Skip the Gala, Take the Kids: Sheila Hicks at the Joslyn Museum
Sheila Hicks' "Material Voices" Exhibit is Coming to the Joslyn!
I'm sure you'll agree with me that they just don't make gala invitations like they used to. You know, it's so tiresome being asked to drop $250-a-plate on an invitation printed by Zazzle. Every other arts organization should tack this invite to their wall as inspiration.
But, as much as I love the Joslyn Museum in Omaha and their gorgeous invites, I've learned to boycott all fundraisers that cost less than $40 or more than $120. Less than $40 means a sad hors-d'oeuvres table and if there is an open bar, it will be serving "1-buck Chuck," which is "2-buck Chuck's" vinegary little brother.
But more than $120, and it's going to be corporations buying tables and unless you're a partner in a law firm or a large-scale insurance provider looking to shill up some business, they can be a little dry. Keep it in the sweet spot: $40-$120 means subsidized booze, mini eclairs, and chicken satays passed by good-looking undergrads. Also, $120 might seem like a lot, but it's the equivalent of 7 cocktails. Do you know what I call a night with 7 cocktails? Tuesday!
So although I won't be attending this gala, I was really excited to learn that the Joslyn will be staging an exhibit by textile artist Sheila Hicks and I really hope that a lot more people in Omaha will learn about her work. Having seen her work in the Smithsonian, I was really surprised to learn that she is a Nebraska native, and after decades living in Paris, this retrospective exhibit is a sort of homecoming.
Kids Love Modern Art
Modern art can occupy an interesting place in a family’s cultural life. Often, adults find it too abstract, too intellectual, too weird. And modern art can be exquisitely exclusionary - although almost anyone can enjoy Andy Warhol’s soup cans or Banksy's clever vandalism - the "Jesus made of pee," blank canvases, or "guy bleeding on himself" might be...challenging.
But kids - kids just love modern art. You show them a 40 foot banana peel, they don’t think “Yeah okay great a banana peel” they think “Yeah! Okay! Great! A banana peel!” Adults see a Damien Hirst spin art, and think “Yeah I made that at the church fair when I was 6” and kids think “My church fair spin art is worth a million dollars!” Modern art has colors! and drama! and spectacle! It’s perfect for introducing kids to art! You just try and get them interested in classical sculpture. Or Bierstadt’s landscape paintings. I dare you.
And kids *hate* Thomas Kinkade, which is how you know their taste is infallible.
Textile Art is Feminist Art
Personally, I really like textile art because it’s historically one of the few art disciplines that was primarily practiced and developed by women, and there is a vast international and pan-historical tradition to draw upon. Long before the development of formal arts training, textile arts like sewing, weaving, spinning, and embroidery were as fundamental to the historical life of women as childrearing and cooking.
Because almost all humans use cloth, textile arts include such disparate items as ancient Egyptian funerary shrouds, Native American headdresses, French Aubusson tapestry, Chiapan huipils, and Japanese kimonos. But because textiles have been regarded as utilitarian and common, the "craft" of textiles is often not taken as seriously as "fine arts" like oil-painting or marble-sculpting. However, the technical requirements and artistry is every bit as rigorous and arduous - especially considering that the (mostly female) artists who practice in the medium have historically been exploited, underpaid, and replaced with machinery.
Although precious few American women are as versed in tatting, quilting, and spinning as our great-great-grandmothers, it's really interesting to see how these traditional arts can be elevated when practiced by trained and experienced master-craftsmen. And there's nothing fussy or fuddy-duddy about modern textile art. Like a lot of modern art, textile arts have moved from "things that are simply beautiful" to "things that give me a feeling...even though I'm not sure what they are, or what the point is."
Sheila Hicks is a National Treasure
Sheila Hicks is one of the most prolific and famous of textile artists in the world. Born in Hastings, Nebraska (where Kool-Aid was invented...OHHHH YEEEAAAHHH!), she studied art at Yale, was awarded a Fulbright to study textiles in South America, continued her research in Mexico, and finally became a resident of Paris. Her works are in the collections of every major museum in the world - the Tate, the Smithsonian (twice), the Victoria & Albert, the Met, the National Gallery, the Gobelins, and MoMA. She has received several honorary doctorates and lifetime achievement awards and perhaps coolest of all, is a Knight of Culture in France.
Her upcoming exhibit at the Joslyn, Material Voices, focuses on Hicks’ exploration of line and texture and includes works from various points of her career so you can see her evolution as an artist as well as the elements that unite her work. There will be a variety of hangings, sculptures and tapestries. If you have some familiarity with spinning, weaving, needlework, or textile crafts, you’ll really be blown away at what she does.
Even if you aren't familiar with technique, you still will appreciate her beautiful use of dyes and color. For example, the top photo is her work depicting a rainforest - it's really special, isn't it - all of those greens, and blues. I don't know exactly why, but it really feels like a rainforest.
But, a lot of the works in this exhibit are actually kind of gross-looking, which means your kids will like them. Some look like tangles of hair matted up and spilling out of woven baskets, one looks like hundreds of salami sausages hanging in a butcher's window.
In other words, it's fun for the whole family!
The exhibit will be on display at the Joslyn Museum from June 5 to September 4.
On July 7th, the New Music festival, Omaha Under the Radar will be celebrating the exhibit with performances inside the gallery, including a composition by pianist Stacy Barelos. If you've never been to O.U.R., it's the musical equivalent of modern art - interesting but very challenging...and probably not for kids.
Sheila Hicks: Material Voices is free for kids under 17, college students, and for members ($40 for annual military family membership), otherwise it's $10 adult admission.
Cover photo by Art Poskanzer.