Susan Cianciolo’s Textiles Have Spiritual Dimensions

In a fabric-forward show at Bridget Donahue, New York, the artist presents clothing and tapestries marked by conviction and grace

BY Paige K. Bradley in Exhibition Reviews | 09 JUL 24

Bald assertions may be relatively rare in the vocabulary of art, but Susan Cianciolo doesn’t shy away from them in her fourth solo exhibition at Bridget Donahue. After a turn on the makeshift runway during the show’s opening, two garments adorned with the handwritten phrase ‘GOD IS A JACKET’ are now set on hangers and suspended midair from thick wires in the huddle of 28 costumes that comprise RUN 15 (1995–2024). Akin to the artist’s previous upcycled ready-to-wear ensembles in her ongoing ‘RUN’ project, these riotously textured and patchwork clothes generally appear as if they could have been made by Cianciolo and her array of collaborators at any point over the course of her decades-long practice.

Susan Cianciolo, RUN 15, 1995–2024, 25 costumes, mixed media, performance video, photos documenting the artists styling on performers. Courtesy: the artist and Bridget Donahue, New York; photography: Gregory Carideo

As it turns out, pieces from her very first ‘RUN’ collection were absorbed into this one. Fabrics recur, including some of the same ones she provides during workshops that she holds at her home, galleries or elsewhere. One particularly gorgeous ensemble features a vest dyed with a soft peach wash accessorized with a necklace whose pendant includes a scrap of lined notebook paper. Unlikely to be noticed by anyone except the most detail-oriented viewers (the audience that art deserves but infrequently gets), its handwritten declarative belies its humble, sideways orientation: ‘This EXHIBITION IS MACE FOR THE CELEBRATION OF HIGHER DIMENSIONS, WE aRE GOING to THE 5th DIMENSION.’ Take it or leave it, there it is. The watery illegibility of that lone typo does nothing to dilute the conviction expressed: we aRE going; come along if you like. Marked by her characteristic light touch, such a premise chimes with the resurgent discourse around spirituality in art while questioning rationalist paradigms.

Including RUN 15, this show consists of four interrelated yet roughly delineated sections of works with individual pieces appended throughout. There’s ‘Thank You Pine Trees’ (2023–24), a suite of 19 watercolour and acrylic paintings on paper, previously reproduced as an artist’s book, depicting a tree within a Maine landscape; the scavenged wooden assemblage Game of Life (2024); and a number of recent ‘tapestries’, as the artist calls them, that appear in a section of the show called ‘Light Workers’. Spirituality has been a pervasive characteristic, if not the soul, of Cianciolo’s previous shows; her 2017 solo exhibition at Bridget Donahue featured a tent-like structure titled RUN PRAYER (2016–17), while the press release for her 2020 show included excerpts from the Bible’s New Testament.

Susan Cianciolo, Light Workers for the 5th Dimension, 2024, mixed media. Courtesy: the artist and Bridget Donahue, New York; photography: Gregory Carideo

Here, sewn and painted hangings, such as Light Workers for the 5th Dimension (2024), are set forth as depictions, per Cianciolo’s exhibition text, of ‘an angelic realm on earth’. The tapestries feature improvisational appended scraps and roaming mark-making on polyester brocade or cotton – materials that I suspect could otherwise have been easily discarded by those who don’t see the sacred potential of anything, anywhere, as Cianciolo does. These works may depart from the primary definition of ‘tapestry’, but a complex gesture made of many different parts is another kind of ‘tapestry’. If God is a jacket then a dress is a map and finding the way means staging an installation where time is nonlinear, like the face of a clock without hands and that round is the ‘O’ in the word ‘WORKERS’, writ large on fabric.

‘Susan Cianciolo: Light Workers - RUN 15 - Game of Life - (Thank You Pine Trees)’ is on view at Bridget Donahue, New York, until 27 July

Main image: Susan Cianciolo, Thank You Pine Trees, 2023–24, 19 watercolours with acrylic on paper. Courtesy: the artist and Bridget Donahue, New York; photography: Gregory Carideo

Paige K. Bradley is an artist and writer from Los Angeles, USA.