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browngrotta arts presents Catalog Lookback: Chronicling the Canon
August 10, 2020 - August 31, 2020
Image: Ethel Stein, Butah, 2011
Photo: Tom Grotta
Catalog Lookback: Chronicling the Canon
August 10 – 31, 2020
Online exhibition: artsy.net/show/browngrotta-arts-chronicling-the-canon
browngrotta arts is pleased to continue their online survey of Modern Craft with Catalog Lookback: Chronicling the Canon – celebrating contemporary artists Sheila Hicks, Lenore Tawney, Lia Cook, Jin-Sook So, and Ethel Stein, inspired by a retrospective selection of exhibition catalogs, published between 1992-2001.
Contemporary fiber art is a fairly new art genre, having begun in the 1950s with experiments in weaving abstraction in the US and Poland and achieving its first international acknowledgment in the 1960s (Lausanne International Tapestry Biennial, Switzerland,1962 and Woven Forms, Museum of Contemporary Crafts of the American Craft Council, 1963 and Wall Hangings, Museum of Modern Art 1969). browngrotta arts has been involved in promoting international art textiles and fiber sculpture since 1987 – or nearly half of that history.
browngrotta arts has been fortunate to work with, been guided by and document the work of pathbreakers and innovators in the field, including Lenore Tawney, Sheila Hicks, Lia Cook, Jin-Sook So and Ethel Stein. Each of these artists have played a significant role in more than one of browngrotta arts’ publications, including Sheila Hicks, Joined by seven artists from Japan (vol. 13), Lenore Tawney: celebrating five decades of work (vol. 28), and Beyond Weaving: International ArtTextiles (vol. 33). Three of them were the subject of artist monographs — Lenore Tawney: Drawings in Air (#1M); Lia Cook: In the Fold, Works from 1973-1977 (#2M) Ethel Stein: Weaver (#3M); one of them an artist’s focus — Focus: Jin-Sook So (#1F).
Chronicling the Canon is a precursor to browngrotta arts’ upcoming “Art in the Barn” exhibition Volume 50: Chronicling Fiber Art for Three Decades, opening at browngrotta arts in Wilton, CT in September 12-20, 2020.
In 1996, browngrotta arts worked with Sheila Hicks on an exhibition that included seven artists from Japan – Masakazu Kobayashi and Naomi Kobayashi, Chiaki Maki, Toshio Sekiji, Hiroyuki Shindo, Chiyoko Tanaka and Jun Tomita. “The choice to show these works together was personal,” Hicks wrote in Sheila Hicks, Joined by seven artists from Japan (#13). She chose browngrotta arts’ space in Connecticut, intentionally, noting that in the Connecticut landscape,“it would be easy to contemplate their inner messages or, at least, to discover their structural wizardry.”
Hicks had shown these artists works to friends, and noted that, “A harmonious dialogue between their work and my own began to develop naturally.” Hicks designed the exhibition and the installation was in collaboration with Cara McCarty, then-head of the Department of Decorative Arts and Design at the St. Louis Art Museum, and Mathilda McQuaid, then-Associate Curator, Department of Architecture and Design at MoMA, both now at the Cooper Hewitt. The exhibition was well received and led to others in Paris and Jerusalem and a follow up show in Wilton (Traditions Transformed (#22)). Ultimately, Hicks and six of the artists appeared in the major MoMa survey: Surface and Structure: Contemporary Japanese Textiles (1998-99), curated by McQuaid and McCarty, which highlighted the revolution that had occurred in the creation of textiles during the 90s. Hicks went on to be the subject of numerous solo exhibitions — Israel Museum, Jerusalem, Israel, Centre Pompidou, Paris, France, Museo Amparo, Puebla, México, Municipal Cultural Center Gallery, Kiryu, Gunma, Japan and The Bass, Miami Beach, Florida, Museum of Nebraska Art, Kearney, Nebraska, Contemporary Art Center of Virginia, Virginia Beach, Virginia, Museo Chileno de Arte Precolombino, Santiago, Chile, Bard Graduate Center, New York, Addison Gallery of American Art, Andover, Massachusetts, and Joslyn Art Museum Omaha, Nebraska.
browngrotta arts’ representation of Lenore Tawney was equally meaningful to founders, Rhonda Brown and Tom Grotta, and influential to browngrotta arts’ evolution. When they decided to move their home and exhibition space, a major factor was finding a room with a ceiling high enough to exhibit a Tawney “cloud” from the series for which she was well known). In 2000, they were able to make that happen celebrating five decades of Tawney’s work. The exhibition illuminated the breadth of Tawney’s vision — including woven forms, collage, assemblage and drawings. Many of the works — created in the 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s — had rarely been exhibited before. The catalog also included never-published excerpts from Tawney’s journals and an essay by Bauhaus scholar, Sigrid Wortmann Weltge, who authored Bauhaus Textiles: Women Artists and the Weaving Workshop (Thames & Hudson 1998). This was followed with a monograph (#1M) exploring Tawney’s Drawings in Air series — ruled drawings on graph paper that predated systemic drawings of Minimalists like Sol Lewitt and served as the impetus for three-dimensional thread sculptures three decades later. “I did some of these drawings that look so much like threads that people think they are threads,” Tawney wrote. “but I didn’t do them with that in mind …. It’s like meditation — you have to be with the line all the time—you can’t be thinking of anything.”
Like Hicks and Tawney, Lia Cook was a participant in Lausanne International Tapestry Biennial, first in 1973, just after she completed her Master’s degree at the University of California, Berkeley in Art & Design. Since that time Cook has reinvented her art practice several times, first creating macroscopic imagery of woven structures, then exploring images of draped fabrics incorporating hand-painted rayon warp threads. In the 90s, she began weaving photographic compositions and then, in the 2000s, she began taking measurements of brain waves as people looked at photos and then at woven images, integrating them into her work as well. “Cook’s work defies the ocular-centricity of Western art by overturning the hierarchy of the senses,” wrote Deborah Valoma in our monograph on Cook (#2), “and repositioning the sense of touch in the foreground …. Cook asks her viewers to ’see’ the experience of touch — to imagine the sensations of touch through the visual experience of seeing.” The uniquely tactile experience created by Cook’s work has been featured in dozens of exhibitions worldwide, many of them solo exhibitions. Her work is found in dozens of museum collections, including that of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the De Young Museum, Minneapolis Institute of Art and the Art Institute of Chicago.
Jin-Sook So is another innovator with an international presence who has moved from working with wool to working with organza, and for the last two decades, stainless steel and copper mesh. For the Lausanne International Tapestry Biennial in 1989, she worked directly with flat steel mesh, pleated manually, and colored black and blue and brown with a blow torch. By the mid-90s, “her form language had become more distinct and more consistently constructivist,” Kerstin Wickman, Professor of History of Design and Craft at Konstfack, University College of Arts Crafts and Design in Stockholm wrote in Focus: Jin-Sook So (#1F). “In spite of their minimal and precise shapes, [her] boxes, as well as the folded constructions, impart a softness and a sensuality created by the illusionary ‘movements,’ the variations and the poetic surfaces.” Born in Korea, studies in Japan and New York and nearly three decades of residence in Sweden, So’s work is influenced by each of these experiences. The shimmering gold and blue and black of her constructed works reflect light in ways that recall urban landscapes in New York and Sweden’s remarkable, diffused light. More recent works, including the bowl shapes which link back to her childhood, tie more directly to the past, evoking a pool of memories, of stories told and feelings expressed. Her work has been exhibited in Asia, Scandinavia, Japan, and the US.
A contemporary and colleague of Tawney’s in New York and also invited to the Lausanne International Tapestry Biennale, when Ethel Stein began weaving in the 60s, she took a different tack than the textile artists creating large, dimensional and off-loom works. Instead, despite her background as she worked “counter trend” in Jack Lenor Larsen’s words, her weavings remained small and flat. She immersed herself in difficult and exacting cloth traditions, using an ancient drawloom which was replaced 200 years ago by the Jacquard loom. browngrotta arts’ monograph, Ethel Stein: Weaver (#3M), follows Stein through her early art instruction, work as a sculptor and creation of damasks, double weaves and feathery skates. At 96, the fresh expressions that Stein created from her explorations into ancient techniques brought her well-deserved recognition in a one-person exhibition, Ethel Stein: Master Weaver, at the Art Institute of Chicago in 2014, which featured large images and information from the monograph. The delay, the Art Institute’s material surmised, was due, in part, to the fact that,“her weavings look deceptively simple, with the result that only those well versed in the craft she practices can truly appreciate the sophistication of Stein’s work and the magnitude of her accomplishment.”
Catalog Lookback: Chronicling the Canon is on view on Artsy from Aug 10 – 31, 2020
Volume 50: Chronicling Fiber Art for Three Decades, opening at browngrotta arts in Wilton, CT from Sept 12-20, 2020
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