Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Visual Indulgence

To weather the slumping economy, a lot of us are scaling back and relying on the basics to get by. So it’s especially delightful that the Chazen Museum of Art offers a chance to indulge the senses—for free—in its two latest exhibitions.

Writing with Thread: Traditional Textiles of Southwest Chinese Minorities and Mannerism in Italy and the Low Countries, running through April 12 and 26 respectively, are visual odes to embellishment, flourish and the little “extras” that elevate a work into something different and special.

Writing with Thread showcases costumes, clothing and jewelry from fifteen ethnic groups and almost one hundred subgroups of southwest China. Five hundred vibrantly hued woven and embroidered textiles range from festival garments to shirts, skirts, aprons and vests to bed covers and baby carriers. Colorful and intricate detailing in the pieces include stripes, geometric shapes, dragons, human figures, birds, flowers and many other forms. According to the museum, clothing helps groups signify their identities and record their histories, myths and legends.

Also on display are jewelry and metalwork, as well as a loom, braiding stool and spinning wheel, which offer a glimpse into how the ornate textiles are made.

In the Mannerism in Italy and the Low Countries exhibit, in place of flourish and ornamentation, black and white engravings reveal humans with rippling muscles, contorted visages and twisted torsos.

Drawn primarily from the museum’s permanent collection, the works on paper illustrate how the Mannerists of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries in Italy and the Netherlands departed from earlier artists’ classical ideals of beauty, proportion and symmetry. Instead of trying to depict nature as realistically as possible, they created a more expressive style that’s a visual treat for the eyes.

The Chazen is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. For more information, call 263.2068 or visit

Images are courtesy of the Chazen Museum of Art.

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