Sew What at the University of Kentucky Art Museum, Lexington

By May 22, 2021
Installation view of Sew What at the University of Kentucky Art Museum in Lexington. Image courtesy of University of Kentucky Art Museum.
Ben Venom, Dont Woke Me Lucifer!, 2010; quilted heavy metal T-shirts, cotton, batting and thread. Image courtesy of University of Kentucky Art Museum.

This exhibition brings together three distinct artists who share a love of common materials and an urge to investigate their potential as component parts of larger objects and installations. Their completed works offer meditations on the history of assemblage, and engage the museum’s architecture by activating the walls, floor, and volume of space that defines the main gallery.

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Jessie Dunahoo was a Lexington artist who was born deaf and additionally lost his vision at a young age. That didn’t prevent him from making elaborate art and environments with materials found around his home. As an adult, he worked five days a week at Latitude Artist Community, a local studio facility that provides care and creative outlets for individuals with disabilities. His sewn-together plastic bags and fabrics present shifting areas of color, texture, language, and transparency—each part selected and located in the overall composition by touch.

Elana Herzog consistently makes and unmakes objects, ripping and cutting textiles and carpets and situating them in unique arrangements. For the last two decades, she has reveled in creating immersive situations that obliterate distinctions between old and new, common and precious, in process and completed. She states, “Speed, labor, progress, obsolescence, loss, kitsch, camp, nostalgia, sentimentality, taste…there are too many clichés out there for what I and other women artists do.”

Ben Venom is self-trained, and he combines the processes and aesthetics of quilt making with the robust graphics of heavy metal and punk music, tattoo culture, and heraldry. Inspired by The Quilts of Gee’s Bend exhibit at the DeYoung Art Museum in San Francisco in 2006, he began cutting up his own favorite band shirts, an act of personal sacrifice and commitment. Since then, his complex wall hangings have combined fragments of t-shirts by groups including AC/DC, Iron Maiden, and Poison, along with swatches of denim and other suggestive fabrics. Together, these form a complicated code switching between gendered traditions and unique sub-cultures.

Sew What asks questions about the nature of creativity—how do artists find the materials and procedures that best suit them, how can different traditions be combined in new ways, and how do we understand the varied reasons for making?

from the accompanying exhibition text

Installation view of Sew What at the University of Kentucky Art Museum. Image courtesy of University of Kentucky Art Museum.
Elana Herzog, Shifting Ground from the series Material Migration, 2012-ongoing; mixed textiles and carpet. Image courtesy of University of Kentucky Art Museum.
Installation view of Sew What at the University of Kentucky Art Museum. Image courtesy of University of Kentucky Art Museum.
Detail shot of Jessie Dunahoo, Untitled, circa 2010-2015; plastic bags, fabric samples, and thread. Courtesy of the Estate of Jessie Dunahoo and Institute 193. Image courtesy of University of Kentucky Art Museum.
Installation view of Sew What at the University of Kentucky Art Museum. Image courtesy of University of Kentucky Art Museum.

Sew What is on view at the University of Kentucky Art Museum in Lexington, Kentucky through July 10, 2021.

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