modernist buildings further inspired her own interest in merging tribal weaving practices with contemporary art. In 1960, the Museum of Modern Art acquired and exhibited Blue Letter, a double-sided minime upon which Hicks had inscribed hieroglyphs by varying each row of weft, the threads that run widthwise in a swatch of fabric. The moment heralded her breakthrough into the American art world, and she was included in a number of fiber-based exhibitions across the country over the next few years. Hicks relocated to Paris in 1964, where she has since resided. Bringing her ancestrally rooted techniques to the bastion of high fashion, high art, and high design, Hicks found herself caught between the old guard and the new. In 1967 she was included in the prestigious Biennial of Tapestry in Lausanne, where her Chileaninspired linen tapestry was met with both applause and derision. As Hicks recounted in a 2011 New York Times article, “For some I was persona non grata, and for others I was the heroic pirate. But the architects were coming. I was getting the work.” And come they did. While continuing to expand her artistic practice, Hicks landed one public commission after another, employing a squadron of studio assistants to achieve monumental woven works of varying complexity. She worked as a textile designer for Knoll; created bas-relief tapestries for the Ford Foundation in New York and embroideries for the first-class cabins of Air France; helped the Moroccan government revamp the country’s rug-making industry; and worked in India for fifteen years, creating textiles for Air India, hotels, and government buildings. In doing so, Hicks continually blurred the lines between art, craft, and design, between weaving as a practical endeavor and one of poetic expression.
But it is the monumental institutional installations that have defined public awareness of her career. She has exhibited around the world, participating in the 2012 São Paulo Biennial in Brazil and the 2017 Venice Biennale. Recently she mounted an exhibition at the Palace de Versailles, a 60-year retrospective at the Centre Pompidou in Paris, and a sprawling spectacle along New York City’s High Line. There she swathed the pedestrian bridge in noodle-y, ribbon covered pipes that resembled oversized pieces of thread. Snaking along the ground and jutting into the horizon, they called to mind the urbane, the cultural, and the sublime: resembling everything from electrical pipes to traditional hair wraps, to rainbows and sunsets. At the Nasher, viewers can expect a similar sensory-filled experience that highlights the museum’s architecture, allowing viewers to engage with the space in wholly unique ways. Inside, visitors can recline on vibrantly colored, oversized fiber bales, while knotted works dot the walls, and tendrils cascade from the ceiling. Final details of the outdoor installation remain a mystery, but it stands to reason that Hicks will employ strategies similar to New York and France, using textiles to both define and burst through prescribed boundaries, allowing them to trace a narrative that moves from earth into the heavens, from the humble to the transcendent. To consider the breadth of Hicks’ career is to weave a narrative as complex as one of her tapestries. She is an artist, a storyteller, a craftswoman, a laborer, raising the voices of the long dead and the disenfranchised alongside the storied and celebrated. For Sheila Hicks, thread is more than a simple substrate. Thread is a language, a way of passing along ideas and experiences. Thread is connectivity and life. Thread is anything but quiet. Thread is a revolution. P
Sheila Hicks, Migdalor (detail), 2018, photograph by Noam Preisman. Courtesy of Magasin III Jaffa.