Infinite Variety: Three Centuries of Red and White Quilts
Designer: Thinc Design
Design Type: Space
Launch Year: 2011
Infinite Variety was a spectacular exhibition of a private collection of 651 quilts, arrayed to enable the public to fully experience the vibrancy, creativity, and productive exuberance of the quilts and their maker communities. Displayed at New York’s Park Avenue Armory in March 2011, the experience intended to be true to quilters’ passions and fully engaging to a larger audience. Held over six days, the installation resided within the 55,000-square-foot Park Avenue Armory Drill Hall, an 85-foot high vaulted environment. The exhibition included a café, gift shop, and seating with breathtaking views; exhibit structures raised the quilts as high as 45 feet off the floor. As a “gift to New York City,” the collector ensured that audience admission was free. Suspended from simple, gossamer structures, the quilts formed dynamic spirals and tall, cylindrical viewing pavilions. A large plinth with printed statements by the curator and collector formed the exhibition threshold, the full array of quilts visible beyond. The exhibition had several unique characteristics, including the method of hanging the quilts (cardboard tubes suspended on cables and mounted with binder clips to enable the installers to quickly and safely affix the quilts in place), the rapid installation schedule (the entire exhibition had to be installed in under three days), the exuberant style of the exhibition (quilts are typically displayed in one or two horizontal rows), and the scale of the exhibition (drawing in visitors from around the world). These minimal materials, along with simple MDF platforms for viewing a special collection of quilts in a sweeping arc that included a line of seating for more than fifty people, was fully re-usable and recyclable. We used the quilts both as display objects and exhibition architecture. In the center, a tall spiral rose above a circle of quilt-draped chairs representing the absent makers. A surrounding “pavilion” enhanced the spiral’s grandeur. Other cylindrical pavilions snaked through the exhibition hall with changing vistas. A huge sweep formed the exhibition background, rising up over a large café. The most detailed and important quilts were arrayed on a long, sloping arc that provided close-up viewing while forming a long bench along its inner wall. The lighting engaged the eye and provided visual relief. Each quilt was framed separately, and the exhibition pulsed subtly and gently in waves. Together, these elements created a breathtaking first impression and innumerable viewing possibilities. Upholstered poufs placed at strategic vantage points allowed people to sit, take in the view, and talk with each other. Visitors could download an iPhone app with high-resolution photographs of each quilt, or borrow an iPad loaded with the app free of charge. The exhibition was characterized by long stay times and social, open interactions among strangers. Visitors felt energized and inspired. Many wept at the entrance. Quilters traveled from around the world, describing the experience as once-in-a-lifetime and reporting that their art form had been acknowledged and revealed as never before. Many non-quilters returned daily. The six-day event broke the Park Avenue Armory’s daily attendance records; press coverage ranged from quilt blogs to national media outlets as far away as Australia and China. We continue to receive letters from visitors sharing their own personal viewing experience and expressions of gratitude for this spectacular exhibition.