30 December 2014

Fiber Sculpture 1960 - present

Kleurentotem (Color Totem), Ria Van Eyk in Gallery 1.

2014 was a banner for textile exhibits, including shows at The Drawing Center, in Manhattan, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Institute of Contemporary Art, in Boston, the venue for Fiber Sculpture, 1960 - Present, organized by senior curator Jenelle Porter.  A glowing review by Sebastian Smee is well-deserved - the exhibit, featuring 34 international artists,  presented an historic overview of innovations in fiber art and chronicles the medium's acceptance as part of the world of "fine art." There is a beautifully-produced and well-researched companion book, Fiber Sculpture 1960 - Present, (ISBN 978 3 7913 5382 1). This is a massive, expensive volume, but if you can, borrow it just for the amusing and insightful essay by Glenn Adamson entitled Soft Power.

Students in Gallery 4; details of Pillar of Inquiry/Supple Column.

The exhibit was organized not chronologically but in five thematic galleries, "Fiber and Color", "Fiber and the Grid" and so forth.  After viewing the exhibit we enjoyed a very special event - a lively conversation between  curator Porter and artist Sheila Hicks, whose recent work Pillar of Inquiry/Supple Column is pictured above.

Gallery 2 - Fiber and Color.

As fiber constructions can vary in opacity, depending on how filaments are deployed, many of the works have an openness and a scrim-like quality; for example Nina Got It for 100 Francs, above, by Alan Shields. The museum patron, seen through the construction, becomes a temporary part of it. It was interesting just watching, through my camera lens, the stance and deportment of each art aficionado looking at these works. The variety of ways in which the works are presented - hanging from the ceiling, sitting on the floor, slumping off the wall - creates a different dynamic of viewer engagement than found in a show of paintings in rows on walls.

Text and Commentary, Beryl Korot.

The multi-media installation pictured above, by Beryl Korot, includes drawings of weaving patterns, a video of weaving and the woven tapestries themselves.  So, this installation implicitly lets us time-travel - we see pattern created by the ancient technology of weaving, pattern recorded on paper, invented around 100 BCE, and pattern captured with digital technology.

Other works offer a different kind of immersive experience, recalling elemental textile shelters such a tents, but with a twist. The work below is edged with shells and bells and viewers are encouraged to "play" the sculpture by walking through and manipulating the lace-like material.

SoundWay, Ernesto Neto.
Faith Wilding lines a small, black-painted room, lit by a single, central point of illumination, with attenuated crochet. It this a nest or a web or a giant game of cat's cradle? 

Crocheted Environment, Faith Wilding.

Sistah Paradise's Great Wall of Fire Revival Tent, Xenobia Bailey.

Although craft per se is down-played in this show, there's no denying that Sistah Paradise's tent is a tour-de-force of crochet technique, and it is one of the few works with any kind of narrative.  Sistah Paradise is the alter ego of the artist, a healer and guide for future generations.

For those who may be inspired to try their hand at crochet, brief, illustrated guides to crochet and knitting were available to patrons and a "touch, please" wall with various fibers added another educational component to the show. Indeed, it was very frustrating to be confronted with so much tactile appeal and not be able to feel and finger the fibers in the artworks!

Brochures on knitting and crochet, and fibers to touch.

Lots of texture.

One of my favorite works in the show was one of the most minimal, a piece originally created in 1969 by the late Robert Rohm and re-created here (with permission) by students from the Massachusetts College of Art.  Although Robert Frost stated "something there is that doesn't love a wall" this artwork is all about the wall, to which the rope clings, slumping in response to gravity, a force greater than either rope or wall.

I am ashamed to say that neither DH nor I had been to the ICA, whose new building was completed in 2006. The museum is on Boston harbor; the digital screening room even places the patron over the water, with no horizon line, an exhilarating, if somewhat disorienting, viewpoint.

Entrance, Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston.

Poss Family Mediatheque, with water view.

On our way out, we took another look at Sheila Pepe's kinetic sculpture Put Me Down Gently, a site-specific assemblage of parachute cord and other filaments, which responds to the movement of the elevator. We only wish it was a permanent installation.

Put Me Down Gently, Sheila Pepe.

21 December 2014

Kimono exhibit at the Met, New York

Kimono with peonies, ca. 1930's.

In the three hundred years following the establishment of the Tokugawa military government, in 1603, the kimono evolved from an item of everyday apparel into Japan's national symbol. The cultural history of this garment is described in the late Terry Satsuki Milhaupt's scholarly book Kimono: A Modern History.  We viewed the exhibit, based on Milhaupt's work, earlier this month.  Eve Kahn reviewed the exhibit in her column in the New York Times; note, however, that Ms. Kahn's article gives an incorrect closing date - according to the Met's website, the exhibit ends January 19, 2015.

Kimono exhibit title.

The kimonos can be enjoyed on several levels - as exemplars of sophisticated craft and design, as a catalog of changing textile technology, and as a record of cultural transfer, as Japan both influenced, and was influenced by, art movements originating in the West.  

A note on the wearing of kimono - it's a layered affair, with one or more juban, or under-kimono, beneath the outermost kimono, which in turn may be topped with a robe (uchikake)  or by a jacket (hanten).  This layering approach provides warmth in cold weather, and helps keep the most expensive, visible outer kimono clean.

Three masterpiece kimonos from the late Edo period.

During the Edo period (1615-1868) sumptuary laws and social stratification meant that one's apparel immediately telegraphed one's social status. The silk robes in the image above were made for women of the highest social class, the samurai, or for wives and daughters of wealthy merchants. The merchant class had the lowest social standing in the rigid hierarchy established by the shogunate, but, paradoxically, was generally the wealthiest social stratum.

Over-robe with long-tailed birds, late 18th c.

The over-robe, or uchikake, in the image above, was a component of wedding attire. The hem is padded to ensure a graceful drape while walking or standing, and the garment is beautifully embroidered with auspicious symbols - phoenix-like birds, cherry blossoms and pine trees.  Click on the image to enlarge it and view the waterfall stitched in couched gold thread in the central portion. The glint of the metallic thread recalls the sparkle of sunshine on water; the effect is also presented in the flowing lines stitched on the hem, below.

Over-robe, detail of couched gold thread embroidery and padded hem.

The exhibition also includes contemporary depictions of kimonos, as well as objects, such as lacquerware, which feature shared design motifs.

6-panel folding screen featuring dancers, detail.

Depictions of kimono, in various media, recognized their pictorial value.  The screen above, painted around 1700, shows the use of fans as props, and how the dancers, captured in mid-performance, used their flowing sleeves to attenuate the fluid motions of their arm movements.

Folding screen, detail, dancer with fan.

The making of a kimono traditionally involved the coordinated efforts of many people, including silk farmers who raised the silkworms, workers - including women - who reeled the silk from the cocoons into filament, weavers, dyers, and artisans who specialized in one particular type of surface design, such as stenciling or embroidery. The production began, though, with an artist producing a design, such as the one shown below in an early pattern book of kimono designs.  These pattern books are somewhat analogous to the 19th fashion plates, exported from Paris, which gave dress-makers in London and New York an idea of up-to-date styles and trends.

Kosode (type of kimono) Pattern Book, 1667.

We get another glimpse of kimono design and production from the rare 19th-century fragment, below, showing a weaver at his loom and, sitting on top of the frame, a young worker known as a drawboy. Before Joseph Marie Jacquard invented his automated loom, around 1801, a lightweight person, often a child, with dextrous fingers, would manually lift and lower harnesses controlling warp threads, allowing the weft filaments to pass under or over the warp, creating the complex patterns of brocades and damasks. Woe betide the youngster who made a mistake in the pattern.

Textile fragment showing weaver and drawboy at a loom.

People at every rank wore some variant of kimono, and the exhibit includes robes and garments worn by peasants, townsmen and the special padded jackets worn by firemen.  Frugal farmers recyled precious textiles, not just from an aversion to discarding any usable scrap, but because finding a new use for an old thing extends its life, and confers longevity to the wearer.  Someone carefully hoarded the textile scraps used in the jacket below, as some of pieces date from the Edo period.

Patchwork jacket (hanten), second half 19th century.

Farmer's jacket, 2nd quarter, 20th c.

The jacket pictured above is an example of sakiori weaving, another method of repurposing worn-out clothing.  Cloth scraps become the weft threads for a warp formed from a bast fiber, in this case mountain wisteria vine.  

My grandmother - who grew up on a farm in southeastern Michigan - told me that when old clothes beyond repair were made into rags for rugs, her task as a child was to patiently remove the sewing thread from the seams and hems of old garments, and spool the thread, for reuse. Farmers everywhere are savers.

In 1854 Commodore Perry, utilizing "gunboat diplomacy," negotiated a trade agreement with Japan. Soon after Japanese kimonos - both the garments themselves and their depiction in woodblock prints -  began influencing Western dress and art.  The exhibit overview below shows three Western gowns whose silhouettes and detailing are beholden to the kimono. In a nice touch, chairs by the late Japanese-American master craftsman George Nakashima provide a comfortable perch.

Visitors seated in George Nakashima chairs.

Once trade with the West began, Japan quickly sought to establish itself as a player on the world stage; high-ranking men adopted Western military dress and by the mid-1880's the imperial offices mandated Western dress for government officials.  Court ladies used Singer sewing machines in their dress-making, pictured below.

Adachi Ginko, Ladies Sewing, 1887.

In 1905 Japan's modernized navy defeated the Russian navy in a much-celebrated victory. The men's under-kimono, or juban, below commemorates General Nogi, a hero of the Russo-Japanese conflict, and his entourage, at the surrender of Port Arthur (now Lushunkou, China).  This successful campaign set the stage for Japan's militarization and expansionist policies in the 20th century; as always kimono designers reflected the spirit of the times and kimono became canvasses for propaganda.

Kimono featuring scene of Russo-Japanese war, detail.

Western imagery influenced the design of kimono, which continued to be worn even as Western dress became part of urban consumer culture. Below is a post-war man's under-kimono depicting European cameras, celebrating aspirational consumption and the photography hobby, which is still big in Japan, judging from scene at the Arimatsu shibori festival in 2012, below, where phototogs snapped shots of the festival "prince" and "princess."

Man's under kimono with camera imagery, ca. 1955.

Avid photographers, shibori festival, Arimatsu, Japan, 2012.

Photography became so popular that the market for traditional woodblock prints all but dried up; a few artists, selling nostalgic images of kimono-clad, idealized Japanese women, continued to succeed commercially.

Woodblock print, Ogata Gekko, 1895.

Woodblock print, Ogata Gekko, 1895.

The image above shows a little girl wearing a colorful kimono.  Ceramics featuring children in traditional garments are featured in the exhibit along with children's garments.

Children playing Go, late 18th c.

As shown in the image below, the East/West pathway of design influences was definitely two-way - the child's kimono on the left, with its design combining wisteria vines and a fragmentary trellis motif, was owned by architect Frank Lloyd Wright. On the right is a child's kimono with a design of Mickey Mouse. Traditional motifs, however, were never abandoned, but modified throughout the 20th century; generally, designs became more stylized.

Kimonos for children, early 20th c.

Summer kimono, detail,  wave and water droplets, 2nd quarter 20th c.

The design above riffs on the famous print "The Great Wave," by Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849) and updates this iconic image in bright fuchsia with aqua water droplets. The kimono below reimagines the traditional motif of plovers (a shorebird) and waves for a lightweight summer kimono.

Summer kimono with stylized design of plovers and waves, ca. 1912-26.

The gauzy kimonos below, of lightweight fabrics suitable for the hot, humid Japanese summer, suggest waves or pools of cool water.

20th-century lightweight summer kimonos.

Summer kimono, dragonflies and stream, ca. 1920 - 30s.

Summer kimono, blades of grass and dewdrops, 2nd quarter 20th c.

Twentieth-century artists created kimono, but with an important change in production method - these artists, such as Serizawa Keisuke, implemented the surface design themselves - for example, cutting their own stencils and decorating the fabric, as in the work below. These creations, by Serizawa and other artists designated as Living National Treasures (a program begun in the middle of the century) were not meant as wearable textiles, but were prized as works of art, the apotheosis of the kimono form.

Serizawa Keisuke stencilled kimono, ca. 1962.

Among our favorites are Meisen style kimonos from the early 20th century. Meisen, pronounced May-zen, is a type of fabric, silk or, later, rayon, produced relatively inexpensively, using pre-dyed warps; in a way, it's a mechanized form of ikat weaving. The bold colors and patterns show the influence of Art Deco, Art Nouveau and even cubism, as filtered through a Japanese design esthetic.

Meisen-style kimonos.

Meisen kimono, 2nd quarter, 20th c.

Meisen kimono, ca. 1920.

Left: ca. 1920; right: Cracked ice pattern, 2nd quarter, 20th c.

Today kimonos are still worn for lifecycle events, such as weddings,  and festivals; below are two very elegant women who graciously posed for us in the Arimatsu train station. Kimono heritage continue to influence contemporary apparel design and Japanese designer Hanae Mori reinterprets kimono style in some of her couture.

Dressed for the shibori festival, Arimatsu, 2012.

Evening ensemble, Hanae Mori, ca. 1966 - 1969.

Directional sign for the exhibition.

25 November 2014

Game Changers - Fiber Art at the Fuller Craft Museum

Warrior of Light in the Blue Night, Maximo Laura, 2010.

On November 23, DH and I drove to Brockton, Massachusetts, to view Game Changers: Fiber Art Masters and Innovators at the Fuller Craft Museum.  The invitational exhibit, on view from July 5, 2014, to November 23, 2014, featured fifty-four works by artists both veterans of, and relatively new to, the museum world.

Exhibit entrance.

Fiber is broadly interpreted, encompassing traditional materials such as wool and cotton fibers, but also substances which might be considered a bit off the beaten path of the textile landscape, such as glass tube segments, grapefruit peels, stone, and substrates such as paper.  Paper is itself made of fibers pulped and bonded, so in that sense it is fiber-related, but then one could posit that any painting on woven canvas is also fiber-related.  Some works feature no filament or fiber at all; these outliers seem to function as orbiting markers for the limits of the ever-expanding textile universe.  Exhibits that promote boundary busting necessarily elicit questions on inclusion and scope.

Another view of the exhibit.

The thesis seems to be that expanding the definition of fiber to include almost any and all material somehow strengthens the dissolution of the old established stratification of some types of art, and certain materials, as superior to others.  We are presented with another upheaval of the old strata of Western Art, with a capital "A", where three-dimensional sculpture ruled at the top of the ladder, followed by two-dimensional painting, then prints, and, down in the lowlands, the world of "craft" - textiles, ceramics, etc., or anything tied to a functional past.

That hierarchy is pretty well demolished by now, although it wasn't when some of the artists, such as the late Ed Rossbach and Dorothy Gill Barnes, in this show began their careers. A bit more chronological context might have helped this exhibit become more of a narrative in addition to a survey.

Mulberry Dentroglyph, Dorothy Gill Barnes, 1997.

#31, Pamela Studstill, 1984.

Pamela Studstill was one of the first art quilters to hand-dye and paint her own fabric, and to compose the quilt as a field, often featuring color gradation, rather than a grid of repeated, identical blocks.

Nameless Woman - Blue Durumagi. Chunghie Lee, 2010.

A more recent work involving stitched fabric is the durumagi  (a kind of formal robe worn over other clothing) by Chunghie Lee, above, executed in the bojagi piecing technique, a Korean tradition.  Like the quilt above, this textile is descended from a functional ancestor in both form and technique but has long shed its utilitarian heritage.  Does only non-functional fiber art qualify as innovative work?

There was some exciting embroidery, including the portrait below, by Mary Bero, in which the directional stitching and strong color create an animated personality.  This, and the other figurative works in the show, seemed very fresh and even provocative, perhaps more so than the abstract works.  In one of the few works with any political content, Adrienne Sloane's figures of knitted wire are literally caught in red tape [or wire] in a piece that suggests the tension between individuals and institutions.

Changing Season, Mary Bero, 2013 - 2014.

Truth to Power, Adrienne Sloane, 2007.

Speaking of narrative, Carol Eckert uses wire and cotton to illustrate a Chinese myth in her work below - I wish she would illustrate a book.

Even without the story, the assemblage works as a tale of life and death in the natural world, but I always like a good myth, so here it is: 

In Chinese mythology, the God of the Eastern Heaven, Dijun, had ten children, called sun-birds, who together took turns as the earthly sun. Each day one of the sun-birds would leave its nest in a carriage and rotate around the earth, providing light and warmth for the planet. However, the sun-birds became tired of the routine and began performing their circuit in the sky all at once. The heat and light provided by ten sun-birds at once was too much and the earth began to scorch and the people to suffer.

Houyi, the God of Archery, was sent by Dijun to correct the children's behavior and Houyi shot down the birds, one by one. After the ninth bird was killed, Emperor Yao pleaded with Houyi to spare the final sun-bird, as without any sun at all the earth would languish in total darkness. Houyi agreed, and we have one sun now, which rises and sets each day.

Time of the Ten Suns, Carol Eckert, 2013.

Time of the Ten Suns, detail.

5 Temari-Sashiko Spheres, Lucy Arai, 2014.

Of course, as a sashiko practitioner myself,  I was tickled to see this hand-sewing on Lucy Arai's ethereal hollow temari globes, a technical tour-de-force combining thread, washi paper, sumi ink, indigo pigment, gold and acrylic.  The contrast of the humble sashiko - simple running stitches -  and the precious materials celebrates the impact of that most basic building block, the stitch.

5 Temari-Sashiko Spheres, detail.

Artist Anastasia Azure also created a technical masterpiece, below, woven flat using silver, copper, brass wire and nylon filament in a double weave technique. Opened to reveal the layers, and with a jewelled center, it is truly fit for royalty.   Delicate - after all, it's mostly wire and air -  the piece employs symmetry, the reflective qualities of the metallic materials,  as well as its three-foot diameter size, for impact.

Landau for the Maharaja, Anastasia Azure, 2009.

Landau for the Maharaja, detail.