EACH OF US IS LED ON BY THE COMPLEXITIES IMPLICIT IN OUR OWN MINDS TO LOSE OURSELVES IN A LABYRINTH OF OUR OWN DEVISING. These words, which run beneath a friezelike design based on an Attic amphora, come from André Gide’s Theseus, but might equally be used to describe Elaine Reichek’s thorough immersion in her chosen form and subject. In this exhibition—coinciding with her appearance in the Whitney Biennial—the veteran New York artist shows nine embroideries from a series of 18 begun in 2008, that focuses on the myth of Ariadne, whose unspooled thread helped Theseus escape from the Minotaur’s maze. Thread has been a periodic component of Reichek’s work since the ’70s, and here it takes center stage as both material and metaphor.
The neatly presented works, which closely resemble the samplers once produced by needleworkers as a demonstration of technical skill, trace the story through a variety of juxtaposed images and texts, from the historical to the contemporary. One riffs off a lush Giovanni Crosato canvas from the 1700s, another features an image of the hypnotically patterned carpet from The Shining’s Overlook Hotel. The choice and interplay of such sources make for an edifying experience, but there’s a feeling that, in working so reverentially with material that is itself so often canonical, Reichek begins to disappear into a kind of professorial role. And the embroidery, even when done by hand, looks unfailingly mechanical. Ultimately, it is only the mysteries of Ariadne’s personality that keep us inside the labyrinth.