As the scale of abstract artwork expanded, textile quilts and blankets had the unique ability to visually fill huge wall areas, yet could be folded or rolled up into a small, manageable size for transport and storage without damaging the artwork. They did not require stretcher bars or frames to be displayed properly. The portability of textiles was an asset for nomadic peoples whose entire household was often fabricated from textiles and related pliable materials; now it became an asset for contemporary artists who continuously displayed, moved, stored and re-hung their work. ARCHITECTURAL/ENVIRONMENTAL APPROACHES The 50s, 60s and 70s also saw the rise of architectural-scaled textiles, designed to define and encompass spaces. As early as 1952, Dorothy Liebes (b. California, 1897-1972) had created a sample room divider for the United Nations Delegates Dining Room, of wood, chenille and Lurex. Liebes, who had commercial fabric design studios in San Francisco and New York, was known for bold color combinations, interesting textures and for deploying unexpected materials such as feathers, plastics, metallics, jute, ticker tape, leather strips and bamboo, to delineate spaces within a room. She worked with architects and designers, including Frank Lloyd Wright, Edward Durrell Stone and
Samuel Marx, all of whom commissioned her to create textiles integral to their environments. From the 1960s on, Josep Grau-Garriga translated his background in mural painting directly to architecturalscale tapestries emphasizing vigorous, high-relief textures. He advocated tapestry as a natural complement to the cold rationalism of modern architecture, capable of giving warmth to expanses of stark, white walls. Gerhardt Knodel (b. Michigan 1940) used a background in theatrical stage design in his approach to architectural textiles, creating numerous commissions on a monumental scale, including Dining Environment (1971), which featured a cluster of suspended modular 12-foot high panels, a freehanging installation of woven cotton, linen and nylon to informally define a dining area. Magdalena Abkanowicz has also pioneered the multiplicity and repeatability of textile forms to create environmental installations, as in her work, Backs (1976-1980), a series of 80 slightly varied sculptures of the human torso of fibrous materials that were then hardened with resin, to signify a crowd. Sheila Hicks’ installations included eight tons of stacked laundry from a local hospital (Le Demeloir, installation at Lausanne Biennale 1977) and outdoor sites filled with multiple massproduced textile products
(Street Environment, 1978). These are treatises on the commonality of human experience with masses of cloth standing in for human counterparts. Unwearable clothing forms also became a metaphor for women’s roles and lives. Christo’s Wedding Dress (1967), in which a live model was harnessed to pull a huge bundle of containers wrapped in white satin by white silk ropes, dramatically presented the metaphorical power of clothing. Abakanowicz’s monumental, ominous work entitled Black Garments (1969, measuring 300 x 80 x 60 cm) woven of sisal and suspended from metal supports, led the way for artists to explore the potentials of the “empty dress” as Beverly Semmes (b. Washington, DC 1958) would do later in her out-of-scale work Water Coats (1991). BAUHAUS BEGINNINGS Many of the pioneers in the 1960s and 1970s had emerged from classic, traditional educational backgrounds focused on designing functional, utilitarian textile products. Textile designers and students alike typically created prototype samples and standard three-yard lengths above: Ritzi Jacobi Tetragon Connections, 1999 cotton, coconut fiber, 55 x 51
The official catalog of the 22nd annual Sculpture Objects Functional Art and Design Fair: SOFA CHICAGO.