Infinite Variety: Three Centuries Of Red And White Quilts
American Folk Art Museum
Park Avenue Armory, New York
53,000 square feet
Tom Hennes (creative director), Steven Shaw (lead designer), Sherri Wasserman (concept design and project director), Aki Shigemori (graphic designer), Bix Biederbeck (concept design and design support), Joe Ruster (design detailing)
PRG (fabrication and installation)
Palazzo Lighting Design (lighting)
Gavin Ashworth, Tom Hennes
Infinite Variety: Three Centuries of Red and White Quilts opened to acclaim at the Park Avenue Armory in New York for six days in March 2011. Utilizing the bold quilts as both object and exhibition environment, it filled the tall volume of the hall with gossamer pavilions, sweeping walls, arcs of exuberant quilts. The sheer volume of quilts—651 in all—was both the star feature and the central exhibition challenge: how to display this spectacular collection in a way that hints at its origins and thrills the public, while enabling extended inspection without fatigue? Thinc Design centered the exhibition on a ring of chairs with a “tornado” of quilts rising more than 45 feet above them—a representation of quilting circles and their prolific production. Flowing outward and around this feature were cylindrical pavilions that enabled intimate viewing while permitting people to take in a breathtaking array of patterns criss-crossing the exhibition.
The designers worked with the show curator to organize the quilts in similarly-sized pairs (permitting inside and outside viewing without exposing the quilts’ backs). One hundred and forty intricate quilts were chosen for the lower levels, while bolder patterns—easily viewable from a distance—were placed higher up. The project scope included all exhibit elements, on-site graphics, installation coordination, and all publicity graphics and banners.
The curator and the collector both wanted the exhibition to be accessible and inviting to all—those with a passion for quilts and those without any prior interest. Signage was reduced to a pamphlet and a large entry plinth with a curatorial statement. The exhibition was on a flat floor, with ample seating to facilitate viewing without fatigue. In addition to the printed information, an iPad/iPhone app was available with high-definition photos of each quilt, and a mobile phone tour was also recorded for those interested in it. Fifty iPads were available free of charge. The public came in great waves, exceeding the Armory’s previous daily attendance records. Some visitors wept at the entrance, and many returned several times over the six-day run.
The exhibition had several unique characteristics, including the method of hanging the quilts (cardboard tubes suspended on cables and mounted with binder clips to enable the installers to quickly and safely affix the quilts in place), the exuberant style of the exhibition (quilts are typically displayed in one or two horizontal rows), and the audience for the exhibition (it drew visitors from around the world). The exhibit’s minimal materials, along with simple MDF viewing platforms and seating for more than 50 people, were fully re-usable and, once the projected tour was complete, recyclable.
"The amount of debate this installion inspired demanded its inclusion; this is really awe inspiring. Is it installation? Is it EGD? Or just well executed? In the end we decided it was all of the above, and deserving of great recognition. (By the way, the lighting designer should win an award on their own.)"
“A beautiful job of lighting a tornado of red and white canvases. There is a real architecture and formality to this event created by multiple and remarkably clear spatial pavilions made of the quilts. A happy and clear exuberance that could not be ignored.”
“This exhibition claims the space and transforms it into something that is at once dramatic, intimate, historical and lively.”
“This project is extremely captivating. The brave decision to present the quilts in such a graphic grid-like formation is very successful. To keep interpretation away from each object really celebrates each piece, and the collection as a whole. The lighting is absolutely incredible. The overall impact is pure theater and definitely deserves being showcased for all to see.”
“Striking! While this may stretch the boundaries of EGD, the beauty of composition, movement, and subject matter made this an irresistible selection. Wish I was there.”