Sweaters and slogans
Lisa Anne Auerbach at UMMA
From the September, 2009 issue
The U-M Museum of Art's glass-walled Project Gallery could pass these days for a trendy women's clothing boutique. An array of flared-skirt sweater sets hang on headless human forms from fishing line hooked to the ceiling. If you peer in, you can discern slogans and a unique iconography in the narrow-gauge knit.
If you're apt to jump to conclusions, as I am, you might think from a distance that this show's a protest against economic globalism and third-world sweatshops. Or perhaps you'll catch sight of dollar signs and words like "sold" or "buy" that suggest an indictment of consumerism. But L.A.-based knitter, photographer, and conceptual artist Lisa Anne Auerbach tackles nearly as many topics and trends as she has sweaters.
Personal politics are the real fabric of the show. (The artist reportedly wears these outfits, which is why they're all her size.) Here you will see perhaps the world's only cheerleader-style sweater proclaiming "KEEP ABORTION LEGAL" across the bustline, complete with a megaphone graphic and a tiny Olive Oyl-looking figurine stomping bowlegged with fist raised. The back of the red-and-blue sweater says "CHEER FOR CHOICE." It's a fresh approach to a tired debate.
Levity tempers the approach to Smash Monogamy and Sell Art, Buy Shoes, as well as pieces promoting the neutering of feral cats, bike power, and presidential politics ("My Jewish Grandma Is Voting for Obama/Chosen People Choose Obama"). The tone turns darker in sweaters tolling deaths in Iraq and blasting the language of the War on Terror. Multiple versions of "Thank God I'm an Atheist" seem almost threatening, one warning on the back "Keep your church off my state." Other sweaters have cryptic images and text that leave you wondering if Auerbach's knitting machine went haywire and she liked the abstract result, or if she's getting at something you just can't grasp at a glance.
Auerbach's blogs and websites have lively names and slogans too: she currently posts to the "Little Red Blog of Revolutionary Knitting" more
than "Steal This Sweater," where she advised readers to "Get all cozy and radical." If one piece in the show is going to stop you in your tracks and make you realize just how contemporary an artist Auerbach is, it may be the last: Never Neverland. Memorializing the "Prince of Darkness" and "KING OF POP," this black-and-white sweater set features images of syringes and question marks in its blood-red trim. A "6/25" date nestles in the neckband.
Auerbach will give a talk on the exhibit at UMMA at 6:30 p.m. on Friday, September 11, and curator Jacob Proctor will discuss it at 2 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 13. The show runs through October 11.
[Originally published in September, 2009.]
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