The question of why galleries and museums tend not to show fiber art–with the exception of exhibits that focus on fashion (such as the Iris Apfel exhibition, Rare Bird of Fashion, at the Peabody Museum of Art in 2010 or the Elsa Schiaperelli and Miuccia Prada’s Impossible Conversations exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2012)–has long puzzled me.

Several of the small museums in my area hold annual juried shows featuring local artists. It is rare to see a piece of textile art in those exhibitions, unless the art is a picture of a textile or a real textile hidden under glass, which of course obscures the very qualities that make textiles different from other media.

I am especially perplexed by this tendency when I see some of the amazing fiber art that is being created today. The Fiberarts International exhibit, at the Textile History Museum in Lowell, and the Game Changers: Fiber Art Masters and Innovators exhibit, at the Fuller Craft Museum, both show the scope and breadth of the contemporary fiber art scene.

Given that I have long pondered this question, I was very interested to see a blog post today written by Mirka Knaster, a textile artist and writer. Knaster’s post, entitled Artists and Textiles, explores the ways many famous artists have either depicted textiles in their work or created art that incorporates textiles in some way.

Mirka asks the same question I do–“Why the exclusion?”–and then speculates on some possible answers: “Objects constructed with fiber–through knotting, quilting, sewing, crocheting, knitting, weaving, etc.–are most often associated with domestic activity by women. Even when the items are prized, lower status is accorded to traditionally female work. There is also the division that arose (I don’t know in which century) between ‘fine arts’ and ‘applied arts.’ I have yet to understand why this distinction exists.”

She then goes on to cite the long list of artists who engaged with textiles in some way in their work. Among these were Henri Matisse, Raoul Dufy, Joan Miró, Salvador Dalí, Marc Chagall, Lucian Freud, Pablo Picasso, Barbara Hepworth, Sonia Delaunay, Henry Moore, Alexander Calder and quite a few others.

A number of images of the textile work of some of these artists are included in Mirka’s post. Here are a couple of examples:

Dali

“Spring Rain” (1949), by Salvador Dali. Photo: Steve Tanner. Source: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/art/9298395/How-textiles-took-Dali-and-Picassos-art-to-the-masses.html

 

Henry Moore

“Family Group,” textile square designed by Henry Moore (1944). Source: http://www.apollo-magazine.com/review-artist-textiles-picasso-warhol-fashion-textile-museum/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mirka ends her post by pointing to a recent exhibit held in London and the Netherlands: ARTIST TEXTILES Picasso to Warhol at the Fashion and Textile Museum in London (31 January–18 May 2014) and at the TextielMuseum in Tilburg, the Netherlands (14 June-14 September 2014).

While it is heartening to know that some famous artists of the past did not eschew, and even appreciated, the textile form, their interest–and the interest of museums who show their work–does not compensate for the lack of representation of fiber art in the contemporary gallery and museum scenes. Organizations such as the Surface Design Association and Studio Art Quilts Associates have made it part of their mission to educate the public and members of the art education communities about contemporary fiber. Let’s hope they succeed!

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