A few hours in New York City: Subversive knitting?

I’m in New York City for the annual conference of the American Society of Journalists and Authors. I flew into LaGuardia for the first time, and in the process got to see the Statue of Liberty "for real" for the first time (not just a photo) as the plane flew north across the city toward the airport.

It was actually a great flight for seeing things from the air at other times, too. As we passed Chicago, the clouds parted and I was able to recognize buildings along the shoreline where I grew up. I think I could even see the Baha’i Temple up by Wilmette Harbor (I can’t imagine what else would be that size, in that location, and white) and probably downtown Evanston as well. The most surprising part of seeing the city was how small its downtown area really seemed, and how the clusters of tall buildings looked like tiny mineral growths, concentrated in small areas. The city sure never felt that way when we walked along the streets with the winter wind being channeled by the massive structures around us! In all the flying and traveling I’ve done, the view I had today was not even remotely like any I’ve experienced before.

LaGuardia began operations in 1947 and feels that way. I like that. Getting from LaGuardia to the hotel in Manhattan was a cinch. I’m accustomed to flying into Newark, which I don’t think of as hard, but . . . well, this was easier. (Hmm. Newark’s been doing its thing since 1948, but there’s no comparison in the feel. It’s been upgraded. Actually, I remember Newark before it was upgraded. Spooky. Now it’s very slick-feeling.)

I settled into the inexpensive hotel a friend and I found last year when we were staying in a hostel that was overrun with teenagers who were not only ignoring quiet hours but crossing out (with black magic marker) the signs about quiet hours. I like hostels. I stay in them often. That one had several other drawbacks, but the fact that it was only quiet between 3 and 6 a.m. was the deal-breaker. So we hit the guidebooks and found what used to be called the Pickwick Arms and is now the Pod Hotel. I liked the piped-in music better when it was the Pickwick Arms, but it’s still reasonable, clean, functional, and affordable.

New York is a relatively new discovery for me. When I was thirteen, my grandparents brought me here and we went to a show at Rockefeller Center. That’s all I remember, because (this being my grandparents) we probably didn’t stick around but just passed through. For a decade, I was married to someone who was born and raised in the area. When we’d visit his family and friends, they’d mention all sorts of things they’d show me some day—top of the list was The Cloisters, for the Unicorn tapestries.

Sixteen years after the divorce, I had a reason to come to New York so I began discovering it on my own, with a first trip five years ago. In addition to the conference I was attending, I went to The Cloisters and saw the tapestries and much more. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. The Frick. Grand Central Station. More.

Now I know just a bit of my way around, so when I came in today I threw my stuff down at the hotel and headed for the Museum of Arts and Design, which has an exhibit up now called Radical Lace & Subversive Knitting. Thursday’s the day the museum is open late and "pay whatever you want," instead of regular admission.

No photos allowed, and the photographs of the pieces that are in the brochure don’t do the work justice and don’t depict my favorite items. (Make got permission to photograph, but they didn’t shoot what I would have.)

The definitions of "lace" and "knitting" are broad. Some things simply mimic lace and knitting in other materials. The show’s on two floors of the museum, with a couple of pieces that span the intermediate spaces. The stuff I liked best was not what might be categorized as subversive (which seems too easy . . . the truly subversive, in my mind, isn’t obviously so) but what pushes the limits of craft or takes a new view of thread—or the appearance of thread.

There’s one work that’s made from sheet metal auto-part discards that have been perforated with lace-like patterns. It’s cool.

One of the pieces that’s been shown in publicity for the show is a pair of tiny gloves by Althea Merback. Yep, they’re cool, but what was even cooler were the three breathtakingly miniature and detailed jackets or sweaters next to the gloves.

My favorite group of works is the "Coral Snake Series" by Ruth Marshall. It consists of sixty-eight "biologically accurate life-size replicas" of coral snakes, some coiled and some flat. The natural tendency of stockinette to curl is eerily reminiscent of the natural tendency of snakeskins (sans snakes) to curl. The colors were lovely, and well represented by the gauge of the knitted stitches, the color mixes, and everything else.

Downstairs just after I arrived was a lecture by one of the exhibiting artists, Janet Echelman, a sculptor who has done, among other things, monumental fiber-based installations around the world. Two of the museum guards made sure people who were looking at the exhibit (including me) knew about the event and reception and urged us to go. They were right. It was fun to think about being able to play with fiber at that scale and with that level of effectiveness. Watch for that name in conjunction with the Vancouver Winter Olympics (2010).

The other exhibit at the museum consisted of many contemporary netsuke, or Japanese-style miniature sculptures. Diverse, magical.

Either show on its own would have been worth the time to go to the museum. Both plus the talk? Delightful. I had to go back to the hotel to recover.


4 thoughts on “A few hours in New York City: Subversive knitting?”

  1. Oh! Oh! Oh! I will be in New York (to sing at NY Ukefest) in less than a week. I was planning to see the exhibit already, but now I’m totally excited about it. Can’t wait!!!

  2. Hello. I came to your blog via Catena Expressions. I enjoyed this post. Having grown up in the Chicago area I was interested in your obvservations from above. I was also interested in the museum exhibit. Too bad about the photos, but I found the link interesting. Being something of a creative fuddy-dud, and preferring traditional looking textile arts, I can’t say I saw anything I actually liked, but was interested just the same. Thanks.

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