University Art Gallery

INTIMATE APPAREL
(Merkin Exhibition)

January 30 - March 14, 2010

Curated by Linda Gass.

The Intimate Apparel Exhibit: Reviving an undercover cover-up

This is the last venue in the tour of this exhibition, which was previously shown at The Textile Center in Minneapolis and the Pi Gallery in Kansas City in 2008. Curator Linda Gass invited 22 artists from around the world to participate and the resulting collection of 34 works is wildly diverse and inspired.

“What is a merkin?” you might ask. Few speakers of the English language know the meaning of the word. Dictionaries vary on the definition however most agree that it's a pubic wig. The authoritative Oxford English Dictionary defines it as “an artificial covering of hair for the female pubic region; a pubic wig for women.”

The origin of the merkin goes back many centuries to a time when pubic lice were a common problem and women had to shave their pubic area to eradicate the lice and relieve the itching. Someone then invented merkins to replace the shaved hair. Prostitutes were frequent wearers of merkins as well, using them to cover up the marks of syphilis and genital warts so they could appear to be disease-free and therefore still employable. As hygiene improved and drugs were developed, the need for merkins disappeared.

When asked why she wanted to create this exhibit, curator Linda Gass replied, “I thought it would be fun and fascinating to use this obscure historical object as a format for making art. It seemed like there were so many possibilities for expression and I wanted to see what this group of talented artists could do. The works they have created have exceeded my expectations.”

The invited artists are innovators in their respective fields – some are inventors of key surface design techniques and others have significantly expanded on traditional techniques. A common characteristic in all of the artists is their willingness to take risks. They have created a collection of visually exciting pieces utilizing weaving, embroidery, crochet, quilting, fusing, felting, silkscreening, monoprinting, marbling, beading, bookmaking, basketry, painting, casting, burning, and mixed media assemblage.

The artists explore a wide range of issues in the artwork for this exhibition. Although the original function of the merkin was to replace something “lost” in an area of the body we often consider very private and vulnerable, the artists have gone far beyond these beginnings. The artworks address sexuality, fertility, shame, self-esteem, danger, power struggles and domination, flirtation and seduction, voyeurism, pleasure, and the stages of our lives. Many of the artists use humor in their work - some directly through use of illustrative graphics, others more subtly through their choice of materials or title.

The artists' merkins are made from diverse and sometime surprising materials. In addition to fabrics such as velvet, silk, cotton and lace, the artists have used beads, sequins, human hair, X-acto blades, silicone fishing bait, bobby pins, pine cone scales, chrysanthemum stamens, lichen collected from the Black Forest in Germany, seaweed, glass eyes, fish skin, vintage keys, match sticks, mirrors, aluminum, copper wire, rusted metal washers, and plastic and glass fruit. One of the merkins will literally come to life during the exhibit: it is made of moss and seeds and visitors to the gallery will be able to interact with the merkin by misting it with water to help it grow.

The exhibit originally debuted at the Pi Gallery in conjunction with the 14th International Surface Design Conference at the Kansas City Art Institute in Kansas City, Missouri. Based on enthusiastic audience response, The Textile Center in Minneapolis, MN, and The University Art Gallery have requested to show the exhibition. The Textile Center Director, Margaret Miller, seized the opportunity to show the exhibit, noting that “the artistic excellence and the diversity of techniques and medium are outstanding but what really hooked me on this show was the way it engages the audience with its uniquely provocative theme.” University Art Gallery Director, Lasse Antonsen, first learned of the exhibit through his wife, Elin Noble, one of the artists in the exhibit. “I immediately loved the concept of the exhibition, and found the work inventive, irreverent and humorous, as well as very beautiful. I especially appreciate that it is an exhibition initiated by a female artist who invited other female artists to participate, all commenting on this very private part of the female body. The exhibition is a testament to the freedom of expression that we all enjoy,” says Antonsen.

For more information about the exhibit, please visit the exhibition website at www.lindagass.com/IntimateApparel




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