Interwoven Narratives: Exploring Elaine Reichek: Eye of the Needle at the Boca Museum of Art

The Boca Museum of Art’s exhibition featuring the conceptual and embroidered works of Elaine Reichek. This is not the first solo show for Recheck, who has been exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), The Jewish Museum of Art, the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, and other international museums. Reichek is a conceptual artist that focuses on the plight of minorities such as Native Americans, Irish, and women, in a historical context. This exhibition focuses on her work during the period of 1972-1995, decided by curators at the Boca Museum of Art, as being an interesting period of Recheck’s body of work.

The exhibition features some of Recheck’s “greatest hits”, some of which have already been displayed at the above mentioned museums, such as The Artists Bedroom (1979), an installation where Recheck has recreated the works of 11 famous male artists, such as: Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, and Piet Mondrian, to name a few. The interior of this bedroom scene is painted blue and meant to symbolize her artistic education and heritage, in a rather tongue and cheek manner.

Elaine Reichek, <i>Sampler (Their Manners Are Decorous)</i>, 1992. Hand embroidery on linen, 13 1/4 x 14 1/2 in. Courtesy of the artist and Zach Feuer Gallery, New York. Elaine Reichek, Sampler (Their Manners Are Decorous), 1992.
Hand embroidery on linen, 13 1/4 x 14 1/2 in.
Courtesy of the artist and Zach Feuer Gallery, New York.

Along with the installation, Recheck also incorporates the historic and women-based medium of samplers into her works. A sampler is traditionally a sewing project, which resembles needlepoint, undertaken by young girls as early as five years old to teenage girls. In the 17th,18th and 19th centuries, samplers were the first form of education for women. When young girls first learns how to sew by her mothers and other wise women, they would make these ‘samples’ of all the sewing and stitching techniques they were learning. Usually starting very simple with the alphabet, then gradually getting more complex with scenes, places, people and shapes. Although these needled crafts are quite beautiful, the creation of a sampler is meant to illustrate the young girl’s talent and mastery, over aesthetic qualities. Sampler (Their Manners Are Decorous) (1992), uses a sampler to illustrate the oppressive beliefs projected onto the Native American people, represented in a quote by famed explorer and colonizer Christopher Columbus and in the scene itself, which shows a Native American man and woman, where the woman picks fruits from the tree, an indication of the giving and trustworthy attitude colonizers took advantage of in oppressing Native Americans for centuries to come.

Recheck also incorporates ethnographic photography, which was used historically as scientific documents, to record and objectify native peoples, in combination with her own knitted interpretations. On these works, Recheck has spoken on her fascination with these types of historical photographs; as she sees shapes and design, and hand paints these photographs, she misinterprets the intended meaning for these photographs, as scientific document, which also mirrors the real misinterpretation of their true purpose, which was to objectify cultures in the midst of the international colonization period. Recheck admits she sees these photographs from a Western viewpoint. There are ethnographic photographs of Native American teepees, alongside Recheck’s knitted reinterpretation, as well as Blue Men (1986), a life-sized silver print of two natives from Tierra del Fuego, a group of islands located off the coast of South America, but with Recheck’s reinterpretation, their bodies are no longer painted black and white, but instead a deep royal blue and black.

Elaine Reichek, <i>Blue Men</i>, 1986. Knitted wool yarn and oil on gelatin print, 63 x 96 in.  Courtesy of the artist and Zach Feuer Gallery, New York. Elaine Reichek, Blue Men, 1986.
Knitted wool yarn and oil on gelatin print, 63 x 96 in.
Courtesy of the artist and Zach Feuer Gallery, New York.

In the documentation of women, Recheck adapts a feminist viewpoint, which also hints at the history of art, with her work, Bikini (1986). Bikini is a triptych; from left to right Recheck incorporates a knitted metallic, a colored pencil on graph paper, and a silver-toned gelatin silver print reinterpretation of the garment that has objectified women since its creation. She instead uses the middle panel of the triptych to analyze and in feminist terms, decode this object, stitching it onto a grid.

In exhibiting Recheck’s body of work alongside Afghan Rugs: The Contemporary Art of Central Asia, the Boca Museum of Art is looking to attract Contemporary Art fans interested in the use of thread. While the rug exhibition presents a more traditional look, Recheck’s exhibition is more conceptual, more women-focused. For those who missed her previous shows, Eye of the Needle serves as a great introduction to the artist and her trademark mix of ethnographic photography, needlework and hidden meaning.

Elaine Reichek, <i>Bikini</i>, 1982. Knitted metallic yarn, colored pencil on graph paper, silver-toned gelatin print, 41 x 84 in.  Courtesy of the artist and Zach Feuer Gallery, New York. Elaine Reichek, Bikini, 1982.
Knitted metallic yarn, colored pencil on graph paper, silver-toned gelatin print, 41 x 84 in.
Courtesy of the artist and Zach Feuer Gallery, New York.

Keah Fryar is the Plinth contributor for the Southern Region and a Freelance Exhibit Designer and Consultant.  Her website can be viewed here:https://sites.google.com/site/keahfryar/