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The Institute of Contemporary Art - ICA, Boston

Sculpture 1960-present. The exhibition examines the development of abstraction and dimensionality in fiber art from the mid-twentieth century through to the present. Crisscrossing generations, nationalities, processes, and approaches, the exhibition features approximately 50 works by 34 artists-including works by the aforementioned artists.

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(Boston—June 25, 2014) Fiber: Sculpture 1960–present is the first exhibition in 40 years to examine the development of abstraction and dimensionality in fiber art from the mid-twentieth century through to the present. Adapting age-old techniques and traditional materials, artists working in fiber manipulate gravity, light, color, mass, and transparency to demonstrate the infinite transformations and iterations of their material. Early pioneers such as Magdalena Abakanowicz, Sheila Hicks, Lenore Tawney, and Claire Zeisler demonstrated a revolutionary redefinition of fiber art in the 1960s and ‘70s, showcasing radical, non-representational forms. Fiber: Sculpture 1960–present addresses the cultural and critical forces that contributed to the initial efflorescence of the fiber revolution at mid-century, its contraction in the 1980s, and its recent reclamation by contemporary artists.

Crisscrossing generations, nationalities, processes, and approaches, the exhibition features approximately 50 works by 34 artists—including works by the aforementioned artists, alongside Olga de Amaral, Eva Hesse, Ernesto Neto, Rosemarie Trockel, Anne Wilson, and Haegue Yang—that range from small-scale weavings to immersive environments. Fiber: Sculpture 1960–present is organized by Jenelle Porter, Mannion Family Senior Curator, and will be on view at the ICA from October 1, 2014 through January 4, 2015. Following its premiere in Boston, the exhibition will tour to the Wexner Center for the Arts, Columbus, Ohio (January 30 – April 5, 2015) and the Des Moines Art Center, Iowa (May 8, 2015 – August 2, 2015).

“An exhibition of sweeping scope and substance, Fiber: Sculpture 1960–present shines light on a generation of art and artists that has, until now, been under-recognized or long-forgotten,” said Jill Medvedow, Ellen Matilda Poss Director of the ICA. “Jenelle has climbed into attics and storerooms around the world to uncover key works, and the result makes an important contribution to our understanding of contemporary art and politics.”

“In the mid-century, artists began utilizing fiber to create large-scale, conceptual pieces—a move that mirrored the trajectory of contemporary art history at this time—yet these artists, many of them women, were often relegated dismissively to the category of craft and garnered limited attention within the art world,” said Porter. “Fiber: Sculpture 1960–present seeks to revise entrenched histories by assembling significant works by artists who transformed the material definitions of fiber. These objects are considered in terms of medium, process, and concept rather than in relation to categorical divisions within disciplines and art worlds.”

The exhibition is organized according to two formal themes: “Warp and Weft: The Grid” and “Formless Fiber: Softness Meets Gravity.” While these sections also sketch a rough chronology, recent works by contemporary artists are included in each section. Many of the works in Fiber: Sculpture 1960-present speak to multiple themes—including feminism, the use of color, and the shift from wall hanging to three-dimensional sculpture—allowing viewers to compare and contrast works as they move through the galleries.

Warp and Weft: The Grid
At the core of weaving is the grid generated by the crossing of warp (vertical) and weft (horizontal) threads on the loom. Accordingly, Fiber: Sculpture 1960-present opens with a group of works illustrating how artists use fiber to reimagine the grid, the longstanding paradigm of avant-garde art. Lenore Tawney, for example, creates an open grid in Dark River (1961) by incorporating negative space into her woven forms. Despite the radical forms that could be generated on the loom, its use tied fiber to weaving and craft. Consequently, some artists chose to work entirely “off loom” to achieve monumental forms while others sought to lose the apparatus altogether, but retain the grid. Elsi Giauque’s Pure Spatial Element (1979) is a fragmented grid composed of uniformly-sized square metal frames strung with vertical and horizontal thread—a kind of simple frame loom. The installation of the panels is infinitely changeable, and as such, the works entered into conversation with much of the art of the late 1960s.

Formless Fiber: Softness Meets Gravity
The exhibition’s second section shows artists responding to the grid’s rigidity and structure by constructing pliable forms that strayed farther and farther from the wall to interact with the ceiling, the pedestal, the floor, and space itself. This development related in part to the rejection of the loom’s limitations of size in favor of single element techniques like wrapping, braiding, and crocheting, which allowed for more freedom of expression and scale. Artists pursued larger, more complex three-dimensional shapes: for example, Jagoda Buić’s monumental Falling Angel (1967), a pendulous, multilayered sculpture executed fully in the round, or Françoise Grossen’s massive Inchworm (1972), comprising heavy plaited rope arranged on the floor. Whether hanging from the ceiling or arranged on the ground, gravity is used as a tool with which to make form. In this respect, artists working in fiber during the 1960s and ‘70s participated in the broader contemporary debates around postminimal artists like Robert Morris and Eva Hesse, who employed gravity to shape raw materials.

Like other expanding mediums such as photography, video, installation, dance, and performance, fiber is now used like any other material in the artist’s studio: as a tool with which to make art. In proximity to developments in modern and contemporary art history—which have consistently pushed toward large-scale sculpture and room-scale installations—as well as to the history of craft, fiber is a material richly deserving of reconsideration. Fiber: Sculpture 1960–present shows that artists use fiber for all the reasons that others paint, sculpt, perform, dance: to give form to ideas. Fiber, as seen in the remarkable artworks of the past 50 years, is a material capable of limitless conceptual and material exploration.

The exhibition is accompanied by a comprehensive catalogue co-published by the ICA with DelMonico Books/Prestel. It includes a foreward by Jill Medvedow and essays by Jenelle Porter; Glenn Adamson, director of the Museum of Arts and Design; and T’ai Smith, assistant professor at the University of British Columbia. The catalogue also features entries on each artist in the exhibition, written by Sarah Parrish, doctoral candidate at Boston University.

Major support for Fiber: Sculpture 1960–present is provided by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts.

Additional support is provided by the National Endowment for the Arts; The Coby Foundation, Ltd.; Kate and Chuck Brizius; Robert and Jane Burke; Paul and Catherine Buttenwieser; Karen and Brian Conway; Fotene Demoulas and Tom Coté; Bridgitt and Bruce Evans; Jim and Audrey Foster; Allison and Edward Johnson; Barbara Lee; Tristin and Martin Mannion; and Mark and Marie Schwartz.

Image: Sheila Hicks, Banisteriopsis II,1965–66/2010 , Wool and linen, Dimensions variable, The Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston, Gift of the artist in honor of Jenelle Porter, ©Charles Mayer.

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