Mixed Media: Two Parrish Shows Cut from the Same Cloth

Alan Shields’ “Maze,” 1951–1982, on view through January 9, 2015
Alan Shields’ “Maze,” 1951–1982, on view through January 9, 2015, Photo: Courtesy Parrish Art Museum

Leading up to and beyond the conclusion of 2014 at the Parrish Art Museum, two major exhibitions are brought together under shared themes of craft, performance and engagement.

On view now through January 19, 2015, Steven and William Ladd: Mary Queen of the Universe and Alan Shields: In Motion demonstrate new ways of thinking about art. Through relatively unconventional use of materials, a certain true nature of the artists—brothers Steven and William Ladd (b. 1977) and Alan Shields (1944-2005)—is revealed. Like a peek into the attic of an old house, there is something deeply personal about textile—cloth, beads and string seem to be infused with memory. And while these are two distinct exhibitions, thinking about them in tandem comes naturally.

Steven and William Ladd’s “Faith,” 2014
Steven and William Ladd’s “Faith,” 2014, Photo: Courtesy Parrish Art Museum

Alan Shields, a Shelter Island resident from 1971 until his death in 2005, was born in Kansas and moved to New York City in 1968. He became known throughout the New York art world with his stained canvases after a successful show at Paula Cooper Gallery. On Shelter Island, Shields was a ferry captain on the North Ferry, between Greenport and Shelter Island, and of course continued to work, without a studio assistant, on large-scale projects made of beads, dyed and painted strips of canvas, such as those on view now at the Parrish. As revealed by guest curator Jill Brienza, Shields had grown up watching his mother and grandmother quilting and once he was in New York, needed to find his own voice. “Being away from home, everything came back to him,” Brienza explained.

“Maze” by Alan Shields
“Maze” by Alan Shields, Photo: Courtesy Parrish Art Museum

“Maze,” 1981-1982, is a life-size, interactive labyrinth that invites viewers to walk within. Sheets of multi-colored canvas, strung together with cotton belting, and suspended to aluminum poles, sway gently—giving life and softness to the work. The title of the exhibition, “In Motion” defines Shields’ work brilliantly—as this and other works, like “Dance Bag,” 1985, suspended from the ceiling, slowly spin and shift— revealing the artist’s interest in architecture, theater and dance. There is something playful and circus-like to the work, as if the artist lived in a fantastic world of his own creation. An original dance performance choreographed by Stephen Petronio specifically for “Maze” will be presented at the Parrish on November 7 and 8.

Beads, cloth and performance continue with the Bushwick-based Ladd brothers. Hand-sewn boxes, filled with intricate scrolls of fabric and adorned with beads of various sizes, become wall-sculptures and towers that represent both memory and performance. Memories for the collaborative fraternal team are shared ones—as illustrated in “Faith,” an incredibly detailed sculptural work made up of dark green scrolls, black-beaded trees, fire-colored hand-blown glass “flames” and handcrafted brass ants, represents a forest area where they were not allowed to play as children in their hometown of St. Louis. The performance aspect of “Faith,” which took place on October 26, began with the 36 boxes, closed and stacked in a tower, which the Ladds will systematically open and arrange into the forest landscape. Performance also comes into play, in the form of engagement, with their “Scrollathon” community project—something the Ladd’s have done with kids and women on Rikers Island as part of their mission to spread positivity through craft collaboration. Through making scrolls of tightly wound found materials, participants are introduced to sustainability and their own ability to create, as well as bonding through a discussion of values. A Scrollathon will be taking place at the Parrish as well—with an opportunity for kids from all over the East End to take part in the collaboration and then see their work on display at the museum in February, 2015.

“Community Scrollathon: Repurpose, Reuse, Upcycle” will take place at the Parrish Art Museum on Sunday, November 9, from 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. in collaboration with CMEE and The Watermill Center. On Sunday, November 2, Jill Brienza, who curated Alan Shields: In Motion, will present a talk on the artist’s work within the context of his life and influences. “Into the Maze” will be performed by the Stephen Petronio Dance Company on November 7 & 8.

The Parrish Art Museum is located at 279 Montauk Highway in Water Mill. For reservations and details on all exhibition-related programs visit parrishart.org or call 631-283-2118.

More from Our Sister Sites