Chintz, which comes from the Hindi word chint, means spotted, variegated, speckled, or sprayed and is not to be confused with the middle English derived word chintzy. This fiber technology is featured in the art museum’s new show, Global Threads: The Art and Fashion of Indian Chintz, which opened this week. This visiting exhibit comes to town from the Royal Ontario Museum. The show emphasizes both the art and technology that formed this industrial art form.
Five thousand years ago, tree cotton was domesticated by farmers in the Indus valley. In the intervening centuries centers for decorating cotton cloth developed across much of India. This industry had already spawned a worldwide trade that in the 17th-century was discovered by the West, to which it also quickly spread.
Over time, Indian artisans perfected complex methods for producing dyes and mordants to create painted and printed cloth in a spectrum of fade-resistant colors. Dramatic and specialized designs were able to captivate customers from different cultures worldwide. Its success however, led to factory-made imitations in Europe, which relied on underlying economic and political decisions often involving the exploitation of humans.
In the Washington Post, art critic Sebastion Smee has a column entitled, Great Works, In Focus, in which he curates American art from around the country. In this year’s column, one of the works selected, was from the Saint Louis Art Museum, Betty, by Gerhard Richter. It is one of my favorites, if not the favorite work at the museum. Of the 125 works that Mr. Smee discusses, I have seen many of them and also have photos of some of them. So, I might revisit his column again.
I must have studied this painting a hundred times, but I still learned much by reading Smee about it. Its photo-realism leaps the uncanny valley, but the nuances that Smee elucidates make it unusual among modern paintings. Betty is displayed in a large room of the Slammer’s new modern art wing. She seems dwarfed and set aside in a corner—”Nobody puts Baby in a corner.”—by another of Richter’s works that dominates the room. It is a four-panel, floor to ceiling, dark abstract painting, called Grey Mirror that I don’t really care for. Even though the two works were created several years apart, I’ve often joked that they were both part of the same commission and that after spending so much time meticulously painting Betty, Richter had to rush to complete Grey Mirror in time, to fulfill his obligation. Such is the level of my art criticism.