ABOVE: Map of the Earth (2020), worn and discarded Windmill Quilt cut and reassembled, stretched canvas, acrylic.
︎ Moremen Gallery, Louisville
Denise Mucci Furnish at Moremen Gallery
Denise Mucci Furnish’s solo exhibition at Moremen Gallery prompts viewers to figuratively rescue scraps of the past and with them transform the future. Artists like Judy Chicago and Furnish have elevated quilting, traditionally recognized as a woman’s craft, to high art. Chicago’s International Honor Quilt is a testament to the innumerable artists from across the world that have worked in fiber arts to celebrate women. Like Chicago, Furnish uses her work to subvert oppressive narratives. By transforming the quilts into new works of art, Furnish both imitates gender erasure with layers of paint and, at the same time, emphasizes the perseverance of women’s narrative in art and history.
Most of the work in this exhibition was created in 2020, a year that marks our country’s 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment as well as the 55th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act. 2020 also marks about a century since the last pandemic ravaged the world. While great strides have been made toward gender equality and public health education and awareness, opposition to these efforts still exist. The 2020 economic and political environments have felt foreboding–women are losing the places they have long fought to gain and are more vulnerable to COVID-19-related economic effects because of existing gender inequalities.1 Furthermore, Black and Latinx people in the US are facing worse financial and mental instability than white Americans.The economic effects from COVID have been unraveling what has taken years for not just women but other marginalised groups to accomplish politically and socially, unlike anything seen in Furnish’s lifetime. Furnish’s solo exhibition reads like a new-age movement against erasure.
The painting, collaging, and embroidering Furnish incorporates into the abandoned quilts do not obscure the existence of the quilt—it is not a randomly chosen canvas. These embellishments highlight the history and craft of this persisting relic of women’s work. She does not paint these fabric surfaces to hide the origin of her work. Rather, paint often highlights the details beneath; the stitches that bring the pieces together are still noticeable even if you can no longer tell the color or quality of individual pieces underneath. Medium details on the labels proudly state the type of quilt she adopted: fragmented and worn, a discarded crib quilt, favorite patterns of yore including Tumbling Blocks and the Pinwheel.
The Great and Terrible Mother (2020) is a well-worn quilt painted in complementary colors of vivid purples and deep golds. A geometrically stylized woman holds a staff in her left hand noting power which, together with the royal color of purple and rich golds, portraying the figure as highly important—a goddess, even. The child-like figure in her center is at odds with the skull image just below. Studying the title with the work I see how Furnish plays with feminized dichotomies. Is she powerful or is she the bringer of life? Must she be a bringer of life if she is not powerful? In Jungian psychology, The Great Mother is a well-known archetype and The Terrible Mother can be considered a shadow archetype (an opposite yet ever present possible archetype possessed by one individual.)2 The Great Mother character embodies ideal motherly attributes like nurturing, protective, and loving, while the Terrible Mother is associated with fear, danger, and seduction. The classic stereotypes of women shall not be either or, but rather any and all.
The Story (2020) is a narrative of growth and perseverance. The quilt used for this work is of a pattern called Grandmother’s Garden. The personified plant-like strands of green shoot from a dreary gray ground into a red, gold, and blue modular diamond-cube surface. The bulbous, stemmed figures have humanoid faces and connect to each other vertically and through smaller diagonal lines. It is not a family tree per say, but it is a lineage of sorts. This garden is a heritage of women and other marginalized peoples, their practices, and their stories. Women are still making moves, making history. We have seen this most powerfully in the form of the Black Lives Matter movement, which was founded in 2013 by three women: Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi. This movement continues to be a force, particularly during 2020’s demonstrations against police violence and other forms of racial injustice. The climb to equality and equity must continue.
Furnish’s brightly collaged and painted quilts plead society to no longer suppress women and their legacy. We shall not abandon our history and the opportunities it has provided our futures. 2020 has been a year of wonder and woe. We have a woman Vice President-elect but many of America’s working mothers are losing their jobs in wake of the pandemic. As Furnish has combined a variety of scraps and mediums to create a cohesive work, we too need to remember to diversify our own worlds, to bring awareness and reverence to the histories and the peoples that make society a unique and beautiful whole.
Denise Mucci Furnish’s solo exhibition is on display at Moremen Gallery through December 13, 2020
Moremen Gallery is located on the second floor of 710 W Main St, Louisville, KY 40202 and is open Thursday through Saturday 11am-4pm or by appointment.
- 1. Anu Madgavkar et al., “COVID-19 and Gender Equality: Countering the Regressive Effects,” July 17, 2020, https://www.mckinsey.com/featured-insights/future-of-work/covid-19-and-gender-equality-countering-the-regressive-effects.
- 2. Kendra Cherry, “The 4 Major Jungian Archetypes,” Verywell Mind, June 30, 2020,
- https://www.verywellmind.com/what-are-jungs-4-major-archetypes-2795439.Denise Furnish
- Moremen Gallery
Contributor to Ruckus
Double Pinwheels (2019), two worn and discarded Pinwheel quilts reassembled as one, acrylic, buttons, wire, canvas.
The Story (2020), worn and discarded Grandmother's Flower Garden quilt, acrylic, canvas.
The Great and Terrible Mother (2020), cutter quilt fragment collage including Wheel of Fortune squares on stretched canvas, acrylic.