The savory quotation that leaps from this obituary of artist Jane Kaufman (1938 – 2021) is from Holland Cotter’s review of a 2008 retrospective at the Hudson River Museum in Yonkers, N.Y.
“It’s funky, funny, fussy, perverse, obsessive, riotous, accumulative, awkward, hypnotic,” Holland Cotter wrote in his review of that show in The Times. The Pattern and Decoration movement, he wrote, was the last genuine art movement of the 20th century, with “weight enough to bring down the great Western Minimalist wall for a while and bring the rest of the world in.”
Trained in the art programs of New York University and Hunter College, Kaufman made a sharp turn from abstract painting in the 1970s. It made her prominent in the Pattern and Decoration Movement.
She began stitching and gluing her work, using decorative materials like bugle beads, metallic thread and feathers, and employing the embroidery and sewing skills she had been taught by her Russian grandmother. By the end of the decade, she was making first luminescent screens and wall hangings, then intricate quilts based on traditional American patterns. In celebrating the so-called women’s work of sewing and crafting, she was performing a radical act, thumbing her nose at the dominant art movement of the era.
(Lately, as I re-read the Quixote, I find myself tilting at pugilistic rhetoric in favor of a gentler style of discourse. Is an artist necessarily “thumbing nose” at — i.e., despising — one direction when he or she opts for another?)
The last word in this appreciation is a considered affirmation by curator Anna Katz:
“It was a risk for Jane to make decorative art,” Ms. Katz added. “The term ‘decorative’ was a career killer. It still is. I think her attitude at the time was, this wasn’t the boldest thing she could do; it was the most necessary.”
(Penelope Green, “Jane Kaufman, Artist Who Celebrated Women’s Work, Dies at 83,” NYTimes, 7-15-21)
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