There were various allusions to the domestic environment in Meredyth Sparks’s 2010 solo show at Elizabeth Dee, including stuffed fabric door snakes, a decorated folding screen and abstract collages made with scraps of printed textiles. This theme was more fully elaborated in the artist’s recent outing at the gallery, where she presented two sculptures alongside seven large photo-and-fabric collages that clearly depict corners of a home.
In most of her new works (all 2011), Sparks stretches contrasting bolts of patterned fabric over wooden frames, creating broad upper and lower zones that read as junctures of carpeted floors and papered walls. These minimal suggestions of interior space are furnished with photographs of bedroom bureaus, radiator covers or louvered blinds, which the artist prints on canvas before sewing them into place with taut zigzags of thread. By stitching across a roughly two-inch gap that separates most of these elements, Sparks provides glimpses of the underlying stretcher bars while emphasizing formal tensions between the implied depth of her photographs and the assertive flatness of patterned fabric. In the approximately 6-by-8-foot Extraction (Canton Bazaar/Radiators), for example, a red-and-white chinoiserie toile is stretched above an expanse of nubby brown plaid. Both fabrics are disrupted by a pair of radiators that face each other at an oblique angle and appear wedged into the rectangular holes Sparks has cut from the support.
If the long-standing antagonism between modernist abstraction and domestic decoration is dramatized by this show, so too is the role of women’s labor in that gendered discourse. The visibility of Sparks’s stitches helps foreground this issue in the collages, while her sculptures seem to acknowledge historical precedents for her own work. In Figure One, The Baroness’s Bucket, Sparks replaces the shade of a floor lamp with an inverted coal bucket, capping it with a fleur-de-lis finial and embellishing its handle with a necklace of silver spoons. This efficiently figurative sculpture pays homage to Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven, an overlooked Dada provocateur who channeled that movement’s anarchic spirit through her outlandish sartorial choices. Dozens of spoons also appear in Figure Three, Chapter Two, where they are linked into long chains that dangle from the corners of a shiny aluminum triangle, itself suspended from the ceiling. Though this sculpture’s address of the Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire is far from explicit (reading the gallery’s press release helps), the buried references to that 1911 tragedy may be a fitting tribute to the unsung creative efforts of Sparks’s female forebears.
Photo: Meredyth Sparks: Extraction (Canton Bazaar/Radiators), 2011, digital print, fabric and thread, 75 by 97 inches; at Elizabeth Dee.