Beyond the loom: fiber as sculpture (Exhibition)

“Beyond the loom” was an exhibition within the large exhibition of women’s art “Women Take the Floor” in Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. Visited in January 2020. It featured the groundbreaking fiber works from the 1950s to 2000s by female artists. Inspirational.

In the 1960s and 70s, a number of pioneering women in America radically redefined textiles as modern art. Coopting a medium traditionally associated with women’s work and domesticity, these artists boldly broke free from the constraints of the loom to create large-scale, sculptural weavings that engaged with movements such as Minimalism and Abstraction. This “fiber revolution” sprang from a new philosophical emphasis on structure in textile art, as well as revived interest in tapestry weaving and the brilliance of the ancient Peruvian textiles.

From the introduction to the exhibition

Anni Albers (1899-1994), Dotted Weaving, 1959

I think [weaving] is the closest to architecture, because it is a building up out of a single element – building a whole out of single elements

Anni Albers
Wool, compound weave

Sheila Hicks (born 1934), Linen facets (1988)

Lenore Tawney (1907-2007),
The Fountain of Word and Water (1963)

Water is fertilizing and water is dissolving and water is cleansing and water is life-giving… Water is thrilling.

Lenore Tawney
Knotted linen

Olga de Amaral (born 1932), Strata II (2007)

In the 1980s Olga de Amaral began to experiment with gold and silver leaf, connecting her work in fiber with a long history of indigenous Colombian metalwork artists.

From the exhibit description
Linen plain weave, gesso, acrylic and gold leaf

Ruth Asawa (1926-2013), Untitled (1952)
Kay Sekimachi (born 1926), Amiyase V (1956)

Everything has its limitations, and fiber does… and of course the loom has many limitations. I love working within limitations.

Kay Sekimachi
Foreground: work by Kay Sekimachi.
Woven nylon 6 monofilament

Sheila Hicks (born 1934), Bamian (1968)

All of the threads are actors on stage and none of them are hidden. They’re all part of the oevre

Sheila Hicks
Wool and acrylic yarn, wrapped

Iris Apfel: “Color rules!”

Iris Apfel became a mega-star of American fashion when she was over 80. You might call her style “over-the-top”, but it is undeniable: Iris has Style.

The Ainu of Japan.
Photo by Fosco Maraini, 1940s

If your are in the camp of those who think that Iris’ taste is over-the-top, look though ethnographic photos of the late 19th-early 20th century from the different parts of the world. The folk clothes are of bright colors with elaborate headdresses and sizable jewelry. Iris did not invent her style in vacuum: she borrowed and synthesized what she saw.

Her outfits look odd to us because we have become Chanelized.
Our clothes is a sea of black and white, with some beige, burgundy, gray, navy and inoffensive pastels. Dull prints galore. Here and there small splashes of bright scarves meekly break the visual monotony.
Perhaps, the most of modern women do not even know what their favorite colors are.

Iris Apfel was never afraid of a bright color or a bold shape. In fact, as she grew older, she cared even less what people think of her style. She liked what she liked and she wore it.

Such freedom did not appear out of nowhere. Iris grew up with the mother who “worshiped at the altar of accessory”. As a young woman she tried her hand in interior decorating. The rest of her working life Iris and her husband of some 70 years ran the textile business, which specialized in reproduction of rare and antique fabrics. That’s substantial education in cloth and fashion.

Iris loves dressing up like very few women in our modern world care or dare. She quipped that dressing up was frequently the only fun part about going to parties.
The closets in her New York apartment were bigger than a bedroom in an average house. Iris had hard times partying with her finery. Many of her outfits were custom made, like a tiger-print set on the photo below, many are one-of-a-kind fight of fancy by fashion designers.

The habit of hoarding turned out to be a good thing, after all.
Several years ago Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC was preparing the exhibition of some famous fashion designer, but it fell through. Another exhibition had to fill the slot and on a very short notice. The Museum asked Iris Apfel whether she was willing to put her outfits on display. She agreed. The exhibition was a hit.
The rare bird of fashion spread her wings.

There are several underlying themes in Iris’ work. First, she teaches the importance of personal style. Second, she advocates on behalf of the women of a certain age and beyond in the youth-centered world of fashion. Third, our modern clothes are works of art fit for museum exhibitions. Textile exhibitions should not be only about historic costumes (clothes that nobody wears any more) or artwear (clothes that nobody is physically able to wear) .

In this post I published several pictures from the exhibit in the new wing Fashion and Design that opened in Peabody-Essex Museum in Salem, MA in September 2019.
Alice Apfel was an active participant of this project.

More about Iris Apfel

There is an excellent documentary about her ( Iris ). Trailer on Youtube.
At least three books have been published since her success in Metropolitan Museum, one of them is a lavish catalog of her earlier exhibition in PEM appropriately called Rare Bird of Fashion.

Aunt Dottie: the heritage of a humble New Hampshire knitter

Humble New Hampshire knitter made sweaters for her extended family. It became a collection lovingly preserved by her nephew. The collection reflects the hand-knitting trends of the 1970s-80s.

While taking a lunch walk, I saw the unusual exhibition in the hallways of the building in Portsmouth, NH: the walls hung with hand-knit colorful sweaters.
The nephew of the woman he calls aunt Dottie knitted over 70 sweaters for the family as Christmas gifts.
An individual sweater on display was not a work of art. Many are the replicas of commercial patterns. Some of aunt Dottie’s designs are lacking composition. The workmanship of some is not the best.
What counts here is the whole body of aunt Dottie’s work.
The messages and intentions that were knitted into the sweaters.
They reflect the ages and the interests of the giver and the recipients of the sweaters.
There is an interesting historical aspect of the exhibition: it reflects the American knitting aesthetics of the 1970s-80s. Large, bold patterns. Heavier yarn of bright, contrasting colors.