New York artist Elaine Reichek is a conceptual artist who uses multiple media to examine beliefs about aesthetics and culture. She investigates images, texts, and objects, seeing stories she can retell in her work. She mixes film, audio, and text into interactive exhibitions and uses sewing and embroidery in her canvases as a way of drawing images and quoting texts from poetry, literature, and history.
In 1963, Reichek received her B.A. from Brooklyn College, and in the following year her B.F.A. from Yale University. After she graduated from Yale, Reichek took time off to have a relationship with her husband. She did not work at a job for five years. She had a wonderfully supportive husband, and they had two children. She realized that having children and having a studio life was possible for her as she made art in her kitchen while feeding her second baby. She was always able to work at home.
In her paintings she uses thread as a line, which stood off the canvas and pierced the support. In this way, which appeared on the surface also had a backstory found on the back of the canvas. This technique allowed her to redo her undergraduate work by using thread to make art. She investigated history and metaphors about weaving and embroidery. She studied the Decorative Arts and learned how to sew on a sewing machine. She purchased the first iteration of a digital sewing machine and learned – with difficulty – how to operate it and how to make her embroideries.
Reichek has had an ongoing relationship with the Isabella Gardner Museum in Boston. In 2001, she was an Artist-in-Residence there. Her “MADAMI/MADAM” series is a group of sixteen embroideries on the Creation myth from Genesis, done in different styles. In 2002 and 2003, she returned to the Gardner for an interactive exhibition that was launched on the Museum’s website and published electronically. In 2012, she returned for a “Room Views” conversation about the Dutch Room on the 20th anniversary of the Museum’s theft of three priceless works of art. And in 2017, she was the tenth Artist-in-Residence to create a temporary site-specific work for the facade of the Museum. This was “Ever Yours, Henry James, a fabricated piece in the author’s handwriting, which focused on the words he wrote in his letters when saying goodbye to his friend Isabella Gardner. Reichek commented on the fact that from a distance the script looked abstract. This use of cursive lettering would draw viewers in so that they could read the words. The artist believes that reading words in cursive script allows a reader to access the past to mark the passage of time.
Her latest exhibit, “Now If I Had Been Writing This Story,” was shown at the Secession in Vienna from April to June, 2018. It featured ten works from the past eleven years and consisted of two series: “Ariadne’s Thread” and “Minoan Girls.” Both series are interrelated as they base their subject matter on ancient Greek myths. There are made both by hand and by digital sewing machine.
Her work is in the collections of the Baltimore Museum of Art, Brooklyn Museum of Art, Dublin’s Irish Museum of Modern Art, the Isabella Steward Gardner Museum in Boston, the Jewish Museum in New York, Museum of Arts and Design in New York, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, and the Whitney Museum of American Art.