At JTT, Lissy Funk’s Hanging Is a Time Machine

THE DAILY PIC: We love it now, but where did Funk’s embroidery stand in 1965?

THE DAILY PIC (#1323): I came across this hanging, called The Secret Fish, the other day at JTT gallery in New York. It originally hung in a school in Switzerland, and was hand-embroidered by a Swiss textile artist named Lissy Funk in 1965. In 2015, it feels exciting and new.

Funk created an amazing range of textures and colors and patterns; her thread outdid pretty much anything that paint can do. More, even, than with great canvases by famous paintslingers ­– Titian and Rembrandt and Jackson Pollock – Funk’s hanging gives a completely different experience from up close and far away. It feels almost like one big work and lots of smaller ones, all inhabiting the same space.

From nearby, especially, you’re more aware of each labored pass of the needle and thread than you could be of a painter’s brushstrokes.

But here’s one question I had while I was enjoying the piece: Would I have been as enthusiastic way back in 1965? At that moment, just when minimalism and conceptualism and political art were taking off, would Funk’s textile have seemed old-hat and derivative? After all, it was still busy with 1950s notions of expression, of the “hand” and of craft, when the cutting edge had moved on to brainier stuff.

Of course, it could be that my 2015 self is smarter than my 1960s avatar would have been, and less caught up with passing artistic fashions. But it could also be that 50 years’ time has left me utterly out of it, interested only in the surface look of a work without understanding the context it came out of.

There are other options that may be a bit stranger.

Maybe, at this distance in time, we can afford to think of Funk’s piece as a superb work of 1950s art that happens to have arrived a decade late. Is there a law that says it has to be judged by the standards of the moment when it was actually made?

Or we may need to think of different media and disciplines as separate visual cultures that move at their own speeds and come to the same issues at different times, in different contexts, with different meanings. Funk’s Fish embroidery, that is, was precisely what it needed to be, as a textile in Switzerland in 1965.

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