New York

Elaine Reichek

For several years, Elaine Reichek has been creating multi-media art about the tradition of “women’s work.” In a series of two-panel wall pieces begun in 1979, Reichek juxtaposed a child’s knitted garment with a schematic translation of the knitting instructions, which were also handwritten in a separate book. By illustrating the ways in which patterns—visual, verbal and operational—underlie even the most mundane family affairs, these concept-oriented works emphasized the manifold ways in which rational systems of thought link art and life as well as the intellectual and intimate aspects of culture.

Reichek’s recent exhibition consisted of six works based on a knitted child’s garment and the instruction book from which it was fashioned. Starting from this autobiographical base (Reichek has two children, and her grandmother was a professional designer and tailor), the artist created sequences of from two to seven panels, the implications of which reached further into the world outside the home than in any of her earlier works.

Two of the smallest works on view, Black Bonnet and Blue Bonnet, extended the idea of formal patterning into the realm of architecture. In both pieces, wool bonnets were juxtaposed with diagrammatic graphs of the knitting instructions and “found” photographs of vernacular buildings (a church, a post office) that were surprisingly similar in form to the diagrams. The sequencing of these wall pieces was crucial: Reichek led the viewer from the concrete to the conceptual and then back again, while simultaneously progressing from private to public scale. Yet the uniform size of the panels and of the objects depicted in them rendered all of the forms on display visually equivalent, allowing the spectator to make connections that might not otherwise have been evident.

The formalism of Reichek’s serial art can be traced to her training with Ad Reinhardt at Brooklyn College in the early ’60s. Uniform scale, symmetrical color balances and repetitious patterns (which create visual links between forms with different content) provide the structural underpinnings that hold together her freewheeling and associative works. However, when these formal underpinnings fall apart—as they do in several of the larger pieces like My House—the work becomes incomprehensible.

In My House—as well as in Yearning for the Archetype and Sight-Seeing—Reichek was trying to expand the scope of her art by juxtaposing garments and schematic drawings with photographs, drawings or post cards depicting such American memorabilia as colonial houses, pastoral farmlands and comic book characters. To the artist, these represented archetypal fantasy images—and therefore patterns of thought. Unfortunately, Reichek couldn’t integrate these visual ideas into her panel pieces. One reason is because the artist used pictures that were linked by content rather than by form. In de-emphasizing the rigorous formal connections that unified her earlier works, Reichek de-emphasized the structural logic of her visual/conceptual system, and as a result the interrelationships in these pieces were more difficult to grasp.

Shelley Rice