Home arrow Volume 10 Issue 1, Summer 2014 arrow Stray into that distasteful territory of Textiles: thoughts on a conundrum. By Joe Lewis
Stray into that distasteful territory of Textiles: thoughts on a conundrum. By Joe Lewis PDF  | Print |  E-mail

International Dateline Paris May 1874

 Earlier this spring dresses took to the streets of demanding to be painted by the impressionist who have recently shown en mass. In the former studio of the photographer Nadar at 35 boulevard des Capucines, Paris, April 15, 1874, a group of artists, rejected by the juries of the Salon, offer their work for public view. Although some critics appreciate the "new painting", most subject the artists to ridicule. Yet it is with wild enthusiasm woman’s and men’s clothing seek out these painters to linger in their view in hopes of having there line colour and movement captured like gardens, hillsides and the cafes, dance halls and boudoirs of their bohemian wearers.

Fictions abound.  fake paper 1What informs you about the things you are interested in: TV, your computer, books, mass market and specialty magazines and journals --- or by going out and experiencing them? All of the above, perhaps? How do you sort out your understanding of life and creative impulses, if you have them? For the past ten years mine have revolved around Textiles. I find the mishmash of discourse swirling around them an intriguing convoluted tangle much like a football scrimmages on ice. I have an extreme desire to make working with textiles into a legitimate art practice, while at the same time, I disparage the current state of the textile industry and the loss of hand traditions. I see no provisions being made in secondary education and/or apprentice programmes that could insure the survival of these skills. Several articles in the textile- arts and crafts press recently serve to illustrate the continuing fog young makers emerging from school encounter as they are grope for a line to attach themselves to. Are they artists or artisans? Is sewing a technique like painting or drawing? Does one weave or quilt to create usable objects or can they hang on the wall as tapestries do? And if they do, can you call them tapestries. What is the difference between a low warp and high tapestry?  Is a rug woven and a carpet knotted --- or is it the other way around? 

fake newspaper 2

 A basic education in textile techniques does answer some of those questions, while a basic art history education does not. A basic art history education will provide you with a good grounding in the history of textiles as documented in frescoes, sculpture, and painting. It also provides a stating point to see how the images of textiles pass on information about social status, power and wealth. You just have to look at The Ambassadors (1533) by Hans Holbein the Younger in the National Gallery, London. Their sumptuous clothing (one in secular dress the other in clerical), the oriental carpet, the green damask silk background set the stage for a collection of objects showing them off as men of sophistication and learning. In the catalogue for the Textile Museum of Washington’s exhibition ‘Sultan's Garden: The Blossoming of Ottoman Art’ (September 21, 2012 through March 10, 2013) they use “Portrait of a Lady” (circa 1460-65 by Antonio and Piero del Pollaiuolo; oil and tempura on panel, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, 1614 3), to illustrate cloth similar to a piece that which they have on display which was a fragment of kemha cloth [Istanbul first half 17th century; The Textile Museum 1994.27.3, Gift of Neutrogena Corporation, 67.8 × 29 cm (26½ × 11½ inches)]. The exhibition “Impressionism, Fashion, and Modernity” (organised by the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Art Institute of Chicago) toured throughout 2013.  Some 14 dresses and 79 paintings in the exhibition; it had some interesting reviews.  

New York Times writer Roberta Smith said in her review of this show:

“The show tells its tale through a dazzling surround of visual culture high and low, small and large, flat and round. I recommend not missing a thing: not a pleat, ruche or lace parasol; not a painted background, glove or slipper toe; not a photograph or magazine; not a corset, fan or black choker, whether depicted or actual. Such attention reveals frequent similarities of garments (and poses) in the magazines, photographs, paintings and costumed mannequins. A result is an intense, almost hallucinatory swirl in which art and artefacts continually change places, and a basic wisdom is demonstrated: any well-selected thing can illuminate any other.”

 A sentence later she dismisses the costumes with “A little goes a long way with mid-19th-century day dresses, ball gowns or summer muslins; they are as intricate as Gothic cathedrals.”

 Lori Waxman who teaches at the Chicago Art Institute and who wrote a review of the show for the Chicago Tribune wrote:

“For all the fancy society women in pricey garb painted by Renoir — the show can't help but be full of them — Manet, Monet and Degas more often depicted their working-class models and girlfriends in dresses available only through such populist commercial developments. Regardless of the stratum of society these mothers, debutantes, models, girlfriends, prostitutes or shopkeepers occupied, the show is as much about them as it is about the fashions that they sported. In fact, the exhibition title could legitimately have included one more subject heading: Women. (Though certainly not men. They had such dull clothes, then as now. Men get a scant single room here, and it's very heavy on the dark tones.)

 Fashion is one of the ways to know something about women and also, importantly, not, given the contemporaneous developments of inexpensive clothing and do-it-yourself patterns that imitated luxury goods. Is she or isn't she, the question so often asked in the past of women in public, became harder to answer in this era, largely because of the developments of fashion. And that, as much as anything else, is what made modernity so modern.”

fake newspaper 3

Hannah Zweifler A self-proclaimed art and architecture nerd, and blogger wrote in Chronos Magazine, (Directed to an audience who appreciates luxury coverage of major museum exhibits)

“ Parisian consumerism comes to life with displays of velvet, lace, ruffles, and even whalebone-clasped corsets. Objects both painted and real demonstrate the constant pull modernity had on designers and painters alike. As Édouard Manet is quoted in the exhibition: “The latest fashion…is absolutely necessary for a painting. It’s what matters most.”

Many things have been published about this exhibition.  Many of these dismiss the costumes that are central to the exhibition as if the designers ran out and made the clothing after being inspired by the paintings. I believe Édouard Manet says it best: one should consider “Fashion” as another word for “Material Culture” 

fake screen shot

 Continuing to look at how textile and fibre work is written about two more recent pieces caught my attention:  Joanne Mattera’s article “The Miami Art Fairs Fiber Fiber Everywhere” in Surface Design fall 2013 issue and Jessica Hemmings’ review of “Threaded Stories” a group show with Tonico Lemos Auad, Mark Barrow, Geta Brătescu, Sheila Hicks, Ruth Laskey and Fred Sandback that she covered in Selvedge Issue 56 “the Hollywood Issue Jan./Feb. 2014.

 Jessica Hemmings writes:  

 “The exhibition statement is quick to point out that these artists all have interdisciplinary practices which include Threaded material. The subtexts seems to be saying “Don’t worry, none of what you are about to see strays into that distasteful territory of “Textile art” in fairness this may be no bad thing. More exhibitions conceived and exhibited with the stunning attention to material and conceptual detail seen here would surely change public perceptions of textiles once and for all.”

 In Surface Design fall 2013 issue, Joanne Mattera writes:

“ Don’t shoot the messenger, but its pretty obvious to me that –Tianmiao aside- the “fiber” or “textile” adjective is nowhere connected to the artist who have broad art world careers. The materials are acknowledged, of course, but the identity is not so narrowly defined.”

She goes on to say 

“ Adjective aside, one thing is clear: whether exquisitely crafted or provisionally put together, painting, which no longer needs paint to qualify as painting, and sculpture which only needs conceptual demission to qualify as sculpture- or textiles, which may contain neither fiber nor much in the way of craft - are vigorously alive and well. “

 I find these two pieces of writing interesting and representative of the confusion surrounding textiles and a lack of commitment to supporting textiles as something outside/ separate from the art world or as an area unto itself. In the Jessica Hemmings piece, the throw away quote about the ‘…distasteful territory of Textile art” represents a more a generic attitude rather then her own as she has had a career dictated to exploring the ways in which textiles and fibre work functions with in the professional systems that display / exhibited them in Museums and Galleries as well a historical making. In the larger article by Joanne Mattera she identifies a number of makers who are using the image of textiles as a subject matter, some using textiles and fibre yarn to make their work and those referencing or “provisionally” using textile construction or embellishment techniques to decorate the picture plane. She names and talks about Micheal Beutler’s two-tone rag rug (Mixed media, textiles, woven 2009, exhibited in 2009 by Franco Soffiantio Contemporary Art Productions) and Hu Quigyan’s “A Roll of Plaid Cloth” and “A Roll of Blue White Striped Cloth”  (both acrylic on Canvas, 2012, exhibited in 2012 by Galerie Urs Meil, Beijing and Lucerne) as being “Bookends” in which the other makers can be placed between.

 Micheal Beutler’s practice as an “interventionist” (formerly aka Installation artist) uses textiles -- piles of them He is a young artist born in 1976 with a MFA from Glasgow School of Art. Hu Quigyan is younger still born in Weifang, Shandong Province, China in 1982; he is a graduate of Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts and has an MA in Sculpture from Central Academy of Fine Arts, Beijing. His painted rolls of fabric are seemingly a one off piece of work. Both of these makers are in the early part of their careers and their work is exploratory rather than following an established trajectory. Using them to ‘bookend’ the other examples of textile work at the Miami Art fairs as evidence of how textiles as an adjective for a form of art is no longer necessary seems to be a rather un-evolved un-researched and simplistic look at a very complex situation. Appearance alone is one thing. Yes, Micheal Beutler has a very long rag rug that he seems to have used in a few different exhibitions and Hu Quigyan has painted canvas to look like woven yardage. Mentioning that Robert Rauschenberg’s “Costal Draft (Hoarfrost) Solvent transfer print on fabric and paperbag fabric college, 1974 was shown by Eckert Fine Art at Art Basel Miami Beach in 2012 does not prove that Textiles as art have long been apart of the cannon or hierarchy of Contemporary Art, it just shows Robert Rauschenberg printed on textiles as many printers have done and do.  Actually, I would say that it really has more to do with the evolution of printing techniques. His piece “Bed” [Oil and pencil on pillow, quilt, and sheet on wood supports, 6' 3 1/4" x 31 1/2" x 8" (191.1 x 80 x 20.3 cm) 1955] shows the image of textiles have a long tradition in fine arts.  Even if he collaged the actual objects pillow and quilt on the piece, it is the reference to the objects and their ramifications/ meaning he is taking advantage of in the piece. (as many of the contemporary makers she mentions in the article do). It is not a hallmark of Textile work as some like to point out, if it was it would be housed in the design collection at the MOMA not the art collection. The institution is quite clear on that point as to what they consider design and what they consider art even if the maker themselves beg to differ (most of the textile and fibre objects they hold are held under that umbrella of “Design” regardless of there “function” or lack there of)


Looking at the makers in “Threaded Stories” at Stephen Friedman Gallery might better represent how people have used fibre and textiles through out long careers and young artist fully engaged in exploring the minutiae of fibre that might give a better glimpse into current contemporary practices and how they are placed/ separated between functional craft and non functioning but meaning full decorative/ functionless art. Tonico Lemos Auad, Mark Barrow, Geta Brătescu b.1926, Sheila Hicks, Ruth Laskey and Fred Sandback .


“Tonico Lemos Auad focuses on the liminal or the easily overlooked stuff of the everyday


to be continued…




Reviews of “Impressision, Fashion and Modernity”


New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/22/arts/design/impressionism-fashion-and-modernity-at-the-met.html?_r=0


Chicago Tribune:  http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2013-07-03/entertainment/ct-ent-0704-impressionism-and-fashion-review-20130704_1_art-institute-berthe-morisot-fashion-plates


Chronos Watch Magazine, (Directed to an audience who appreciates luxury coverage of major museum exhibits, the automobile world and in depth coverage of watch technology. Our internationally known writers bring design and fashion forecasts to the reader.) http://chronoswatchmagazine.com/impressionism-fashion-modernity/




at The Ambassadors (1533) by Hans Holbein the Younger


Micheal Beutler http://nagel-draxler.de/artists/michael-beutler/

Hu Quigyan http://www.galerieursmeile.com/artists/artists/hu-qingyan//work.html


Robert Rauschenberg http://www.moma.org/learn/moma_learning/robert-rauschenberg-bed-1955


Threaded Stories http://www.stephenfriedman.com/exhibitions/past/2013/threaded-stories/


Articles about the artist in Threaded Stories


Tonico Lemos Auad


Mark Borrow : Interests Crisscross in Homespun Art By RANDY KENNEDY Published in New York Times: November 11, 2012





Geta Bratescu 2001 interview http://xplaces.code-flow.net/sevova-skin/geta-bratescu-en.html


Blogs about fibre




< Prev   Next >