Jade Walker at the Ney Museum: Weaving together artistry and meaning
The room is small. Perhaps 20 feet by 20 feet.
Dark green and tan paint covers the old walls. Streams of visitors have worn down the wooden floors of this room in the recently reopened Elisabet Ney Museum, part of a structure originally completed as the famed sculptor's studios in 1893. It first began exhibiting art to the public in what is now the Hyde Park neighborhood in 1908.
Artist Jade Walker combines two primary elements in this confined space: lopped tree branches along with cords or fabric of various types and colors. This piece, entitled "Birdsong," is the indoor part of "Reweave: 2021," Walker's timely and, in the end, hopeful response to crises in today's world.
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But first the art itself: Blocking one's way in the middle of the small room are sizable branches stacked toward opposing walls. Walker has wrapped some of these limbs in alternating yellow-gold and white cords. Thinner threads delicately connect the two stacks.
On a chest-high ledge around part of the the room, Walker leans smaller Y-shaped branches, again wrapped in cords of various colors. They look at first like rough musical instruments, or perhaps part of some ancient athletic game. Later, I discovered they represent sling shots.
Taken simply as textures and colors, as well as rhythms of rough and smooth, the branches and cords hold the eye and the mind.
Don't relax yet. One glances up at fierce-looking webs of thorny branches hung downward from the ceiling line, a sort of threatening crown of thorns. The picture becomes complete when one contemplates a softer piece that Walker suspends on the entire east wall: a series of woven meshes that resemble old-fashioned hot-pad holders. From one end dangle streams of ragged fabric like the tail of a kite.
For such a small room, much is going on.
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At shows such as this one, I like to see the art before reading the artist's posted statement. I would not have guessed that "Birdsong" reflects Walker's thoughts about human conflict and the potential demise of the planet. Looking back into the room, her larger meaning makes sense.
Walker likes to bring together people to collaborate on her projects, a process made more clear in the outdoor portion of the show, called "Mire + Mend." Here, one can detect places where collaborators added material — a belt of some sort, a dog leash — to her multicolored weavings.
The general theme — mending a broken world — comes through more clearly here. She has wrapped portions of two museum signs near East 45th Street and Avenue G. You reach these sites by going around the old stone studio and crossing a narrow bridge over Shoal Creek.
In the larger outdoor work, Walker threads varied colors and shapes of cords into two vertical panels. At first, the dominant colors — oranges, greens, blacks — reminded me of the color palette of flags like Zambia or Kenya. One could extend that thinking to the rest of the colors — blues, pinks, golds, etc. — and perhaps make up the flags of the world.
A yellow fringe hangs from one of the panels, while hot pink lines connect the metal sign to a nearby hackberry tree, cinched in the middle by yellow-gold cord, one of Walker's preferred colors for this show. To the east on 45th Street, a more rigid weaving pattern stretches across another museum sign, grid-like except for a squiggle of black rope.
A nearby text lets us know that Walker and team plan to expand "Mire + Mend" around the Ney's substantial plot of land. They'll find plenty of natural beauty to inspire them. On the south side of the creek, for instance, a restored wildflower meadow is already mending a piece of earth dropped from heaven.
If you go
"Reweave: 2021" is free and continues through Oct. 24 inside and outside at the Elisabet Ney Museum, 304 E. 44th St., 512-974-1625, elisabetneymuseum.org. Check for updated times and programs.