A needle and thread can make a line in a cross stitch. Weaving is the practice of taking a myriad of lines and making a pattern in the warp and weft. A pencil makes a line on a piece of paper, as does ink. Even paint, when applied with a deft touch, makes a line.
The intersection of all these lines, and their use in modern art throughout the last 40 years, creates the conversation between mediums and artists featured in KMAC’s new exhibition, “Thread Lines,” now on display at the museum.
The exhibit originally hung at The Drawing Center in New York City, curated by Joanna Kleinberg Romanow. It was there that KMAC curator Joey Yates first saw it. And now it has made its way to Louisville for a second life.
Yates spoke with Insider about the exhibit, discussing how “Thread Lines” came to KMAC, the effect the art might have on museum patrons, and how these artists influenced a movement in art that illustrates KMAC’s mission.
“These artists … always existed on the fringes, but over time, they were able to convince the art-going public — the critics, the writers, the historians — that they were actually influencing contemporary art, more than just their oftentimes kind of cloistered subsections of the art world,” says Yates.
Those subsections of art included design and craft — or folk art. And while some artists had occasionally been lauded by the literati, they had never really been accepted as part of the larger art world. In the ’60s and ’70s, that began to change, in part because of the work of many of the artists displayed in “Thread Lines.”
“This show — because of its use of textiles and fiber — by artists who also exist firmly with their contemporary art, they articulated everything we’ve been talking about, shared a lot of thoughts and similar objectives, and we really responded to that,” explains Yates.
Because of those shared thoughts and objectives, Yates says bringing “Thread Lines” to Louisville was a no-brainer.
“It made it easy for us to say, ‘Hey, you know these are already brought together by a New York institution, who oftentimes, because of proximity, have developed really good relationships with other foundations or galleries that represent those artists.’”
In other words, KMAC was able to join the robust conversation between The Drawing Center and these individual artists, which helped KMAC then continue those conversations. Some of the artists, including William J. O’Brien, have had solo shows at KMAC now, in part because of relationships built by bringing “Thread Lines” to the museum.
“There are several artists in the show we had already been sort of looking at, that we consider the kind of archetypal contemporary artist who helped bring a lot of craft practices into contemporary art conversations,” says Yates.
While the history and the academic side of the exhibition is fascinating to art aficionados who like to keep track, the works themselves speak to viewers.
“The show is a little more intimate than the shows we’ve done up until now in the new space,” Yates says. “In hindsight now that it’s up, it’s a nice break from the way the galleries have appeared up until now.”
The smaller works invite a closer look. They require viewers to step a bit closer to see thing like cross stitches, patterns in embroidery hoops, or the delicate lines of ink painstakingly arrayed on paper.
And while many pieces hail from the ’60s and ’70s, there also are newer artists working in diverse mediums.
Even film makes an appearance in this meditation of the nature of lines. “Thread Routes: Chapter I,” the first in a series of six 16mm films by South Korean artists Kimsooja, is a particular entrancing experience. The film visits indigenous textile artists in Machu Pichu, cataloguing their techniques in silence and intercutting images of their beautiful surroundings with images of weaving and sewing.
Both sets of images present lines, curves and geometric patterns. They also draw attention once again to the materials and the craft used to create art.
Another highlight of the exhibit is two works by Lenore Tawney. One is rendered in linen textile, and the other is India ink on graph paper. Yet both seem to speak to the similar ideas of line and color. Different statements to be sure, but it’s a clear example of the line of conversation “Thread Lines” represents.
“Thread Lines” is on display through Aug. 6. KMAC is located at 715 W. Main St. Admission is free.