Why I Did Not Like the Subversive Knitting Show, with Digressions

New York Minknit Knit/craft Weekend

I kind of felt bad saying this show sucked, but it did. First, three digressions.

1. At first, I was going to apologize for writing digression no. 2 (below), because I was thinking it sounded kind of pretensious and obnoxiously-pinkies-out-ish. But then I realized that I don’t think it is pretensious to care about art and literature. To quote from this funny hipster makeover article I just read, from TimeOut New York, “I resent being labeled a hipster. Just because I don’t dress like a preppy douche bag or listen to the pop garbage that pervades the airwaves? C’mon. Anyone with even an ounce of good taste can appreciate those choices.” Since I have notoriously bad taste in music, and I like to dress like a preppy douche on a regular basis, I don’t think the specifics of this sentiment apply to me, but the feeling does. I don’t think learning about art, literature, history, or other stuff makes you a pretensious snob, it makes you interesting.

That being said, another quote from this article (really funny, you should click through to it) also rings a bell, “Normally, I’m something of a book snob. I prefer reading—translated, of course—authors like Jean Genet or Hermann Broch to Dan Brown and David Baldacci. So it was with some trepidation that I entered Borders and purchased a Star Wars novel and a copy of Maxim. Reading these gems on the L train was humiliating. I wear my cultural trappings as a badge of pride, and apparently, I also like to impress people whose opinions I claim not to care about.” I am proud (perhaps obnoxiously so) of my attempts to learn about The Culture, so I will concede a bit of prentensiousness. Moving on to digression no. 2.

(1a. As this article proves, no hipster considers himself a hipster, and thus, no one should be offended by my description of the Renegade Craft Fair as being filled with “twee products and nerdy hipsters” since that would require self-identification as a hipster. Also? Nerdy hipster boys: cute. Twee products are also ridiculously cute.)

2. Sometimes I see something (something artsy, that is) that I don’t think is particularly great and in fact, kind of boring, but then I keep thinking back to it and realize that actually, it was good, because it had such an amazing hold on me. Examples include the movies Les Enfants du Paradis, The Saddest Music in the World, and the Golem, and these Francis Bacon paintings I once saw. The knitting show does not fall into this category.

3. There’s been a lot of drama around the knit blogging world about being mean (see Yarn Harlot, Knitting Curmudgeon, and January One, for various takes on this). Part of it, I think, is at least a little gender related. Women, for the most part, have been taught to get along, and there’s both a veneration and condemnation of Heathers-like behavior. Reading about the blog drama reminded me of this really great book, Civilities and Civil Rights. When is something an issue of civility and when is something an issue of civil rights? Does saying mean things about another blogger create a Hostile Blogging Environment? When is trying to silence or shame another blogger into silence an issue of taking away their rights? Should the Ku Klux Klan be allowed free speech? And so on and so forth. Discuss amongst yourself.

I introduce this digression to say that I felt a little bad about saying the knitting show sucked, but, hey it did.

All right, my many digressions aside, don’t you want another photo? Here ya go!

New York Minknit Knit/craft Weekend

This was a piece that Adam and I both particularly disliked. To quote from Adam’s flickr caption: “It was supposed to represent the grid of Midtown Manhattan, but it just seemed like the artist pulled that BS explanation from where the sun don’t shine.

I told Claire [New York Minknit] that the piece and its accompanying artist’s statement reminded me of a really bad college paper that you know is bullshit and poorly reasoned but that you have to turn in because, hey, at least some credit is better than none.”

Overall I think the show really failed. If it was aiming to be a craft show, there no sense of great craft–nothing that really inspired me or made me gasp at the technique. As an art show, it did even worse. Some of the best art shows I’ve seen have created an immediate reaction of awe–Richard Serra’s sculptures (haven’t seen the NY MoMA show yet, sadly–though here are some photos of a knitter at a Serra sculpture in SF) or Pipilotti Rist’s video installations; challenged me to think, like the Kara Walker show last year at the Met; or hell, were just beautiful, like that Amish quilt show I saw in fifth grade. That Robert Moses show, though not an art show, was informative, interesting, and thought-provoking. That, at the least, is what a curator should strive for.

To say in the intro (first photo above) that the works are “commentaries on the traditional and stereotyped roles associated with the techniques and the practioners” is fine and dandy, but when you do it with something so facile as knitting a dress out of cut-up dollar bills, or having custom blankets made out of historical knitting photos, you have progressed into the realm of dumb.* I know that not just grandmothers knit–what does that really say about the role of women today? Or handicraft today? This was a question that, in my opinion, was not successfully answered by most of the art works, even though the plaques offered bs-y interpretations to claim that a wedding dress made of coffee filters represented the disposable nature of fashion. (The best piece was probably one that involved knitters reknitting corporate logos and sending them to Nike and other corporate HQs to protest sweatshop conditions, but there were only videos–no actual pieces–on display. It seemed a little protest-gimmicky to me, but I think it was the most successful at answering the questions about what knitting means today.) To go along with Adam’s commentary above, the bs-y explanations remind me of the time in high school when I almost told my class that when Paul Laurence Dunbar wrote “WE wear the mask that grins and lies,/ It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,” he meant butt cheeks. Fortunately for my English class, I realized this was a stupid comment and did not share it, though not before Sarah guessed what I was going to say, and started laughing and couldn’t stop. (Though secretly, I still don’t think it’s that crazy of an interpretation. Anyone? Bueller? Bueller?)

This show did nothing to convince me about knitting as an art, versus a craft. Also, to sound totally cheap, this show cost $9! I know that art should no price, but when I am coughing up $9 a person to see something, it’s frustrating to feel that a show is a waste of my time and money, when I could have paid nothing to see, say, the awesome mummies at the Met.

* What, you say, about Tom Sachs? Is he dumb? I personally like Tom Sachs because I admire the level of craft and wit in his art, but perhaps my opinion of him has improved as his fame has grown.

Posted in Uncategorized at June 23rd, 2007. Trackback URI: trackback

2 Responses to “Why I Did Not Like the Subversive Knitting Show, with Digressions”

  1. June 25th, 2007 at 10:48 pm #michele

    okay this is really well thought out. it’s a lot to digest and i’m short on brain power at the moment but i want to think about it and post another comment in a day or two.

    you raise a lot of important issues about art and craft and women’s work that i also think about and that i want to comment about too. at this point let me just say i appreciate the intelligence and thoughtfulness of this post.

  2. June 26th, 2007 at 5:49 pm #michele

    i haven’t seen the Radical Lace & Subversive Knitting exhibit so i can’t comment too much on it. from what i’ve read it got mixed reviews, so you aren’t the only one who thought it sucked.

    from the photo you posted of the blue & white netting stuff this piece looks amateurish and hastily executed. i can see why you would be disappointed.

    the latest issue of Selvedge magazine includes a review of this show and a photo of a row of shovel blades that have been cut away to reveal a lace like pattern. from the photo this work looks beautiful and i would have liked to have seen it. i think i would have found this inspiring as a piece of art. doubt it would influence on my approach to knitting though.

    it’s tough to bridge the water between art and craft. while messy and spontaneous can enhance a piece of art (think allowing some of the paint to drip down the canvas) messy and spontaneous is often disasterous when it comes to craft. messy in craft is upsetting and insulting more than anything. the curator of this show may not have understood this or may not have had a clear enough vision for the show to begin with.

    you’ve said discuss the issue of meanness and criticism in the knit blog world amongst yourselves but i’d like to add my 2 cents here.

    any professional curator (writer, dancer, coreographer, composer, architect – the list goes on) expects not everyone is going to like their work. they get that people are going to have hard things to say and the professionals in the bunch don’t get huffy about it.

    i understand knit blogging is a bit different, it’s more personal. still a blog is not a private diary – when you put something up it becomes public, people are going to react to it and i believe they have a right to do this. i want to know what people think of what i’m doing and saying and while i would prefer they be polite i don’t expect an apology if they aren’t.

    if we can only say ‘nice’ things on the blogs then the conversation isn’t going to get beyond “i love it” or “how did you do that”. personally i want a deeper conversation.