Museum Exhibitions

How Pattern and Decoration broadened the artworld’s horizon

Pattern and Decoration: An Ideal Vision in American Art, 1975-1985,� curated by Anne Swartz. Hudson River Museum, Yonkers, NY. Through Jan. 20. Check out Librado Romero’s NYTimes slide show.

Holland Cotter takes a ride to Yonkers and reports that P&D was the last real art movement of the 20th century. “We don�t do art movements anymore. We do brand names (Neo-Geo); we do promotional drives (‘Painting is back!’); we do industry trends (art fairs, M.F.A students at Chelsea galleries, etc.). But now the market is too large, its mechanism too corporate, its dependence on instant stars and products too strong to support the kind of collective thinking and sustained application of thought that have defined movements as such….They all asked the same basic question: When faced with a big, blank, obstructing Minimalist wall, too tall, wide and firmly in place to get over or around, what do you do? And they answered: You paint it in bright patterns, or hang pretty pictures on it, or drape it with spangled light-catching fabrics. The wall may eventually collapse under the accumulated decorative weight. But at least it will look great. And where do you find your patterns and pictures and fabrics? In places where Modernism had rarely looked before: in quilts and wallpapers and printed fabrics; in Art Deco glassware and Victorian valentines. You might take the search far afield, as most of these artists did. They looked at Roman and Byzantine mosaics in Italy, Islamic tiles in Spain and North Africa. They went to Turkey for flower-covered embroideries, to Iran and India for carpets and miniatures, and to Manhattan�s Lower East Side for knockoffs of these. Then they took everything back to their studios and made a new art from it.” Read more.

In the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Regina Hackett disagrees. Strongly. “To reply to Cotter in kind, all knowing about the past, present and future, I’d say that P&D was weak then, weak now and will be weak when the sun winks out. The best argument for contemporary decoration was made not by painters but by glass artists, led by Dale Chihuly. Lots of savvy types don’t buy the glass version, either. As Charles Mudede likes to say, ‘Check yourself before you wreck yourself.’ Wise words. Criticism would be easy if art would stand still and allow us wrap it in our declaratives.” Read more.

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