Serendipity @ the Brooklyn Museum

Ghada Amer (American, born Egypt, 1963). The New Albers, 2002. Embroidery and gel medium on canvas. Collection of the artist, courtesy of Gagosian Gallery

Ghada Amer (American, born Egypt, 1963). "The New Albers," 2002. Embroidery and gel medium on canvas. Collection of the artist, courtesy of Gagosian Gallery

I was unfamiliar with Ghada Amer’s work until I accidentally (I was looking for something else entirely) joined a tour of her exhibition that was led by the artist herself and Dr. Maura Reilly, Curator of the Brooklyn Museum’s Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art, where Ms. Amer’s exhilarating exhibition can be seen until October 19.

I find Amer’s work exciting.  It has substance, intelligence, wit, craftsmanship, draftsmanship, originality, and formal beauty.  And it’s very cool. Her paintings combine original embroidery techniques, “thread drips,” pop culture images, pornographic images, and both sexual and mundane politics.

She works on what she calls a handmade “loom” to do her large-scale paintings, but I was unable to find an image of her “loom” (the word “loom” is in quotes because, judging from the result, that loom is WAY nonstandard). Because she uses quick-drying gel to fix the threads in place (that’s the “thread drips” part), her work has the immediacy and riskiness of calligraphy, in which one wrong brush stroke can ruin a work containing hundreds of characters.

The Brooklyn Museum’s website has several images of the artist and her work, a video, a slide show, a link to her gallery’s website, and biographical information, all of which are interesting, but they are no substitute for seeing this subtle work for yourself. This is a detail from her painting “The New Albers” (shown above), and in spite of the poor quality of the photograph, I hope that it will show why her work should be looked at closely.

Ms. Amer also works in other media, and I think her conceptual art and installations are among her most cerebral and provocative work. (The government of Panama was sufficiently provoked to remove some of her street art from public display.)

There is a jumble of other fascinating but incongruous things to see on the fourth floor of the Museum, from period rooms to the just-opened Contemporary Art gallery, but I recommend finding your way to the exhibit of the modernist jewelry of Art Smith (1917-1982).

Art Smith was an artistically and commercially successful black and openly gay jewelry designer who was honored with a one-man show at the Museum of Contemporary Crafts in New York (now the Museum of Arts and Design) in 1969, and whose abstract designs appeared in Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar. His elegant silver jewelry is beautifully displayed at the Brooklyn Museum, and along with the soft jazz playing in the background, it made me nostalgic for a 1950s Greenwich Village that I wish I had known (I did live down there, but this was before my time.)


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