The Incredible Quilts of Bisa Butler In Her First Museum Survey, "Bisa Butler: Portraits" @ Katonah Museum of Art
Where painting is perceived as a singular artistic act, textile work implies collaboration, regardless of how solitary the process might be. Textile artists share a generational pride as they quite literally fashion precious fabrics, whether humble or lavish, and honor them in tactile sculptural form. Quilts, a special oeuvre within textiles, offer a poetic chronology of African American culture that pays homage to place and family at a time when we feel less rooted, less connected, in our daily lives. Bisa Butler is one of America's great quilt artists, who has taken the art form and elevated it to an almost painterly practice. This Summer and into the Fall, Butler's first museum survey, Bisa Butler: Portraits, is on view at Katonah Museum of Art in Katonah, NY through October 4, 2020, and features one of the most essential collections of her quilts to date.
"In my work, I am telling the story—this African American side—of the American life," Butler says. "History is the story of men and women, but the narrative is controlled by those who hold the pen." Working in such a traditional art form, it is essential to understand that Butler is reinventing the quilt. In a chance encounter with the practice in a fiber arts class taken while at Howard University, the museum notes, "she constructed a quilt for her dying grandmother, mainly as a means of comfort." Such an offering of intimacy and personal creativity during a time of grief demonstrates the depth and emotion that art of quiltmaking holds in American tradition.
"Continuing with an aesthetic set in motion by artists such as Romare Bearden and Faith Ringgold, Butler forges an individual and expressive signature style that draws upon her own cultural background and experiences," says the museum of her presentation at KMA, which also features a fully illustrated catalogue to accompany the exhibition. That we are a country with a hunger to re-engage with our national identity and history points to Butler's work as among the most abiding and vital being made today.—Evan Pricco