That repetition plays such a central role in art production from the 1960s forward recommends for serious art-historical consideration the largely overlooked contributions of fiber art, a heterogeneous field of textile-related techniques. Examining some 50 works by 34 artists, this well-conceived exhibition detailed fiber art’s postwar emergence and recent reclamation, and situated it in critical tension with canonized sculptural traditions, particularly Post-Minimalism.
Opening with two towering “woven forms” (1961 and 1966) by Lenore Tawney, among the first to break from the planar basis of textiles, the show unfolded across several thematic groupings. With Elsi Giauque’s volumetric lattice, it demonstrated how color in fiber art inheres in the weave, rather than being applied retroactively, as in painting. Exploring the grid and the physical force of gravity, both structural to most textiles as well as to strains of 20th-century abstraction, was Robert Rohm’s 1969 wall-mounted matrix of knotted rope. Severed at various points, it exploits loft, weight, and pliancy to both capitalize on the grid and defy it. Fiber art’s feminist implications came to the fore in Faith Wilding’s landmark Crocheted Environment from 1972 and Josh Faught’s sequined garden trellis from 2009, each of which breaks down the gendered dyads of art and craft, public and private, and inside and outside. Sheila Pepe’s monumental, blue-green, rafter-hung work further crystalized the medium’s architectural potential, asking: Who is licensed to take up space, or claim shelter?
The exhibition provided indispensible historical insight into the recent resurgence of fiber in contemporary art. Why, the question remains, have such practices again become timely? One reason may lie in renewed concerns about labor, value, and production in late-capitalist society. Among several works pointing in this direction was Haegue Yang’s 2013 sound piece, in which a podcast-loaded iPod tracks the artist’s time invested in the making of an intricate pair of suspended macramé spires.
A version of this story originally appeared in the February 2015 issue of ARTnews on page 88.