Details, details, details

There are a lot of people in the world who enjoy big picture thinking: the grand ideas and actions that will impress others while changing the world as we know it. And that’s great as a motivational tool to educate, earn money, or strengthen the social bonds between people. But what about the actual plan to make that happen? How will it get done? By working out the details, of course.

Now, details are not as complicated as their reputation would have you believe. In fact, there are only two kinds of details in the world: the ones you see, and the ones you don’t. The former often impress viewers with their exactitude, intricacy, material, subject, or location within a larger whole. The latter are difficult to pin down, often portraying things that are overly familiar, giving the viewer a false sense of knowledge and as a result, not taking the time to examine carefully. Both kinds can be obvious or subtle, depending on circumstances, but always rewarding when discovered by the discerning eye.

One object that practically defines the concept of details is lace. From its origins as handcrafted needlework or created with bobbins, the 19th – 20th process of chemical lace made by machinery, and 21st century laser-cut and 3-D printed formats, this textile has been used as accessory, decorative detail, or as a stand-alone fabric, coveted by royals and commoners alike. The Bard Graduate Center currently has a wonderful show on the subject, ‘Threads of Power: Lace from the Textilmuseum St. Gallen’ with over 200 examples from 500 years of creation. The intricate designs may be anything from geometric formations to scenes from Bible stories, the materials range from natural fibers to modern polymers, and the results are hundreds of precise details coalescing into stupendous constructions. Click on our ‘Gallery Shows’ section to learn more.

Another show that examines details from a different perspective is our latest entry in the ‘Opening This Week’ section. ‘Alex Katz: Gathering’ at the Guggenheim Museum, is a fascinating retrospective of the figurative painter whose work over the years has gradually removed the inessentials from his compositions to create works where the subtle detail of color, light, and shadow is more important than the subjects themselves. Only an artist well versed in art history and technique could pull off the incredibly complicated and difficult task of making detail the focus of a painting while letting the viewer discover it for themselves – but only if they take the time to do so. His most recent works, based on nature studies, are a prime example, enlarging the shapes of leaves and grasses to the point where shapes could almost be abstract, while also staying grounded in a recognizable physical world where time of day and atmospheric conditions determine what colors may look like, details that provide subtle clues of context for the image. This constant back and forth between Katz and the viewer is the central force behind all his work, giving his art a unique dynamism that can only be experienced in person.

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