In the late 1970s in America, amid the fervor of the feminist and Black Power movements, the vibrant Pattern and Decoration artistic movement took root. Focused on elevating the aesthetic value of craft and decorative media such as needlepoint, quilting, and tapestry, P&D artists—whose ranks included both women and men—challenged traditional notions of fine art and asked viewers to reconsider ideas of what constitutes “women’s work.”
Anna Katz, curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, first became intrigued by the movement while writing a wall label describing a work by P&D artist Kim MacConnel, who often painted brilliantly hued patterns onto bedsheets. That inspired Katz to spend three years researching the movement, culminating in the publication of With Pleasure: Pattern and Decoration in American Art (Yale University Press). Including essays detailing the movement’s place in postwar art, architecture, and design and showcasing a selection of more than 100 works by 45 P&D practitioners active from 1972 to 1985, the book will be released on November 26.
One of its central figures is multimedia feminist artist Miriam Schapiro, whose 1985 piece Heartland, a heart-shaped fabric and acrylic canvas featuring a geometric pattern overlaid by intricately embroidered flowers, brings the traditional craft of embroidery into the context of modern art. “These were artists who truly believed in art’s aesthetic pleasures,” says Katz. “They took sincere pleasure in color, sequins, glitter, feathers, arabesque, and quilts. They genuinely approached these objects with love and celebrated their sources and their aesthetics.”
The book accompanies the exhibition of the same name opening at MOCA on October 27. Here, viewers can see Heartland in person, as well as works by Joyce Kozloff and Al Loving. The importance of With Pleasure is clear, says Katz; both the book and the exhibition recognize “artists who set themselves the task of rethinking the hierarchies in which they had been indoctrinated and who wanted to make an art based on inclusion, where more is more.”