Not Your Grandma’s Sweaters

Review of The Mysterious Content of Softness at Bellevue Arts Museum by Olivia O.

Ever since I was eight and my grandma taught me how to cast on with some fluffy purple yarn, I’ve been hooked on knitting. Since then, my free time is usually spent churning out hats, scarves, sweaters, and the occasional pair of pants (not kidding). Although I have an obsession with all things yarn, I knew almost nothing about “fiber art,” the medium showcased in The Mysterious Content of Softness at Bellevue Arts Museum.

Lacey Jane Roberts. We Couldn’t Get In. We Couldn’t Get Out. 2006 - 2007. Hand-woven wire, crank-knit yarn, steel poles, assorted hardware. Courtesy of the artist

The exhibit showcases 11 artists at various stages in their careers who use crocheting, knitting, embroidering, and other fiber arts to create metaphors for the fluidity of life and what it means to be human. Despite the traditional techniques used to form them, these aren’t your grandma’s sweaters– everything from knitted fences to embroidered plastic bags to crocheted urinals are on display. The pieces are funny, thought-provoking, whimsical, and baffling – sometimes all at the same time.

Miller & Shellabarger. Untitled (Crochet, Basel, Switzerland). 2008. Archival pigment print, edition of 5, 1 AP. Courtesy of the artists and Western Exhibitions, Chicago, Illinois

Many of the artists use their artwork to address gender issues. One of my favorite pieces, a photo of artists Miller & Shellabarger knitting a bright pink tube while sitting on a fishing boat, takes on two very different images of tough-looking guys and a feminine activity and creates a humorous and interesting combination. Lacey Jane Roberts’ self-described chain-link “fence in drag” creates a bright pink barrier that deliberately interrupts the flow of the exhibit. I loved these pieces; they boldly challenge stereotypes and expectations and give the viewer something to think about.

Nathan Vincent. Locker Room. 2010. Crocheted yarn, foam, wire and polyester stuffing. Courtesy of the artist. Yarn donated by Lion Brand Yarn

Other highlights for me in the exhibit include Nathan Vincent’s Locker Room, complete with life-size replicas of lockers, urinals, and showerheads all made out of yarn, and Angela Ellsworth’s Seer Bonnets: A Continuing Offense, a collection of nine bonnets formed by beautiful pearl-tip corsage pins with the pointed ends sticking out menacingly on the inside.

If you want to see all the creative ways that needles and thread can be put to use, check out The Mysterious Content of Softness. Whether you’re a yarnhead or not, you’ll find a fascinating exhibit that will wow you with the ingenuity and imagination of these incredible fiber artists.

The Mysterious Content of Softness
Bellevue Arts Museum
Through June 26, 2011
Bellevue Arts Museum Hours:

Monday - Thursday 11 am - 5 pm
Friday 11 am - 8 pm
Saturday - Sunday 12 - 5 pm

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