece in the NEW/NOW Gallery and was able to use the Exit door as one of the components by creating – as Herzog calls it – “a grid; a plaid, … of colored fabric lines that delineate the shape of the painting.” Herzog conceived a grid specific to the gallery so that each line cuts across a device or sign either located near the emergency door or someplace else. This conceptualizstion of composing a piece of art is inspired by Sol LeWitt’s creative process. LeWitt’s wall drawings were often executed by other people based on his directions, just as Herzog’s piece is “directed” by the various mechanical facets of the gallery. Currently there are several examples of LeWitt’s work on view at the NBMAA, Complex Form #4 (1987) can be seen in the sculpture garden, Horizontal Brushstrokes (2003) can be seen in the Great American Watercolor exhibition and a third work Wall drawing #1196, Scribbles (2005-06) is located in the lobby of the Museum.
Elana Herzog’s work is on display until July 25, 2010.
Can you think of any other artists that use textiles in their works? Do you think being a woman and using textiles sends a certain type of message to the viewer? Would this meaning be different if the artist were male? What do you think of Herzog’s response to the gallery space? What does it emphasize?