Artist Sarah Crowner mines the legacy of abstraction from both the fine and applied arts, treating art history itself as a medium to be manipulated—sampling, collaging, and rearranging existing images to create new forms. Her practice—which includes ceramics, tile floors, sculptures, and theater curtains—centers around sewn paintings that she makes by stitching together sections of raw or painted canvas or linen. The hybrid paintings borrow from the language of collage, as well as quilting, with visible stitching functioning as both line and surface.
Crowner’s exhibition at MASS MoCA—her first solo exhibition in a U.S. museum—features both existing paintings and major tile works designed and fabricated for the show. A raised tiled floor and two tiled walls in the central gallery create a mise en abyme (i.e., a room within a room, as well as an exhibition within an exhibition). Inspired by the utopian design of modernist architect Nanda Vigo’s Casa Brindisi—conceived as both a home and a museum for Remo Brindisi’s art collection and as an experiment in the integration of the arts—Crowner’s tiled structure functions as a platform and backdrop for a selection of her large paintings. This installation invites viewers to engage directly—face to face, visually, and spatially—with the works, which in turn operate like performers on the raised stage, enveloping the viewer in the scene. The hard, glossy nature of the tiles and the hard edges of their uniform grid structure provide counterpoints to the softly textured canvas and curvilinear forms of Crowner’s paintings. Several of the artist’s large, monochrome paintings—made of sections of raw canvas sewn together and thinly outlined with frames of bright color—are presented in adjoining spaces. A new large-scale painting made from terra-cotta tiles, designed by the artist for a previous platform work and produced and hand-glazed in Mexico, literally frames the floor as a painting. Both this work and the tiled room engage directly with the geometries of the museum’s mill architecture variously mirroring and creating juxtapositions with the pattern of the brick, the direction of the boards in the hardwood floors, and the grid of glass bricks embedded in the gallery wall.