Retrospective of fiber artist opens at Brooklyn Museum
Institutionalized for more than three decades and largely deaf and mute, Judith Scott found her voice through art, forming intricate sculptures of yarn, fabric and other fibers tightly wrapped around an array of found objects.
Born with Down syndrome, the late artist is getting her first solo museum exhibition in the United States. “Bound and Unbound” opens Friday at the Brooklyn Museum featuring 60 of her cocoon-like works.
But the honor would not have fazed Scott, who died in 2005 at 61. It was the creative process — not accolades — that engaged her.
Scott was single-minded about her work. As soon as she finished a piece she pushed it away to signal she was done and immediately moved on to her next project. Found or salvaged objects, everything from fans to shopping carts, gave shape to her wrapping and weaving technique.
Born in Cincinnati, Scott was largely isolated for 35 years until her sister, Joyce, became her legal guardian and introduced her to the Creative Growth Art Center in Oakland, California, in 1987. While Scott had shown no artistic aptitude, Joyce Scott felt the facility for adults with developmental and mental disabilities would be a nurturing place for her.
It took nearly two years for Scott to begin expressing herself artistically, after a teacher brought some textiles to class and Scott picked up some sticks and began wrapping them. From then on, she was given free rein to select her materials. Gradually, her brightly-colored pieces got more complex. Some got quite large including a fiber-encased shopping cart, one of the few pieces where the object is not disguised.
“Her work had nothing to do with art therapy,” said Frank Maresca, whose Chelsea gallery champions self-taught artists. “She was born with a gift of creativity” that’s about form, color and process — “all the things that contemporary and modern artists are about.”
Even though her work has been shown in other museums and art galleries and several major museums own some of her pieces, he said she remains largely unknown to the general public.
Maresca said he was bowled over by her creativity the minute he met her some 20 years ago and immediately decided to showcase her work at his Ricco Maresca Gallery.
“My sister was considered worthless and effectively cast aside for 35 years by society,” said Joyce Scott. “It is a tribute to her inner resilience that once given the opportunity she was embraced as an artist of outstanding ability and originality.”
But she said Judith Scott couldn’t have realized her potential without Creative Growth.
“Judith’s life and work really follows the change in disability culture and the arts that we have seen in the past few decades,” said its director, Tom di Maria. “For Judith to go from an institution to the highest level of cultural achievement “is a testament to how far we have come.”
Co-curators Matthew Higgs and Catherine Morris said the exhibition’s goal was to build on the work Scott created for nearly 20 years.
“It’s a larger narrative around the question of the relationship between creativity and disability,” Higgs said.
The exhibition runs through March 29.
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