‘Whitney Lee: Power Craft’

Artist Whitney Lee has taken cute farm animals and adorable house pets – icons of traditional domestic crafts – and postered them across the streets of Austin

Arts Review

'Whitney Lee: Power Craft'

Women & Their Work, through Aug. 4

Whitney Lee is known as a crafty hooker and is now working the streets. Wait, that didn't come out right. Ms. Lee is known for using latch-hook to create intelligent images yielding discussions about feminist concerns, craft culture, and even painting, digital, and photography issues. Her "Soft Porn" and "Trashy" series were spotted at a Blue Genie Art Bazaar a few years ago, across the U.S., and last October at Gallery Lombardi. The current show at Women & Their Work teases the viewer with three latch-hook works near the front before abruptly shifting to the new "Craftiti" work.

Megapuss Fantasticat attempts to transition the art. It is similar in construction and the use of fabric, but the imagery differs from the latch-hook works. Instead of sex kittens, a giant kitty cat beckons you to caress the fluffy material. Whitney Lee has taken cute farm animals and adorable house pets – icons of traditional domestic crafts – and postered them across the streets of Austin. Each character represents a neighborhood and is protecting the area as its own territory. On the opposite side of the gallery, a cloud of the "dangerous but friendly" Monster Hearts floats across the wall and then tapers off, pointing to instructions on how to distribute the pile of its wild counterparts.

The installation documents the two operations. Photographs of the posters and a video loop of digital Monster Heart photos complete the gallery but do not fill the space. They're street campaigns with the gallery acting as home base. Lee again deals with issues of craft and feminine vs. masculine, while the lesser focus of accessible art in her previous work has come to the forefront. The artist revealed her desire to co-opt aggressive, testosterone-laden marketing and created the biggest, softest kitty cat! And then she took something as aggressive and zealous as graffiti, turned it into an act of making city neighborhoods more homey and safe, and invited community participation.

I would have pooh-poohed the whole thing if it wasn't so damn cute. A lot of the posters are prominently displayed on utility boxes that, even with the cover of night, are warmly inviting. It wouldn't be surprising if the artist was granted permission by the city to do so. Tags and even wheat-paste posters are usually applied rapidly and in unsuspecting places such as Dumpsters and alleyways. Maybe I'm too much of a cynic (or a guy), but when I think of the feminine taking on a more brutal character, I think of the manipulative, passive-aggressive strategies used by the matriarchs of more conservative households. Not this cutesy redecorating of the streets.

The work in the gallery is not visually arresting. Perhaps more integration of craft, such as the works of Houston-based Knitta or an increase of production would balance the weightiness of the ideas being pushed. So maybe grandma's fashion sense is the better alternative to the deluge of advertising than the splashes of defacement by frustrated teens.

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