Françoise Grossen’s career is undergoing a renaissance: the first U.S. survey of her work was held last year at Blum & Poe Gallery in New York, followed by exhibitions in Los Angeles, where the 73-year-old Swiss artist was a student before moving to Manhattan, in 1969. She began by working on the loom in the tradition of Anni Albers, but by the late ’60s, her creations had evolved into wall-based constructions resembling shields or heraldic crests. In the early ’70s the constructions moved off the wall and into larger architectural arenas, where they were suspended from ceilings or stretched out on the floor. Executed with rope, string, cord, and plastic tubing that she wound into intricate braids, knots, and loops, the abstract ensembles emerged as evocations of animate organic matter in the ’80s and ’90s.
This show, “Françoise Grossen Selects,” at the Museum of Arts and Design, is a rather dismal display of some compelling works of art. The lighting is barely adequate, sight lines are muddled, and the selection of Grossen’s most engaging production is too small. But for viewers willing to savor her elegantly sensual production, the exhibition offers an illuminating sampler of a distinctive repertoire of haptic and optic effects, zoological forms, and records of time wound up in exacting repetitions.
Historians tend to situate Grossen’s oeuvre on a spectrum somewhere between Sheila Hicks’s highly aestheticized fiber art and Eva Hesse’s carnal sculptures. Grossen’s floor-based Embryo (1987) illustrates both the relevance and limits of these markers. Embryo is constructed from thick, brown commercial rope coiling upward in braided loops from a base tightly swaddled in plastic. The largest bundle on top splays out its slightly orange inner core as it descends to the floor, like a snake escaping its skin. The ensemble works as a virtuoso display of mundane manufactured materials; patient, repetitive, highly skilled handwork, and as a slightly creepy visual metaphor.
The exhibition also includes a group of objects Grossen selected from the museum’s collection to complement her work. Most involve linear forms or materials, ranging from wire cuffs and bracelets to a vessel made from Virginia creeper vine. These objects do tell you something about Grossen’s formal proclivities, but not very much about the deeper resources that propel her formidable creative vision.