Family Stories at Muriel Guépin

It’s always fun seeing the work of a friend and neighbor.  I’ve known Iviva Olenick  for several years, but her show at the Muriel Guépin Gallery on the Lower East Side made me realize how much I don’t know about her. 

Selfie as Modern Matriarch, Iviva Olenick, beading and hand embroidery on fabric

Most of Iviva’s work is embroidered – very often on vintage fabrics – in a freehand narrative style, illustrating things she’s doing or issues she’s concerned about.  A central theme of her work is relationships – not only hers, but other people’s.  Several years ago, she put out a call for poems about relationships, which she then embroidered.  Iviva also examines the relationships between people and places, especially for people who migrate from one place to another, whether or not voluntarily.  

Portrait as my Grandmother, Iviva Olenick, beading and appliqué on fabric

This show, however, is focused on her family; her pride in being part of their gene pool shines through, especially in this piece, entitled, Portrait as my Grandmother, with it’s elaborate beadwork.  Her work here is more intricate, with more adornments than I’ve seen in her previous embroideries.

Great Grandma Sonja, Iviva Olenick, hand embroidery on fabric

You’ll also find a piece about her great grandmother Sonja, whose escape from Russia to England is embroidered into a lace-like collar.  That’s one feature I really like about Iviva’s work – her ability to incorporate words as structural and decorative elements, while still allowing them to function as words.

wall with embroideries telling her father’s story, Iviva Olenick, embroidery and collage on fabrics

But this show isn’t only about the matrilineal side of the family – against one wall, Iviva has placed 8 small collaged embroideries about her father,  Monte. 

The Story of Monte Olenick, Iviva Olenick, embroidery and collage on fabric

I liked this piece for it’s simplicity and use of white space, which convey the starkness of the Depression, without being maudlin; I thought the red and green Manischewitz’ logo adds a bright, hopeful note. The other embroideries recount Monte’s life: he served in the Army, became a librarian, retired, then, for over a decade, led walks  of senior citizens through Central Park (for which he won a Presidential Volunteer Service Award).  He’s also a very good poet (we read on the same program some years ago)!

Beach, Melissa Zexter, sivler gelatin print, thread

The gallery is also showing work by another Brooklyn-based artist, Melissa Zexter , who overlays embroidery on her photographs, often very subtly – once you look closely, you realize that many of the delicate lines are in fact thread.  She also often scratches the surface of her pictures, creating delicate white lines that add depth to her images.

Lake, Melissa Zexter, C-print and thread

Overall, her work has a textural feel, not often found in photographs.  There’s a family connection too: Zexter’s children often appear in her photographs.

Be sure to see these shows before they close on June 24th!  Muriel Guépin Gallery is located at 83 Orchard Street.

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