Visual Arts

Sprawl Is Beautiful

The foreclosure as art

By Michael Hardy September 30, 2013 Published in the October 2013 issue of Houstonia Magazine

“Chicago,” one of Kathryn Clark's foreclosure quilts. Courtesy of Houston Center for Contemporary Craft.

October 4–January 19
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A few years back, when housing foreclosures skyrocketed in the wake of the financial crash, the response of some was to picket the headquarters of major banks. Others wrote angry letters to congressional representatives. San Francisco–based artist Kathryn Clark made a quilt. “When you hear about these foreclosures in the news, all you’re hearing are statistics, so it wasn’t clear to most people just how severe the crisis had become,” she says. “I was looking at maps and seeing neighborhoods just riddled with foreclosures. I was trying to think of how to visualize that, and I had this ‘Aha!’ moment. Quilts are symbols of home and comfort, and what better way to express how fragile the home is than making one?” 

Clark’s quilts depict recession-stricken areas of American cities as seen from the air, with rectangular sections representing foreclosed homes highlighted. She eventually made 13 such quilts, three of which (“Detroit,” “Chicago,” and “Cape Coral”) are in SPRAWL, an exhibition opening Oct. 4 at the Houston Center for Contemporary Craft co-curated by former HCCC curatorial fellow Susie Silbert and former HCCC curator Anna Walker. 

Silbert has seen more and more craft artists dealing with the theme of urban expansion in recent years. “Any time there’s a lot of work being made about a particular topic is a good time to have an exhibition about it,” Silbert says. “And if there was going to be an exhibition about sprawl and craft, then there’s no better place in the entire country than Houston.” 

In addition to Clark’s quilts, the exhibition includes work by 15 other artists. Ceramic artist Dylan Beck contributes a miniature wood-and-plastic skyscraper juxtaposed with a full-scale terracotta cornice, which can be read as either an emblem of creative destruction or a celebration of Houston’s eclectic, postmodern aesthetic. Using brass, steel, and asphalt, jeweler Andrea Zeuner’s brooch and neckpiece evoke bird’s eye views of highway interchanges. Norwood Viviano’s work offers three-dimensional models showing the population growth and decline of 24 U.S. urban centers. Accompanying the exhibition is a lecture series featuring, among others, Harris County Judge Ed Emmett, artist Carrie Schneider, and U. H. architecture professors Susan Rogers and Thomas Colbert. 

 Although the word sprawl carries negative connotations for many people, Susie Silbert says the exhibition isn’t intended to be polemical. “One of the things that’s interesting about craft is the way it can navigate between design and art, and present a whole range of ideas around a particular topic,” she says. “It’s less about what we as curators are trying to say and more about creating an atmosphere for this topic to be addressed.” 

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