Milwaukee Museum of Art exhibit is a study in texture and color
By Ana Martinez-Ortiz
When does a common object become a work of art? When an artist takes it and decides their purpose is not merely practical but worthy as a means of creating art. This is the case of fiber yarns and paper yarns used by textile artist Christy Matson.
Matson’s work is currently on display at the Milwaukee Art Museum, 700 N. Art Museum Dr., as part of the museum’s “Current” series. The “Currents 38: Christy Matson” exhibit is at the Bradley Family Gallery and will be on view from Friday, February 25 through Sunday, July 17.
The “Currents” series began in 1982 as a way to showcase contemporary art and artists. Past exhibits have included Rachel Harrison, Gord Peteran, Felix Gonzalez-Torres and more. Matson is the series’ first fiber artist.
Matson’s specialty is weaving, and she uses a digital Jacquard loom to complete her pieces. The loom helps her capture the gradient of colors while challenging the geometric shapes often associated with weaving. The end results are intricately woven pieces that combine textures and colors.
Many of his pieces represent geometric and organic shapes. The works are both structured and fluid.
“Weaving is seen more as a skill or a craft and Christy really elevates this form into contemporary art,” said Monica Obinski during a gallery tour. “That’s really the purpose of the exhibition. Showing how this is just another form of contemporary art.
Obinski is the organizing curator of the High Museum of Art in Atlanta. From 2015 to 2020, she was Curator of Design at the Milwaukee Art Museum.
Matson’s pieces often begin with watercolors or sketches. The Jacquard loom helps her capture the color gradient. Weaving allows him to build the image and the support of said image.
“Before it becomes weaving, it’s a bunch of yarn,” Matson said on the tour. “With weaving, there are two sets of threads. The ones on the loom and the ones you move with. And it all depends on the interaction of these two things.
These interactions, under Matson’s hands, range from piles of yarn to works of art. Although her pieces are contemporary, many of them pay homage to historic patterns and weaving techniques.
In some pieces there is a direct reference to the optical art that was popular in the 60s. Other works are inspired by the outdated bedspreads popularized in the 19th century. While bedspreads were often used as a type of decor for a bed, Matson’s work is meant to be seen.
“Overshot is an exciting weaving structure for me,” she said. “It’s a bit optical and spectacular.”
It’s a multi-level process, she says, and it allows her to incorporate more information into each piece.
While some of Matson’s pieces are relatively small, others take up more wall space.
“I tend to bounce between ladders,” Matson said. “If I do a bunch of really big tunes, I end up doing little things as a sort of antidote. In general, my practice tends to ripple between different polls.
The same notion applies to his use of color. Some are minimalistic while others depict bold and bright colors.
Although the pieces may appear flat, they have a dimensional quality. They are textured, Matson said, adding that they have tactility. In one piece, Matson features waffle weave – a functional technique often used to create shirts or thermal layers. In this case, the technique elevates the room.
“These pieces kind of function like paintings in many ways,” Matson said. “But because I’m able to create the canvas or the surface, I’m able to create things that sometimes have very literal 3D elements in them.”
In addition to the more than 40 exhibits, visitors can also see a video of Matson at work in his studio located in Los Angeles. Filmmaker Sam Macon captured the footage, which includes superimposed shots of Los Angeles.
The exhibition also includes the piece “Magical Thinking”, a work that recently joined the collection of the Milwaukee Art Museum.
“It felt like a museum piece to me,” said Margaret Andera, acting chief curator of the Milwaukee Art Museum, which helped acquire the piece for the museum. “It was a really different direction and it linked strongly to a number of works in our collection.”
“Magical Thinking” represents both geometric and organic forms. Matson created the work during the pandemic, when she, like many, has gone through the confusion of the past two years.
All of Matson’s pieces invite the viewer to take a closer look. From technique to layers and everything in between, Matson’s work lends itself to inspection and introspection.
The Milwaukee Art Museum is open 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday through Sunday. For more information, visit mam.org.