The squares have it

A glib hand could easily have written the press release for the 11th annual International Surface Design Conference exhibits: It might shout, “It’s hip to be square!” or “Welcome to Squaresville!” The connotations would be accurate, but the tone would be off the mark entirely. The many Kansas City shows celebrating the latest in textile art reveal a deep sense of gracefulness, impeccable craft, respect for history, and patience with beauty’s revelation. Yet right now the art community belongs to the simple but prevalent square.

Jason Pollen’s elegant exhibit, Chance of Rain, at the Dolphin Gallery is replete with iridescent forms scattering over fields and grids of squares. Against Pollen’s graceful quietude is John Garrett’s “My-Mine-Mined-Mind” piece — composed of squares of metal mesh sculpted with objects as diverse as woven bronze strips, plastic buttons, and assorted fabrics — in the Men of the Cloth exhibit at the Leedy-Voulkos Art Center. Comparatively, it is a harder, more abrasive use of squares, yet it retains the lyrical qualities inherent in Pollen’s softer works.

A similar use of mesh and metal appears in Kiyomi Iwata’s wall hangings at Jan Weiner Gallery. Squares are layered upon other squares in these works, and unlike Pollen and Garrett’s use of the square as a springboard, Iwata’s squares themselves are the point, minimal and stark except for tiny French embroidery knots scattered upon the surface. The square also appears to be the endpoint for Canadian artist Dorothy Caldwell, whose large-scale work “Polestar” is at the Artspace exhibit The Contemplative Stitch. The squares have a solid edge and meet in a distinct line; black and white stitches layer the work like television snow, but the activity enhances the dominant forms underneath.

Squares strike at the heart of the Midwest: Fields are cordoned off with barbed wire in generally squarish areas, and quilts from this area have long been pieced with square swatches of scrap fabric. On a more philosophical plane, to the suprematists at the turn of the 20th century the square represented humans’ desire to control a chaotic natural world, which can be carried over to express a sense of balance or restraint over the current chaos of civilization and repressed and explosive emotion. With the realm of textile art evolving into, essentially, material art (witness the “quilt” made entirely of laser-printed plastic and tape at the Up and Coming show in the Opie Gallery), perhaps some of the old-school artists hope for control over their medium. Where no solid definitions hold true and changes assault us daily, the deliberate square appears not cold but solid and comfortable.

Jason Pollen: Chance of Rain
through July 1

at Dolphin Gallery

1901 Baltimore


Men of the Cloth

through June 30

at Leedy-Voulkos Art Center
2012 Baltimore


Kiyomi Iwata
through June 30

at Jan Weiner Gallery

4800 Liberty


The Contemplative Stitch

through July 8

H&R Block Artspace at the Kansas City Art Institute

16 E. 43rd Street


Categories: A&E, Art