The Embroidered Image @Robert Mann

JTF (just the facts): A group show containing the work of 11 artists/photographers, variously framed and matted, and hung against white walls in the main gallery space and the smaller back room. The show was curated by Orly Cogan.

The following artists/photographers have been included, with the number of works on view and their details as background:

  • Pinky/MM Bass: 1 set of 6 embroidery on gelatin silver prints with platinum hanging hardware and Plexiglas, 1999-2006, each print sized 8×11, unique
  • Orly Cogan: 6 stitched embroidery on printed catalogue pages, 2014, ranging in size from 11×8 to 12×9, unique
  • Matthew Cox: 6 DMC embroidery thread through found x-ray, 2008, 2010, 2011, and 2013, ranging in size from 12×10 to 25×14, unique
  • Jane Waggoner Deschner: 4 works made of hand embroidered found photographs, 2012, 2013, and 2014, ranging in size from 11×15 to 27×27, unique
  • Flore Gardner: 8 embroidered found photographs, 2010, 2012, 2013, and 2014, ranging in size from 4×3 to 20×15, unique
  • Diane Meyer: 4 hand sewn archival pigment prints, 2012 and 2013, ranging in size from 2×3 to 11×13, in editions of 3
  • Jose Romussi: 4 hand embroidered vintage photographs, 2012, ranging in size from 8×6 to 21×17, unique
  • Hinke Schreuders: 5 embroidery and ink on paper and linen, 2014, sized either 10x7x2 or 12x9x2, unique
  • Hagar Vardimon: 6 threads on heavyweight paper works, 2012 and 2014, ranging in size from 8×6 to 17×12, unique
  • Jessica Wohl: 5 embroidery on found photographs (including 1 diptych), 2011 and 2012, sized 10×8 or reverse, unique
  • Melissa Zexter: 4 embroidery on gelatin silver prints or chromogenic dye coupler prints, 2011, 2013, and 2014, each sized 20×24, unique

(Installation shots below.)

Comments/Context: Transforming a photograph by embellishing its surface has long been a strategy used to bring a hand crafted touch to an otherwise mechanized process. Whether it was hand coloring or overpainting, inscription with ink, cuts and incisions, or outright collage, photographers have been physically intervening with their pictures since the age of the hand tinted daguerreotype.

This show brings together a selection of contemporary artists who are using embroidery to enhance their photographic works, taking a needle and thread and stitching through the paper in a dizzying variety of ways. In virtually every case on view here, the perfection of the meticulous needlework is impressive – the thought of repeatedly puncturing a thin paper picture and getting the threads to align with such taut clarity without turning the whole thing into a wrinkled crumpled mess is certainly daunting, so these examples are certainly high on the craftsmanship scale.

The tougher question is how this embroidery technique can become something more than self conscious craftiness. When it is used in the most literal sense (threads of rain coming down on an umbrella, snowflakes sewn into a snowy park scene), embroidered interventions aren’t much more than clever decoration.

Diane Meyer’s works dig much deeper than this kind of overly easy adornment. Starting with drab images of the former East Germany (an abandoned amusement park, a wall of graffiti, a former guard tower in the snow), she uses her needle and thread to create blocks of apparent pixelization. These cross stitched areas match the underlying photographs perfectly in terms of color, but they have become squared off and blurred as though digitally manipulated. But of course she’s done this with an old school “analog” technique, which gives the whole interruption a smart conceptual twist. The thread creates a surprising softness that contrasts with the hardness of the scenes – the weight of history feels like it is being reconsidered via an intimate, time consuming process.

Jane Waggoner Deschner’s works are rooted in found vernacular photography. Dozens of anonymous pictures are bound together like pieces of a quilt, and then overlaid with further sewn designs and texts. A dense grab bag of portraits is turned into a needlepoint sampler, while tourist shots of New York landmarks are connected by the outline of a “Greetings from New York City” postcard. The layers become more intertwined when Wagoner takes a grid of 1950s men in ties and overlays them with sewn outlines of yet more generic family photographs (a man in uniform, a car near a landscape with a waterfall).

Other highlights on view include Orly Cogan’s stitched cartoon characters goofing on auction catalogues (Babar having fun with Peter Beard and Adam Fuss or the Cat in the Hat offering green eggs and ham on mid-century chairs), Pinky/MM Bass’ series of nudes with elaborately embroidered internal organs and skin removed cutaways, and Jessica Wohl’s puzzling spiky masks covering the faces in found portraits. Each uses the stitching to skew our perceptions and push the underlying photographs in unexpected directions.

Whether we see these kind of works as a direct reaction to the pervasiveness of digital technology or simply as a subtrend of the hand crafted in photography, it’s clear that a meaningful slice of the photographic community has a continuing interest in bringing alternative processes and surface interventions into the artistic conversation. in this way, embroidery is just another creative example of physical extension, of taking photography beyond its traditional borders.

Collector’s POV: The works on view are priced as follows:

  • Pinky/MM Bass: $7500
  • Orly Cogan: $1200 each
  • Matthew Cox: $1800 each
  • Jane Waggoner Deschner: ranging from $1050 to $4000
  • Flore Gardner: ranging from $300 to $1400
  • Diane Meyer: ranging from $800 to $4900
  • Jose Romussi: ranging from $1800 to $2750
  • Hinke Schreuders: $3500 each
  • Hagar Vardimon: ranging from $740 to $1400
  • Jessica Wohl: ranging from $500 to $900
  • Melissa Zexter: $3500 or $4000

None of the included artists/photographers has much secondary market history, so gallery retail remains the best/only option for those collectors who are interested in following up.

Read more about: Diane Meyer, Flore Gardner, Hagar Vardimon, Hinke Schreuders, Jane Waggoner Deschner, Jessica Wohl, Jose Romussi, Matthew Cox, Melissa Zexter, Orly Cogan, Pinky/MM Bass, Robert Mann Gallery

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