February 2, 2015

Field trip: Boston's ICA

The view of Boston Harbor and Logan Airport from the ICA 

Just before the holidays I managed to squeeze in a quick trip up to Boston to see the ICA's "Fiber Sculpture 1960 - present" exhibition. 

One of our longtime Knit+Wine members had recently moved to Boston and was gracious to host me and another K+W friend for the weekend.  We had timed our trip well – there was a fiber "demonstration day" happening in their lobby when we arrived.  Women spinning flax, dyeing yarn with fruits, vegetables, and plants, and weaving on all types of looms. My favorite demo was by a collective cleverly named "New Craft Artists in Action (NCAA)" whose mission is to make nets for empty basketball hoops out of knitted and knotted rope.  Simple idea, brilliant execution.

The demonstration workshop in the ICA's main entry

Spinning wool with a historic mechanical box device 

The NCAA collective 

NCAA's business card

Raw materials to dye yarn

Demonstrating how to dye yarn using natural materials 

The exhibition booklet

Elsi Giauque, Element spatial, 1979

Haegue Yang, Floating Knowledge and Growing Craft-Silent Architecture Under Construction, 2013

A detail of Yang's macrame sculpture

Sheila Hicks, Banisteriopsis II, 1965-66

Xenobia Bailey, Sistah Paradise's Great Wall of Fire Revival Tent, 1993-2009 (Ernesto Neto, Soundway, 2012 in foreground)

But oh, the show. This was my first time at the ICA and I was really impressed by everything about it - the setting, the architecture, their fantastic gift shop,  but especially their approach to exhibitions.

First, the exhibition guards actually knew a lot about the work in a friendly but not overbearing kind of way. It's surprising (and sad) to me how rare this is in museums today. Second, there was almost no wall text. Instead, there was a small b&w booklet with intro text about the exhibition, a layout of the show, and an entry for each artist. Which meant no jockeying for position to be able to see / read wall text, no crowds standing around each wall label blocking the art – it was all in my hands to reference as I needed and wanted to (and, added bonus, take home with me afterwards). From the booklet:
"Crisscossing generations, nationalities, processes, and  approaches, the works in the exhibition speak to the cultural forces and art discourses that have contributed to a rich,  and often overlooked, legacy of art making, from the initial efflorescence of the fiber revolution to fiber's recent reclamation by contemporary artists who have implicity received permission - in an expanded field of art - to create fiber-based  work with a 'post-fiber' sensibility."  - Jenelle Porter, Curator 
Many of my heroes were there - Lenore Tawney (one of three Ohioans in the show), Eva Hesse, Sheila Hicks, Anne Wilson,  Ernesto Neto.  Not necessarily my favorite work by them,  but they were represented. And I'm always happy to see their work in person because each and every time I feel inspired by them all over again.

The best part of the show, though, was discovering work by artists I was not familiar with (only some of which I have photos of due to the restrictions on  photography for much of the work in the show):
  • Elsi Giaque's (Swiss, 1900-1989) installation of suspended  metal frames wrapped with colorful fiber, the very first time her work has been shown in North America
  • Diane Itter's (American, 1946-89) knotted reliefs constructed with thread alone, "enabling  her to be a both painter and sculptor at the same time"
  • Ruth Laskey's (American,  b.1975) hand-dyed linen weavings of hard-edged geometric shapes
  • Faith Wilding's (Paraguayan, b.1943) crocheted room installation, and
  • Haegue Yang's (S.Korean, b.1971) suspended white macrame sculptures
...

The show has since left the ICA and  is now installed in Columbus, Ohio at the Wexner Center for the Arts through April 12, 2015. Its final destination is the Des Moines Art Center in Iowa.  The catalogue is available online and it is excellent.

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