John Chaich, Cleveland Museum of Art, Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland

Queer Threads: Crafting Identity and Community @ MOCA Cleveland

Submitted by Heather Saunders on

At a talk and book signing on Friday, June 16 at the Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland, New York-based curator John Chaich provided an overview of the 30 artists featured in Queer Threads: Crafting Identity and Community (Eds. John Chaich and Todd Oldman, AMMO Books, 2016), which stemmed from an exhibition he curated in 2014 of the same name at the Leslie Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art. Although Queer Threads posed “a risk,” its initial showing in New York broke attendance records.

The roster of 24 artists selected for Queer Threads was primarily contemporary, but extended back as far as Allen Porter, whose Untitled (1955) from the Leslie Lohman collection features two nude men lounging closely on a bright red blanket while one of them reads a book. Chaich says of this wool on cotton work, it exemplifies “the love hours...dedicated to every stitch.” Also, this blogger is intrigued that the depiction of reading amid what appears to be post-coital bliss conveys both the thrill and relaxation associated with reading. Another personal favorite was Eve Fowler’s 62 Books (2010). For this installation, the artist silkscreened book covers to “lovingly gift wrap” tomes of lesbian and feminist writing donated to the National Gay and Lesbian Archives in Los Angeles but that were destined for deaccessioning because they were duplicates.

Interestingly, Chaich admits, “I really hate making things with my own hands.” In fact, BUST co-founder and Editor-in-Chief/Publisher, Debbie Stoller, gave Chaich a lesson in knitting, and the needles and yarn from said lesson sat on his shelf for years “with honor” but without results. What drives him is “connecting the dots” by featuring the works of other artists in conversation with one another. With zeal, he speaks of selecting and arranging works as “creating almost a chorus,” with the pairing of works resembling “duets...arrangements...” Motivated by intense curiosity, he says, “I have to make it happen.”

Having grown up around textiles created by his mother and grandmother, Chaich has long been intrigued by the gendered perception of textiles. He notes, “It goes without saying what society thinks of women,” but with society moving away from gender binaries as well as discrete categories of art, Chaich feels it’s an opportune time to elevate the status of medium and creator. An example of blurred boundaries between textiles—regarded historically as craft—and fine art, is James Gobel’s The Fitting Room No. 1 (2007, felt, yarn, and acrylic on canvas); Chaich explains that the artist is “queering the practice because he applies felt like...paint.”

Chaich began looking for queer artists using textiles in 2011, but his interest crystallized in 1988 when he visited Washington, DC to witness the debut of the AIDS memorial quilt, and was struck by the communal power of quilting. He considers queer visibility and art making “more important than ever” at this point in time. Chaich presented a challenge to the audience by arguing that making work by hand can constitute a radical political act.

Partners for the event were the LGBT Community Center of Greater Cleveland and Praxis Fiber Workshop.

Look for the book, Queer Threads: Crafting Identity and Community, soon at the Ingalls Library!