The Wall Street Journal just announced that fiber is “The Art World’s New Material Obsession”. So you know it must be so.
Last November, a traditional Tibetan thangka sold for $45 million at auction. Though the record-breaking tapestry is 600 years old, in recent years fiber art has seen a revival in the hands of contemporary artists exploring bold new forms. “The emergence of fiber art is not just the reappraisal of an historic textile movement,” says Glenn Adamson, director of New York’s Museum of Art and Design. “It started post-9/11; the moment seemed to require that soft media—and informality. Now there’s an enthusiasm for it outside the decorator market. It’s become a much more broad-based interest.”
In celebration of these modern, exalted forms of time-honored craft techniques, last fall the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, mounted a survey, Fiber: Sculpture 1960–Present, featuring works by Lenore Tawney, Rosemarie Trockel, Josh Faught, Françoise Grossen and Sheila Hicks, among others. “It’s a springboard for the imagination,” says Hicks, who has her own show of works in linen, silk and rubber bands at the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis in September. “Even if you don’t touch it, you sense that you’d love to.” This summer, decades’ worth of Grossen’s braided sculptures anchored her first U.S. survey at Blum & Poe’s New York outpost. “The art world loves an overlooked master,” notes Adamson. “Hicks and Grossen definitely fall into that category.”
In London, Caroline Achaintre’s hand-tufted wool wall hangings were featured in Tate Britain’s 2014 BP Spotlights series, and a number of Young British Artists have also dabbled in the age-old medium (including Marc Quinn, whose Berlin show last spring featured floor tapestries that viewers could trample). Meanwhile, Brooklyn-based weaverErin M. Riley has rendered scantily clad selfies into tapestries.
The possibilities seem endless. “I always joke that fiber is my alphabet,” says Hicks. “I can say an unlimited range of things. It can be friendly or aggressive, very sexy or totally pure. It goes from the absolute minimalistic to this intricate, laced, chaotic world.”
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