Viriato 2005

Joana Vasconcelos, Viriato, 2005; Heather and Tony Podesta Collection, Washington, D.C.; © Luis Vasconcelos/ courtesy Atelier Joana Vasconcelos

Portuguese artist Joana Vasconcelos examines issues of national identity and consumer culture through works that test the boundary between “high” and “low” art. She is particularly known for enveloping everyday items—a piano, a laptop—in crocheted or knitted material. Because handmade textiles are universally rich with associations, Vasconcelos intends them to encourage multiple interpretations by viewers.

Named for a first-century leader in the area of present-day Portugal, Viriato comprises a commercially-made ceramic dog clad in elaborate needlework. The lacy covering masks the details of the sculpture beneath and also competes visually for our attention. By combining what is essentially a mass-produced lawn ornament with traditional crochet, Vasconcelos  reveals the dissonance between handcrafted and manufactured. At the same time, she forces viewers to confront their preconceptions about “feminine” craft and domesticity.