As they walked the sidewalks of downtown Missoula on Friday, passers-by craned their necks to look around the corner of the Missoula Mercantile building.
Something was different: The normal brickwork was covered in a brightly colored patchwork of cloth that cascaded down the wall.
Lying on his stomach, Brandon Reintjes slowly fed the 45-foot-long stretch of fabric from the corner of the rooftop of the Mercantile until it pooled on the sidewalk below.
“It kind of overwhelms the senses. It has the ability to just really interrupt your routine,” said Reintjes, curator of art for the Montana Museum of Art and Culture at the University of Montana.
The piece, titled “Rapunzel,” is by New York artist and Missoula native Amanda Browder. While it was thin at the top, where Reintjes used metal wiring to secure it to anchor points, the installation widened toward its base.
After hanging the piece, Reintjes spent the rest of the afternoon at the base, handing out information about the opening of a broader exhibition of Browder’s work on the UM campus.
“We can’t leave it, people could pull on it or try to climb up Rapunzel’s hair,” he said.
“Rapunzel” was up for only a few hours for First Friday before the MMAC took down the installation and carefully packed it away. Because they are made of fabric, Reintjes said, “soft sculptures” are fragile and can’t be left outdoors for long periods of time.
“Amanda generally shows them for short periods of time at her installations around the country,” he said.
The exhibition at the MMAC, called “End of the Infinite,” will run from Oct. 16 to Jan. 10, 2015. On the first and last days of the installation, two of Browder’s large-scale pieces will be hung over the PAR-TV building on the UM campus, weather permitting.
Another smaller piece, “PRISM/LIVIN/ROOM,” will be set up in the Meloy Gallery in the PAR-TV building.
Browder will also be in town to speak about the series at 5 p.m. Oct. 16 in the Masquer Theater, followed by an artist reception.
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“We’re really lucky to be able to welcome her back to Missoula,” Reintjes said.
Browder’s work has appeared in Missoula before, including in 2012 when she made “Spelunca,” to be hung in ZooCity Apparel during the Total Fest music festival. The piece used donated band and concert T-shirts that were sewn together to create the appearance of a cave wall behind the stage.
A Brooklyn-based artist who was born and grew up in Missoula, Browder said she was excited to show her work in town again.
“Growing up in Missoula, the mountains were a place of reference for me on my own scale in the world,” she said Friday.
After moving to Chicago after graduate school, she lost that perspective. Although the buildings were big, tight corridors replaced the broader expanses she had been used to in Missoula.
“Rapunzel” is the first of the large-scale fabric installations Browder made. While living in a Chicago studio apartment, she said she was frustrated by the small confines.
“So I sewed all the fabric I had into one big waterfall and threw it out my window,” she said.
Since then, Browder has made a series of architectural draping works, and done installations across the country and around the world in places like Barcelona, Spain; Tokyo and Prague, Czech Republic.
While she made “Rapunzel” by herself, most of her work since has been in collaboration with the communities where she was living. When she moved to New York, she used her artwork as a way to meet her new neighbors, resulting in “Future Phenomena,” one of the pieces that will be part of her MMAC exhibition.
Browder recently finished an installation in Birmingham, Alabama, where she and the community sewed 10,000 square feet of donated fabric to drape over one of the buildings on the university campus.
“I like the conversation of public art and contemporary art. It brings people in that don’t normally go to a gallery,” she said.