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.