Infinite Variety

I’ve been having difficulty expressing what was so amazing about The Museum of American Folk Art’s limited-run Infinite Variety show.  Quilt shows have a built-in audience and can end up being sort of weak for that very reason: you don’t have to try very hard to get that combination of quilt-nuts and ye-olde-history types who always turn out for a textile show.  Infinite Variety, though: the only thing I can think to say is that this was NOT your mother’s quilt show.

Its limited 6-day run gave an ephemeral quality to the whole experience, a “get-it-now” urgency that was only enhanced by the truly breathtaking exhibition design.  Suspended from the arched ceiling of the Park Avenue Armory in New York, the quilts (all red and white yet all unique, hence the show title) swirled around in spiraled pods.  People could walk amongst and between them, standing inside the groupings or apart to get a glimpse of the whole mesmerizing display.

I only had an hour there so I didn’t take the self-guided iPad tour, choosing instead to experience the overall environment.  For a show like this, though, I think making the label text accessible through another device rather than trying to integrate them into the design was a genius idea.  It wouldn’t work for most exhibitions and I’d hate to see museums forgo labels on a regular basis but for a show as unique and visually engaging as this one, label text would just distract from the incredibly sensory experience of being surrounded by 650 floating quilts that span three centuries of American textile craft.

One of the spiral “pods.”

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