The photograph today is increasingly distanced from the handmade. With the proliferation of digitalization, seamless Photoshop retouching, and quick laser printing, pictures now more than ever are a product of the mind and the machine. In tandem, the photograph has become eminently reproducible. Yellowing silver prints and one-shot polaroids, once keepsakes saved in shoe boxes or pinned on walls, have been all but negated by online photo streams and jpegs from our iPhones.

Yet a group of intrepid artists are working to reclaim the photograph as a unique and handmade object, through an entirely unexpected medium: embroidery. Robert Mann Gallery is pleased to present The Embroidered Image, curated by Orly Cogan and featuring the work of Pinky/MM Bass, Matthew Cox, Orly Cogan, Jane Waggoner Deschner, Flore Gardner, Diane Meyer, Jose Romussi, Hinke Schreuders, Hagar Vardimon, Jessica Wohl, and Melissa Zexter. Utilizing in their own ways the tactility, intricacy, and powerful domestic history of needle and thread, the artists transform photographs into singular mementos both nostalgic and unequivocally current.

For Melissa Zexter and Flore Gardner, embroidery serves as an extension of the imagination. Tinted and black-and-white photographs receive overlays of color and pattern, revealing a nun's contemplation in pink crosses and bringing a red cardinal to commune with a daydreaming woman. For others, it's architectural—Diane Meyer's thick needlepoint panels mimic pixellation in her images of the stark Berlin cityscape, blurring the built environment to comment on fading memories of its history, while Hagar Vardimon's colored threads pull at the rafters of tiny houses like geometric spiderwebs and form mysterious icons in suburban yards.

Embroidery, as a somewhat non-traditional fine art medium, also lends itself to humor and whimsy. Matthew Cox threads the faces of cartoon characters and pop culture icons onto x-rays, playing on the notion of 'stitching' with a dark panache. Yet Jane Waggoner Deschner's photo-collages riff perhaps most clearly on the concept of the photographic keepsake. Family snapshots sewn together and topped with exuberant embroidered doodles and messages, they celebrate the medium's home-spun beginnings while poignantly pushing us to look more deeply at the artifacts of our own lives.

Orly Cogan, whose embroidery work focuses upon themes of feminism and covert domesticity, was born in Jaffa, Israel in 1971 and studied at Cooper Union and The Maryland Institute College of Art.





The Embroidered Image is "Sew Revealing" at Robert Mann Gallery

For women, photos are the things we live up to—and get shown up by—every single day. We get it: Once you're in the pages of Vogue, your thighs and breasts belong to surgery or Photoshop, or both. It's not reality.

Traditionally, sewing is women's work, and many of these artists (all but two are women) address the constraints of gender.

Yet our mammalian brains, impervious to logic and fond of fantasy, remain willing to think, if for a moment: Could this be real? And, more important: Should this be me?

So let the weak among us bid welcome to photography shows alert to the lies photos tell us. "The Embroidered Image," at Chelsea's Robert Mann Gallery, is one such enterprise; it collects 11 artists who alter photos with needle and brightly hued thread, adding the most flagrant of adornments to found and new images. Each reminds us of a photograph's inclination to enhance, exposing the artifice inside every frame.

Traditionally, sewing is women's work, and many of these artists (all but two are women) address the constraints of gender. Several use portraits of 1950s-era ladies done up in bouffants, or old Hollywood movie stars, or generally gorgeous folk. Jessica Wohl sews starburst-like masks across sitters' faces, lending them a mystical, almost animal quality that suggests a wildness lurking below the costumes of polite society. Hagar Vardimon stitches cheerful colored threads in fishnet patterns across headshots of black-and-white movie stars like Joan Fontaine, as if plotting out a face lift or a skin disease. Whether it's to ruin or enhance her subjects' beauty remains unclear.

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Multiple Exposures: Jewelry and Photography/The Embroidered Image
Museum of Arts and Design/Robert Mann Gallery, New York

The steady stream of images that comes our way electronically every day can make any single picture feel intangible, endlessly reproducible, and easy to dismiss. But two current exhibitions are emphasizing the materiality of the photograph — its object-ness and uniqueness. The Embroidered Image at Robert Mann Gallery through August 15 includes 10 artists who transform photographs using the humble domestic tools of needle and thread...

...Handiwork is the subject of The Embroidered Image as well, in terms of its decorative and its transformative properties. In a show that could have tilted toward the sentimental, curator Orly Cogan instead chose works that were pleasantly odd and humorously unsettling. The most successful images went beyond altering the surface of the image and engaged with the medium on a deeper level. The sneaky needlework in Diane Meyer's photographs of barren Berlin streetscapes, for example, mimicked photography's pixelization. Jane Waggoner Deschner quilted black and white photographs together in a contemporary twist on the domestic arts of the family photo album, quilts, and keepsakes, but her works include symbols or existential questions (What can I hope?). Orly Cogan's works involved pages from auction catalogues that she embellished with wry needlework doodles. A Babar-like embroidered elephant pops out of a window on a page documenting a Peter Beard elephant, for example. The Cat in the Hat and Lyle the Crocodile make appearances in other works — all pages from auctions catalogues, all featuring artworks by men (Saul Steinberg, Robert Indiana, Adam Fuss), complete with pricing information and provenance. Cogan playfully undercuts both the art market and the prevalence of the male artist in that market with her pointed play on traditional women's work.

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The latest exhibition at the Robert Mann Gallery is one of home sewn sensibility. Orly Cogan, presenting the work of various artists, curates the show titled The Embroidered Image. The exhibition takes vintage photographs, catalogue pages and x-rays, reclaiming them with hand embroidery to turn them on their head.

The work intrudes upon the picturesque life of the past. Delicate lines of thread insert color, destruct staged portraiture, expand the line of vision and block out the images altogether, interrupting typical ethereal suburbia. It's as if the photos were found in a dusty family photo album hidden in the attic. This combined with the idea of home crafting, give the indication of domestic life, expanding the idea of embroidery to serve a more artistic purpose.

The artists each take their own angle on The Embroidered Image. Melissa Zexter uses the context of the scene, overlaid with pattern to fit the theme. Pinky/MM Bass dissects naked human bodies, sewing in anatomical forms. Diane Meyer's work uses pixilation, blurring the stark solid architectural environments. Hagar Vadimon uses brightly colored geometric imagery, masking out portraits and inserting totem poles into perfectly manicured suburban lawns. Matthew Cox and Orly Cogan use cartoons to add childlike pop culture on x-rays and art catalogues, poking fun at more sophisticated matters. Photo collages are sewn together by Jane Waggoner Deschner, in an almost scrapbooking manner, another connection to domestic life. Jessica Wohl uses thickly embroidered starbursts to block out entire subjects to isolate certain areas of the photo. And finally Hinke Schreuders' rough embroidery, ink and linen give the look of images printed on raw silk.

The show runs until August 15.

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