Fibers have been used to create art since the beginning of civilization. And yet, it feels like textiles have only started trending in the art market in recent years. Weaving had been traditionally thought of as a craft or “women’s work,” and an art form also associated with indigenous cultures. In other words, perhaps fiber art was only officially deemed “fine art” once the art market began valuing artists who weren't exclusively white and male. Whatever the reason, there’s a serious thread count at Independent art fair this year (which runs through Sunday at Spring Studios in Tribeca) and the diverse range of works utilizing the medium are doing so in exceptionally imaginative ways. Here are five of our favorite pieces worth checking out:
Tilton Gallery, New York City
From far away, Martha Tuttle’s body of work—displayed in the entrance of the fair’s fifth floor—looks like slabs of stone. Instead, the works are in fact intricately woven linen and wool. The Brooklyn-based artist sources her all-natural materials from New Mexico, where she was born and raised, and the New Mexican desert landscape serves as a source of inspiration for her. The artist explained to me her color choices are a result of the sheep she sources her wool from, as an animal's hues can shift based on climate or diet, and are therefore linked to a specific environment and history. Through her artistic process, Tuttle feels like she’s in collaboration with the material, and she loves the space where skin, landscape, stone, and cloth start to lose distinction.
Galerie Barbara Thumm, Berlin
Fiona Banner’s Portrait is impossible to miss; the large-scale installation consists of an immense silk cloth draped through a hole in a towering helicopter blade. The inkjet-printed scene of a fighter plane on silk echoes a large collection of drawings Banner currently has on view at MoMA. The image—seductive and fetishizing of hyper-masculine war technology— is in tension with the material—soft, effeminate silk. Banner has disempowered this aggressive fighter plane by erecting its blade out of combat, playing with a theme of repulsion and attraction.
Thomas Erben Gallery, New York City
While Dona Nelson’s piece is flat with acrylic on canvas, don't mistake it for a painting. The work is sculptural, and meant to be viewed from both sides. Nelson, who was included in the 2014 Whitney Biennial, is well-known for these two-sided paintings, which are roughly the size of a door. The threads in these works weave in and out of the canvas, connecting both sides. But because Nelson has little control over how the thread will affect the back side of the piece, the work has both elements of control and chance. Because both sides are so interdependent, Aquetong really needs to be experienced in person to get the full effect.
Tablas 2.20, 2019
Timothy Taylor, London
A founding member of the Mexican contemporary art scene, Eduardo Terrazas makes work that spans the fields of architecture, design, urban planning, and art. In his ‘Tablas’ subseries, the 84-year-old artist uses the Huichol yarn technique, an indigenous Mexican practice where colored yarn is spun on wax-covered boards. Because the process is extremely labor intensive, it requires full absorption and becomes an almost meditative act. The outcome is a stunningly precise and colorful geometric work of art.
Two Dimensional Accordion
Take Ninagawa, Japan
Artist Kazuko Miyamoto emigrated from Japan to the U.S. in 1964. Her piece Two Dimensional Accordion is systematically geometric in a meticulously organized Sol LeWitt-like manner—which makes sense considering she was an assistant to the artist for over 30 years. The result is an installation so cleanly repetitive that it seems to be vibrating, and it’s all done with thread. Originally conceived of as a drawing in 1978, it wasn’t until this year that Miyamoto finally executed the piece. She uses thread specifically because it’s an ephemeral material, and one not typically associated with masculine minimal works.