UMMA Projects: Lisa Anne Auerbach
Through October 11

Max Collins/Daily
Max Collins/Daily


State Street passersby peering through the glass windows of the University of Michigan Museum of Art’s Frankel Wing will be struck by the sight of knit sweaters emblazoned with bold slogans, seemingly suspended in midair.

The exhibit, which is free to the public and lasts until Oct. 11, is a melding of two separate projects by California-based artist Lisa Anne Auerbach, best known for her inventive work in the textile arena. Her hand-knit sweaters are the focal point of the exhibit, which is also supplemented by her photographs of free-standing small businesses.

“I’m interested in the sweater as a medium for language,” Auerbach wrote in an e-mail interview. “Text has a different resonance when it is literally part of the fabric.”

Auerbach’s sweaters deal with current political and cultural issues, essentially making wearable statements about American culture and the world at large.

“Art explores viewpoints, ideas and alternative realities, and in that way, it can certainly affect change,” Auerbach wrote. “I do have the perhaps naive hope that art can change the world. I do think every decision we make is a political decision in some way. A lot of my work is about speaking out, speaking up, getting the word out.”

Her association with UMMA is a logical one, as Auerbach is a former resident of Ann Arbor.

“I met (Jacob Proctor, UMMA’s Associate Curator of Modern & Contemporary Art) at Art Basel Miami Beach, where I had a solo exhibition in 2007, and he invited me to do a show at UMMA,” Auerbach explained. “Both of my parents went to the University of Michigan. My mother studied zoology and my father studied law. I was born on campus, but only lived in Ann Arbor for a few months when I was an infant.”

UMMA and Auerbach worked closely together to construct an exhibit that was both visually and intellectually intriguing.

“I worked with Jacob Proctor at UMMA to choose the pieces for the show,” Auerbach wrote. “It was his idea to show the small business photographs and the sweaters together in the space.”

Some new, never-before-displayed work is currently on exhibit at UMMA.

“I made a few sweaters especially for this show that Jacob didn’t know about until they arrived in Michigan,” Auerbach explained. “One of the new sweaters is about Michael Jackson.”

The exhibit at UMMA occurs in a section of the museum where three walls completely made of glass allow both students on their way to class and museum patrons a glimpse. Blown-up photographs dot the walls, but the focus is on two dozen of Auerbach’s sweaters, which are displayed on clear plastic molds suspended from the ceiling by wire.

This stark presentation allows the viewer to concentrate on the complexity and subtle wit of her work. The aforementioned Jackson sweater, for instance, reads, “Take my hand, it’s off to never never land,” a reference both to the singer’s infamous California abode and Peter Pan-like quest to attain eternal childhood. The matching skirt is adorned with images of hypodermic needles and question marks.

For Auerbach, the real struggle comes in the presentation of material, not in the physical process of knitting.

“At this point, the designing phase takes longer than the actual knitting,” Auerbach wrote. “Figuring out what a sweater should say is often really difficult. I’m looking for text that can be thought-provoking, funny and unexpected. A lot of the sweaters I’m making are about much-discussed issues, and I prefer to have an alternative take, so I spend a lot of time researching.”

Naturally, however, textile construction brings its own unique challenges. “There was (a) pretty steep learning curve for me to learn machine knitting,” Auerbach explained. “I thought it would be easy, since it’s a machine! But figuring out how to use that technology was challenging. The knitting itself is tedious and takes a bit of time.”

And of course, the prosaic realities of everyday life invade.

“I am especially concerned about moths,” Auerbach added.

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