THEY'RE NOT QUILTS -- they're "fabric collages." They're not dowdy bits of hand-me-downs, pieced together with treasured swatches from grandmother's wedding dress -- but in many cases material has been designed for the quilt. And they display techniques no quilting bee ever knew -- airbrush, silkscreen, computer-generated designs.
These are the "new quilts" at Addison- Ripley Gallery, in "The Quiltmaker as Artist," part of a small-scale revolution to get the quilt off the bed and onto the walls.
The quilts teeter on the edge of art and craft: Fine stitchery is secondary to overall image here. And sometimes that image is calculated to shock.
A quilt stands for warmth and comfort and homey things. But here is Katherine Knauer, self-taught quiltmaker, dwelling on war and death. "Border Wars" is a cozy quilt in camouflage colors covered with panels of men fighting and skeletons dancing. Her "Conventional Forces" is a traditional quilt pattern adapted to an anti-war statement. And in case you're wondering what ghoulish sewing shop supplied the fabric -- repeated patterns of hand grenades, parachutists or machine guns -- forget it. Knauer designs her own.
There are nine quiltmakers here, all members of the Manhattan Quilters' Guild, who share a philosophy that quilting is art. But that's where the similarity ends. The results differ enormously.
Emiko Loeb does use old fabrics -- antique Japanese kimonos -- to fashion abstract designs, a quilt flowing with pieces that drift and float with lightness. Margit Echols restrains herself to rigid pattern, her decorative pieces ranging from a traditional patchwork sampler (here you see those Star and Log Cabin patterns in miniature), to a deep lush Art Deco spread in black satin and velvet.
The movement from humble craft to work of art accelerates when the artist uses tradition as only a starting point. Old quilts have autobiographical elements to them -- signatures of all the participants in a quilting bee, or a family chronology, a place for recording weddings and childbirths. But Robin Schwalb starts with more personal things in her beautiful work. One small quilt stands for her honeymoon in Big Sur; symbolic seaweed ripples across it. And her "Persistence of Vision" is a vertiginous moving picture of greens, blacks and blues. This represents, according to the artist's note, "a particularly frightening incident that happened to me in a movie theater projection booth."
This sort of fiber art is a departure for the gallery, but owner Chris Addison makes the point that some of these quilts have taken hundreds of hours to do -- more than many paintings. This quilt show, he says, is "an experiment. The next one will be bigger, wilder . . . "
"Painting '87" is the Arlington Arts Center's annual juried exhibition, and over all, the works are large-scale, emotive and tinged with violence and suffering. Among the 29 works, there are a few merry abstractions and playful geometrics that do little to relieve the angst.
Edward Knippers' "Massacre of the Innocents" is at once powerful and repulsive -- blood and gore, a modern Herod thrusting about in an abattoir. Holly Hofmann's "When the Dead Come Home to Rest" is a bit incomprehensible, something that suggests a large pierced skull, and the composition doesn't hold. But the colors of blood and anxious brushstrokes are right. Lawley Paisley-Jones asks "Are the Big Men Small?" This too has some problems -- you tend to read it in two sections rather than as one work -- half of it being John Wayne, the other a helicopter drop.
These three works take up a wall apiece, but other works on a smaller scale deal almost obsessively with either religion or death or usually both. Barbara Haskell, chief curator at the Whitney Museum of American Art, was juror for the show. But it's clear there's something deeper at work here than mere personal taste.
THE QUILTMAKER AS ARTIST -- At Addison/Ripley Gallery, 9 Hillyer Court (behind the Phillips Collection), through January 2. 11 to 5 Tuesday through Saturday.
PAINTING '87-At the Arlington Arts Center, 3550 Wilson Boulevard, through January 9. 11 to 5 Tuesday through Sunday.