Picasso, Mirò, Dalí, Chagall, Raphael and Rubens experimented with it, but tapestry is still not the sexiest medium in the world of art. Given the right time, space and lighting, however, this ancient practice, once held in higher esteem than sculptures and paintings, blows away the most skeptical art fan. Trust me. I’m one of them.
Unlike the ring you have been hinting at and the proposal question you know to be imminent but pretend not to see coming, Nomadic Murals: Contemporary Tapestries and Carpets is a truly unexpected surprise. One that triggers an entirely different question: Where have you been all my life?
More than 40 large-scale carpets and tapestries are on view at the Boca Raton Museum of Art through Oct. 21. All are original concepts by contemporary artists; not fabric photocopies of works that already exist in other media.
A lion and a man share the same body in Sometimes, a semi-autobiographical work by Miami-based artist Carlos Luna, which features his characteristic bold style, and energy. The lower portion of the body ascends into the red sky where it splits into two heads: animal and human. Ghostly shadows mimicking the same pose as the beast haunt it along the way. Luna exhibited works on paper in a solo show at the Boca Raton Museum last summer. (We reviewed it, too.) This jacquard tapestry, created in 2015, shares more than the common subject of animals with those pieces; it retains the same impetus.
The jacquard method, invented by Joseph Marie Jacquard in 1804, uses perforated cards – much like the first computers – that dictate the colored thread to be used. Each punched hole corresponds to an individual warp thread. Eventually, the practice evolved and faster methods emerged but the basics are the same: colored weft threads are woven into fixed warp threads, creating a thick textile fabric. In traditional hand weaving, the weft threads are horizontally oriented while the warp threads are long, fixed vertical threads.
Floridians will instantly relate to the bad weather developing in April Gornik’s Rain, Storm and Light (2017), which treats us to dramatic lighting and gigantic gray clouds threatening the orderly green field. The striking thing is not its realistic-dreamlike quality, for which the New York-based artist is known, but the loose ends and irregular shapes she has conquered.
With boundaries that slowly blur to make way for a new color and clouds that seem in constant motion, this is a picture of dexterity and control. It lacks the sharpness of Gornik’s oil paintings, but certainly preserves her voice: “I am an artist that values, above all, the ability of art to move me emotionally and psychically,” reads her online statement.
Favored in ancient times for its ease of transportation, the art of tapestry lacks the sensationalism that comes from associations with notoriously temperamental stars, drugs, alcoholism and suicides. It is a long-distance runner; not a sprinter. Its pace is methodical, requires focus and consumes lower but continuous bursts of energy.
Luckily, neither the hard work that goes into it nor its susceptibility to bugs and climate are deterring modern artists from exploring it. Some of the works included here are hand-woven by the artists themselves while others are the product of collaborations with art galleries, production companies and rug manufacturers.
Color patches in pale blues and rosy pinks blend to give shape to the gigantic male nude in Reclining Youth, which spans 82 x 169 inches. Slowly, out of the chaos, and thanks to a carefully calculated use of color, emerges the man’s flesh, muscles and head. The piece has a raw, distressed quality and reflects Leon Golub’s fascination with Greek mythology. Although it looks as if the figure has been beaten up, is covered in bruises and fluids are gushing out of wounds, this is still a cheerier take from the controversial artist/political activist who portrayed dictators, war victims, hangings and torture chambers.
The Met exhibited many of his darker works in May. The Chicago-born artist, who died in 2004, here borrows inspiration from his 1959 painting of the Great Altar of Zeus at Berlin’s Pergamon Museum. This 2003 tapestry was done in collaboration with Magnolia Editions, an art studio that employs a computerized system to preserve the essence of an artist’s design with “no alteration from the weaver” and has the tapestries woven at a family-owned mill in Belgium.
That blending effect distorting one’s perception of a hue depending on adjacent colors can be attributed to a French chemist by the name of Eugène Chevreul. He concluded that the perceived color of a particular thread was driven by its neighboring threads. The law of “simultaneous contrast” is evident in Margo Wolowiec’s Two Centuries, where the interaction of colors results in hues fading in and out; in reality, they are not.
The Detroit-based artist is known for tackling the pervasive effect of the digital age and its non-stop visual messaging. For this 2017 piece made of hand-woven polyester, linen and acrylic dye, Wolowiec gradually blurs images of flowers collected from the internet and now arranged like a checkered board. Transmission of the image is failing worst at the top of the frame. White lines have taken over and look to propagate downward, as if it were a virus or technical glitch.
Nomadic Murals makes a strong point in favor of an art form traditionally judged as folk art and asks us to reconsider it as an equally invigorating force. The show is a turn in the right direction or, at the very least, a reset button in textiles’ appreciation course.
Nomadic Murals runs through Oct. 21 at the Boca Raton Museum of Art. Admission: $12. Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday, Thursday and Friday; 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. first Wednesday of the month; 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Closed Mondays and holidays. Call 561-392-2500, or visit www.bocamuseum.org.