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The Feminist Art Program at Cal Arts had a big impact on women in the early 70's and had no little impact on men. Jim Isermann, Lari Pittman, Mike Kelly all acknowledged being interested in working with techniques and imagery traditionally associated with women's work. That came to mind while viewing Man Made: Contemporary Male Quilters at the Craft and Folk Art Museum through May 3.

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Ben Venom, "I Go Where Eagles Dare," 2012
Handmade quilt, heavy metal T-shirts fabric, 108" x 60"
Courtesy of Sue Otto

Museum director Suzanne Isken organized the show after seeing the work of Ben Venom, who has come up with the most unlikely source material for his delicate art: heavy metal rock T-shirts. The San Francisco-based artist cuts them up and repurposes them as complex quilts of skulls, snakes and skankyness. Inspired by Gee's Bend quilts, he brings headbangers into collision with the sewing circle.

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Joel Otterson, "The Garden Floor" (Concrete Crazy Quilt), 2002 - 2012
Glazed ceramic,stone, marble and concrete, 87" x 87" overall (20" x 20" each panel)
Courtesy of the artist and Maloney Fine Art, Los Angeles

LA-based Joel Otterson presents a pastel and white quilt that he made from the bed linens, tea towels, curtains, embroidered pillowcases that had belonged to his Kentucky neighbor, Mrs. Woodson. Her son had thrown them out when his mother died and Otterson retrieved them from the trash bin so that her memory would remain alive. It is moving and innocent but stitched on the back is the outline of a naked cowboy so no one using it will sleep alone. Otterson also included one of his well-known concrete quilts, a floor-sculpture composed of tiles in elaborate interlocking patterns.

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Jimmy McBride, "M1 V2" (The Crab Nebula), 2011
Hand-and-machine-quilted with hand embroidery, 87" x 78"
Courtesy of the artist

New York-based Jimmy McBride, a sci-fi enthusiast, brings quilting into the future by portraying scenes of outer space like the supernova remnant M1V2 (The Crab Nebula).

Isken did not confine the show to practicing artists but included other professions, including a retired engineering professor, as examples of those who had taken up quilting as a craft defying expectations of what men can or cannot do.

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(L)Jonas Becker, "The Pile" (detail), 2014
Hand-stiched red felt objects from sculpture
(R) Photos of "Red Fabric 2," 2013
C-print, Edition 1/10
Both courtesy of the artist and Shulamit Gallery

On a similar note, in the museum lobby and visible from the street, LA-based artist Jonas Becker installed The Pile, two enormous mounds of stuffed talismans hand sewn out of red felt. Simple outlines of the signs for dollars, animals, people, cars, even infinity, were cut out of fabric, stuffed and stitched along the edges with the help of his mother, who is featured in a video. According to a museum spokesperson, these objects are culled from the thousand answers he received to the question, "What one thing would make your life better?" For the CAFAM installation, he held public sewing meetings to make more of the objects and increase the scale, now thirteen feet tall, of "The Pile."

Finally, on the second floor, there are photographs and videos contributed from around the world for the juried exhibition: Focus Iran. All shows offer more proof that this modest mid-Wilshire museum, opened in 1973, is increasingly relevant to today's culture.

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