Slide 1: “Untitled” (2002) Found objects assembled and wrapped in twine and yarn. The Museum of Modern Art, New York /Slide 2: “Untitled” (2004) Fiber and found objects 28 x 15 x 27 in. The Brooklyn Museum, New York / Slide 3: “Untitled” (2000) Fiber and found objects 25 x 12 x 10 in. The Brooklyn Museum, New York
Who was the Artist Judith Scott?
This writer first became aware of the textile artist Judith Scott while touring the Outsider Art Fair in New York City two years ago. A curator described Judith as a gifted savant who later in life developed her madly entwined armatures. Her work appeared, yet again, at the newly inaugurated Museum of Modern Art. “Untitled” (2002) was included under Fluxus, an art movement renowned for their embrace of unconventional materials, a DIY attitude, and a spirit of simplicity and chance. “Untitled“ (2002) encased [two blue plastic A’s] in woolen yarn, twine, rope and other fibers. While she did not verbally communicate…her confidence and imagination are apparent in her precision and choices regarding texture and composition. Scott’s sculpture echoes the spirit of transformation and play at the core of Fluxus.” (– Statement, The Museum of Modern Art, New York.)
Judith Scott, born in 1943, was diagnosed with Down’s Syndrome and later institutionalized for a greater part of her life. Institutions in that era were far from progressive. Additionally, she was discovered to have suffered hearing loss due to an earlier bout with Scarlet Fever as an infant. She could not verbally communicate. Simply said, Judith became a ward of the state of Ohio. Earlier records indicated little aptitude for artistic endeavors. Fortuitously the tide of fortune changed when her twin sister, Joyce, decided to become Judith’s legal guardian in 1986. Joyce enrolled her in the Creative Growth Art Centre in Oakland, a visionary arts centre that gave unlimited artistic freedom to people with mental or psychological difficulties. For nearly two years, however, Judith proved unresponsive. It wasn’t until she took part in a fiber arts workshop given by textile artist Sylvia Seventy, that she discovered her medium of choice.
“She spontaneously started wrapping pieces of wood in fiber, fabric and threads and created her earliest pieces, since referred to as ‘totems’. From then on she didn’t stop. She was constantly creating. Her process was erratic and instinctive. She would wrap thread and yarn around anything she could get her hands on; she appropriated magazines, chairs and even a bicycle wheel. It quickly became a source of communication for Judith, having been verbally and socially ‘blocked’ for most of her life. Tom di Maria, director of Creative Growth, believes she was finally ‘learning to speak’. Her early pieces were her first words.”
From “Textile Artist Judith Scott: Uncovering Innate Talent’
“Untitled” (2020) Fiber and found objects
“Untitled” (2020) is a freestanding sculpture composed of cardboard, embroidery floss, trim, and newspaper. The materials collide in an effulgence. “Untitled” (2020) exudes energy and kinetic movement via an obsessive crossing and recrossing. The craftsmanship attests to hours of fastidious tying and knotting, eye-hand coordination and an eye for palette. Passages of soft cream transform into grey, which in turn, are punctuated by fuschia, winter green, periwinkle and baby blue.
Working at a long communal table, Judith would later go on to create larger abstractions sometimes allowing a wheel or chair part to peak through. She would occasionally insert her jewelry within the walls of her wrappings.
Slide 1: “Untitled” (2004) Fiber and found objects 29 x 16 x 21 in. The Brooklyn Museum, New York / Slide 2: “Untitled” (2003-2004) Fiber and found objects 45 x 47 x 31 in. The Brooklyn Museum, New York.
“Untitled” (2003-2004) Showcases her signature geographic mapping. Using a found shopping cart, the artist demonstrates boldness in manipulating the heft of a structure complete with base and stand. The wire framework is a perfect starting point for wrapping upholstery filaments and cotton. The handle bars are invisible. The finished ensemble resembles a mass cocoon and signals an ambitious undertaking of a savant who worked endlessly until her fingers bled. The cart contains smaller, unfinished sculptures yet is presented as a larger entity on its own. The missing front wheels keep the sculpture stable. “Untitled” (2003-2004) is reminiscent of homelessness and the possession of all worldly goods within the confines of a transient metal frame.
Judith Scott will be forever remembered as an artist who elevated fiber art to joyful and unparalleled heights. She possessed a command of color that belies her lack of training. She reimagined materials taken from within confined institutional settings and reinvigorated her surroundings all the while gaining admirers worldwide.