Category: artist

Artist Focus: Marianne Kemp

Marianne Kemp weaving
Marianne Kemp weaving her Vibrant Conversation tapestry, horsehair, cotton, linen in 2018. photo by Tom Grotta

Textile artist Marianne Kemp is a specialist in weaving with horsehair. She is passionate about exploring unconventional weaving techniques in her art. That passion, combined with her craftsmanship, is clearly visible in the work she creates. “I’m fascinated by the movement of the weavings, how the horsehair manifests in the net of the weaving technique,” she says. 

Tube Waves
Detail of Tube Waves, Marianne Kemp, horsehair and cotton warp, 78” x 63”, 2015, Photo by Tom Grotta

Some creations, almost-mathematically precise, challenge viewers to become introverted and still. Other work is more extroverted and playful, displaying an exuberant cheerfulness. In either case, her work attracts the eye and stimulates an urge to touch For Tube Waves, for example, Kemp found her inspiration  in the rhythm of the waves. “The flowing colors, going from light silver to aqua, dark purple/blue to deep green, are rendered in the three-dimensional weaving technique I’ve created,” she explains. The ‘tubes’ flow in and over each other, which makes them appear to dance off the surface, depending on your position. From a distance, it’s a dynamic piece; upon closer inspection, there are many different details to discover.”

Vibrant Conversation
Vibrant Conversation, Marianne Kemp, horsehair, cotton, linen, 49” x 70” x 6 “, 2018, Photo by Tom Grotta

Kemp has combined an interest in an architectural weaving process with an appreciation for organic material, creating objects with elements that change space but are experienced as one. In Vibrant Conversation, the top and the bottom layer are embraced in a knot, showing an array of different perceptions in cultural traditions. The work endeavors to tie different generations together via storytelling, confronting collective knowledge with new experiences, prompting new insights.

Orchid
Orchid, horsehair, gold lures thread, wooden frame, 2018, Photo by Tom Grotta

In the stitched and woven Orchid, dyed red horsehair woven in between a delicate herringbone background highlights Kemp’s supreme eye for detail. For Kemp weaving is a form of meditation. “It is the only time of day that I do one thing at the time and think (solely) about one thing,” Kemp says. Weaving allows Kemp to give her brain a rest and explore her creative intuition — a good outcome for us. 

Detail Red Body
Red Fody, Marianne Kemp, cotton, horsehair, acrylic, 56” x 19” x 8”, 2013, Photo by Tom Grotta

Kemp’s work will be included in browngrotta arts’ 2022 Art in the Barn exhibition, May 7 – May 15, 2022.


You make it possible! Thanks to our Artists, Clients and Fans!

Thanks are due all around this year!

Adaptation: Artists Respond to Change
Social-distanced viewing of our spring exhibition Adaptation: Artists Respond to Change, photo Ezco Productions

At browngrotta arts, we hosted two 2021 exhibitions, Adaptation: Artists Respond to Change and Japandí: shared aesthetics and influences.   Each featured exceptional artwork — more than 75 artists from 18 countries were included. Both were open to the public, with proper covid protocols. We got great press — from Art in America online, to Architectural Digest online to Gessato and ArteMorbida in Italy. Our teams from Juice Creative, State PR and Ezco Productions helped us get the word out through emails and social media. They are probably the reason we had more people attend than any year before. We published a full-color catalog for each exhibition. Tom’s had to head to the basement to print more copies of Japandí five times since the show closed. 

Polly Sutton Facing the Unexpected
Facing the Unexpected, Polly Adams Sutton, western red cedar bark, ash, spruce root, coated copper wire, 11.5” x 18” x 32”, 2013. Photo Tom Grotta

Our artists gathered accolades and awards all year. Just a small sampling – Polly Sutton, whose recently acquired work, Facing the Unexpected, will be included in the Renwick Gallery’s  50th Anniversary exhibition, This Present Moment: Crafting a Better World, which opens in May; Adela Akers whose recently acquired work, Compostela, is featured in the Minneapolis Institute of Art’s current exhibition, Parallel Lines: New Textile Masterworks Inspired by Geometry (through August 28, 2022); Simone Pheulpin, whose 80th birthday is being celebrated by the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris (Simone Pheulpin: Time Bender, through January 16, 2022) and the retrospective of Kay Sekimachi’s 70-year career at BAMPFA in Berkeley, California (Kay Sekimachi: Geometries).

Adela Akers Compostela
Compostela, Adela Akers, sisl, linen and wool, 60” x 180” x 6”, 1985. Photo by Adela Akers

Our charitable project for 2021 engaged hundreds of people. It involved our contribution of a early, accomplished work, Spatial Ikat 2, by Lia Cook, created in 1976. The work was the prize in a sweepstakes on the UncommonGood nonprofit platform. Hundreds of people entered the sweepstakes. The proceeds from their entries went to the Breast Cancer Alliance headquartered in Greenwich, Connecticut

Lia Cook Spatial Ikat III
Spatial Ikat III, Lia Cook, rayon, cotton; woven, 72″ x 48″, 1976.. Photo Tom Grotta

Great feedback was received from our clients, artists and fans: “Over these past years, I do not walk past any of the pieces you hung for us without appreciating how it enhances my life.” “We are so delighted with our sculpture.” “Thank you also for sharing all the rich documentation on the Japandi exhibition! It’s a real pleasure for us to discover this beautiful exhibition from afar.” “We so enjoyed seeing your fabulous show on display in your amazing home …. Thank you for sharing the art and your time.” “The new exhibition is such a thoughtful juxtaposition of the Japanese and Scandinavian.” “I am happy and proud to be a part of your family of artists.”

We have plenty of plans for 2022 — an exhibition April 29th to May 8th, a browngrotta arts produced book, scheduled for Spring 2022 publication. More on these to come in the next few months.

In sum, a heartfelt thanks to all of you for letting us live a life filled with art and to fill others’ lives with art, too!


Artist Focus: Mia Olsson

Mia Olsson portrait
Portrait of Mia Olsson by Kerstin Carlson

Agave sisalana, better known as sisal, is a cactus-like plant cultivated in Mexico and Central America. Known for its stiff fiber, most often used to make ropes, rugs and even construction materials, sisal fibers are yellow-white in their natural state. Through a kind of alchemy, Swedish fiber artist Mia Olsson manipulates the prickly sisal into airy, semi-transparent wall sculptures, dyed in richly saturated warm tones. “I am interested in exploring textile fibers, how they are, their properties and characteristics, and what I can do with them,” say Olsson. Sisal fiber is flat and shiny, reflecting light beautifully and strengthening the color. Olsson describes it as “so interesting to work with, especially when forming three-dimensional pieces. My work is experimental and I never know on which journeys the fibers will take me.”

Detail Pleated, Golden
Detail of 10mo Pleated, Golden, Mia Olsson, sisal fibers, 24″ x 20″ x 2.25″, 2020. Photo by Tom Grotta

Dyeing is an important part in the process. The last couple of years, Olsson has been working with natural dyestuffs to see if she can replace synthetic dyes with natural ones. “The most difficult fibers to dye natural is plantfibers. It´s hard, but I am working on it,” she says. “My goal is to have the same ‘paintbox’ with natural dyestuff as with my ordinary ones.”

Map of Warm Are by Mia Olsson
9mo Map of Warm Area, Mia Olsson, sisal, 24.75″x 19.75″, 2012. Photo by Tom Grotta

In creating her works, Olsson dyes the fibers, then organizes them into a kind of fiber cloth, making it possible for her to connect them on a sewing machine. “I save all fibers, even ones that are too short, fiberscraps and cut-off pieces,” she says. “They can lead me on to new exploring paths.” Even very short fibers can be formed into circles or other shapes that can be joined together and then formed to create bigger or smaller pieces. An example is the patchwork of sisal squares that make up Map of a Warm Area. The piece offers a textured topography mapped in a wanderlust hue of orange, red, yellow, rust and black. “When working with Map of a Warm Area I was thinking of a very hot place, hard to live in, too dry and sunny,” remembers the artist. “It was made 2012 and then I didn’t think about climate change in the same way as we do today, But it can absolutely be read as reflecting concerns about the environment.”

Blue/Purple Pleats by Mia Olsson
7mo Blue/Purple Pleats, Mia Olsson, sisal, 56″ x 47″ x 2″, 2008 8mo Orange Pleats, Mia Olsson, sisal, 55″ x 46″ x 4.5″, 2008. Photo by Tom Grotta

Olsson also works with larger sisal pieces, Her larger sisal banners, like  Blue/Purple Pleats and Orange Pleats, float effortlessly in space highlighting their dimensionality, bold color and tactile dynamics. She creates sculptural works from fiber as well, groupings of soft stones in jewel-colors. And, more recently, she created Together, a minimalist work,

5mo Traces 5 Relief, Mia Olsson, sisal and coconut fiber, acrylic glass, sisal on blastered acrylic glass, 14″ x 11.875″ x 1.25″, 2006

Other themes Olsson identifies in her work are clothes and their symbols, memory and time. and maps and game plans. Living part of her time close to nature also affects and inspires her work. She also credits Japan as an influence, “I am inspired by and fascinated of Japanese art and crafts. Their exquisite ways of using natural material, as well as synthetic material, their skilled dyeing techniques and the way traditions and innovations are combined in textile art is an inspiration,” she says.   


Material Matters: Repurposed Objects as an Art Medium

Repurposing found objects in art has a long history. Long before recycling was a “thing,” Robert Rauschenberg was created his Combine series, works in which he intermixed paintings with items he found on the streets of New York. The works incorporated newsprint, cardboard, sandpaper, ladders, bellows and fuse boxes among other items. With the Combine series, the Rauschenberg Foundation observes, the artist “endowed new significance to ordinary objects by placing them in the context of art.”

Several artists that browngrotta arts represents or follows prove Rauschenberg’s theory that nearly anything can be adapted for an artistic purpose. In their works, however, the unconventional material takes center stage — not just as an inclusion but reinvented as a primary material. For example, early on in his art career, 

John Garrett crocheted videotapes
John Garrett, Dark Curtain, crocheted videotapes, 50” x 52” x 8”, 2020. Photo by Tom Grotta

John Garrett began exploring alternatives to traditional fibers. Developing unique personal methods based on needlepoint and embroidery techniques, he created flexible components that he manipulated into dynamic forms. Materials he uses are found in thrift stores, flea markets, yard sales, dumpsters, curbside on trash days, roadside and in empty lots. Using the varied detritus of an affluent society, he creates artwork that presages less abundant times and focuses attention on the beauty of the discarded and overlooked. 

Lewis Knauss photo slides
Lewis Knauss, Old Technology Landscape, woven, knotted linen, paper twine, photo slides, 16″ x 16″x 4″, 2021. Photo by Tom Grotta

Most recently, he has turned to a surprising, and soon-to-be-scarce, material  — VHS videotape. “Once out of the plastic container,” he writes, “the reels of tape leave behind their previous use. In fact, their stories are lost. They are there but can no longer be accessed. In my thoughts, this leads to a sense of mystery and melancholy, like finding an old photo album in the trash.”  Lewis Knauss found a similar inspiration when he began to go through decades of slides he had taken of landscapes as he travelled. He had planned to simply discard them, instead decided to hold on to some to create a small piece, a “landscape of landscape images” that he had used as reference in his work.

Gyöngy Lakás Coffee Break
Gyöngy Laky, Coffee Break, coffee stirrers, steel wire, 16.5” x 17” x 17”, 2011. Photo by Tom Grotta

 “All artists repurposing and upcycling materials challenge preconceived notions. When the eye recognizes a found object, it changes the meaning and the value of that object in the work. Whereas it may have been thrown away by someone else, it is now living a new life, no longer destined for the landfill but now in a place of preservation created by the artist, “ write Lori Gipson and Brooke Garcia (Repurposing and Upcycling Found Objects in Art – #EarthDay50). Preconceptions are are surely challenged by Gyöngy Laky’s Coffee Break, constructed of coffee stirrers and Fissures III,  by Karyl Sisson, made of nearly unrecognizable vintage paper straws, coiled in intriguing patterns.

Karyl Sisson straws
Karyl Sisson, Fissueres III, vintage drinking straws, thread and polymer, 16.5” x 16.5” x 1.75”, 2019. Photo by Tom Grotta

Plastic and metal are ubiquitous in landfills and our own trash. In Real, John McQueen draws attention to the problem of plastic waste. “Though we are not all that conscious of it, plastic containers are everywhere in our daily lives,” McQueen writes. “We are burying ourselves in them without seeing them.” The vertical, flat landscape in the work comes reflects the Chinese tradition of painting huge mountains with extremely small inhabitants almost lost somewhere in the composition, a contrast, he says, to the way the West believes humans rule the world and we believe we can do what we please.

John McQueen plastic bottles
John McQueen, Real, sticks and cut up plastic bottles, etc 55.5” x 36.75” x 3.5”, 2018. Photo by Tom Grotta

Harriete Estel Berman pulls ordinary material — in this case pre-printed steel from recycled tin containers — from the waste stream of society and recycles it, examining value and identity in our consumer society in the process. In her series, the Deceiver and the Deceived, Berman riveted together pieces of tin food containers, including SlimFast cans. The material looks plaited, quilted, or in the case of Figures in Fine Print, pieced. Through the text on the cans, the artist makes a potent statement about food and body image and the role advertising plays in our attitudes about both. Berman’s work is featured in the most recent episode of Craft in America, Jewelry which you can view online.

Harriete Estel Berman


Figures in Fine Print, Harriete Estel Berman. Framed wall piece constructed from recycled materials specifically tin cans and vintage steel dollhouses, aluminum rivets. Pedestal for a Woman to Stand On, Harriete Estel Berman. Printed steel from vintage steel doll houses and recycled tin cans, the green surface is covered with custom decals of $1.00 and $20.00 dollar bills. The cube shape used in the series A Pedestal for a Woman to Stand On is both a square (the basic structure of quilts) and a feminist response to minimalist sculpture. Photos courtesy of the artist.


The Japandí Catalog (our 52nd) is Available

Birgit Birkkjaer and Kay Sekimachi spread
Birgit Birkkjaer and Kay Sekimachi spread from: Japandí: shared aesthetics and influences

For browngrotta arts, documentation of the field of contemporary art textiles is critically important. Like a tree falling in the forest, if we don’t document an exhibition we’ve curated it’s a bit like if it didn’t happen. Generally, our exhibitions include catalogs that feature individual images of each artwork included, and often, an artist’s statement for each work. In addition, we typically feature essays by curators and scholars who take a broader look at the work or the exhibition theme.

Japandí: shared aesthetics and influences catalog cover
Japandí: shared aesthetics and influences catalog cover

For our latest catalog, Japandí: shared aesthetics and influences https://store.browngrotta.com/catalogs/ (our 52nd), however, we took a slightly different approach. Japandi is a term that refers to the aesthetic kinship one sees between art and design of Japan and the Scandinavian countries. To illustrate affinities, we created spreads — room- or wall-sized groupings of works from each region, rather than highlighting individual artworks. We included the artists’ recollections about how they discovered another culture or how other cultures have influenced their work. We added statements from designers, architects and authors about the similarities they have observed. 

Japandí: shared aesthetics and influences catalog cover
Works by Merja Winqvist, Naoko Serino, Kari Lønning and Yasuhisa Kohyama from Japandí: shared aesthetics and influences

Instead of commissioning an essay, we shared with you what we discovered about Japandi as we researched this exhibition. The introductory text, Mapping Affinities, explains that the roots of Japanese/Nordic synergy extend to the 19th century. It also explains that the trendy term, Japandi, refers to four elements, which the introduction describes: appreciation for exquisite craftsmanship and natural and sustainable materials, minimalism and respect for the imperfect (wabi-sabi) and the comfortable (hygge). The introduction also describes how the artists included experience the Japandi elements differently — some through study, some through travel. Still others describe recognizing these parallels in ways as something they were always aware of and acted upon.

textile by Chiyoko Tanaka, basket by Kazue Honma and wood sculpture by Markku Kosonen
Textile by Chiyoko Tanaka, basket by Kazue Honma and wood sculpture by Markku Kosonen from Japandí: shared aesthetics and influences

Not all the work that is in the catalog appeared in the exhibition — we included these works to further illustrate our sense of the regions’ common approaches.

Åse Ljones wall hanging and Ceramic by Yasuhisa Kohyama spread
Åse Ljones wall hanging and Ceramic by Yasuhisa Kohyama spread from Japandí: shared aesthetics and influences

We hope you’ll get a copy of Japandí: shared aesthetics and influences https://store.browngrotta.com/catalogs/ and see for yourself. 


Artist Focus: Tamiko Kawata

TAmiko Kawata portrait
Tamiko Kawata at SOFA NY exhibition. Photo by Tom Grotta

At first glance, Tamiko Kawata’s work is elegant and engaging. On closer inspection, viewers grow more intrigued as they recognize the materials are unexpected — safety pins, rubber bands, used pantyhose and newspaper. She has created arresting jewelry, sculpture, “painting” on canvas and installations. “I like to use overlooked, indigenous objects from our daily life for my medium,” she explains. “Discarded materials are important to me not only for environmental issues but also to reflect my current life.” Kawata studied art in Japan, receiving her BFA in Sculpture at Tsukuba University.  She explains that she was influenced by Bauhaus and Dada, and then the emergence of the Gutai Group, a Japanese avant-garde movement that began in 1954. All three art philosophies were particularly interested in unconventional materials. “These philosophies became a foundation for my way of thinking and for my art-making direction,” she says. In 1962, when she was 26, she came to New York, where she continues to live. 

While Kawata has made large works of newpapers and pantyhose, she is perhaps best known for her works made of safety pins. On arriving in the US, Kawata needed them to make her American-sized clothes fit. She found the pins

Rain Forset Installation
Rain Forest Photo courtesy of the artist.

in abundance in a dime store and has explored their potential as an art material ever since. The extent of that potential is surprising. Kawata has used pins of different size and colors to create dramatic installation works, like Rain Forest in which chains of pins that end in circles on the floor recall a rippling pond in Kyoto and the victims of the bombing of Nagasaki and Hiroshima. “I wanted to connect this beauty of nature and the atomic bomb victims,”
 she has explained. She uses the pins to create standalone sculptures of all shapes that can be displayed indoors or out.  She uses them to “draw” on canvas, too.

Saftey pin canvas
19tk Stillness Within, Tamiko Kawata, saftey pins, acrylic on canvas, 42″ x 48″, 2002-2004. Photo by Tom Grotta

Works like Stillness Within, surprise viewers who think they are looking at a painting or drawing but as they draw nearer that the artist’s “marks” are actually intentionally placed safety pins.

safety pin canvas
36tk Permutation 7, Tamiko Kawata, Japanese safety pins, canvas on a wood board 32” x 29.5” x 2017. Photo by Tom Grotta

In Permutation 7, pins of different colors create a meditative mosaic. 

saftey pin sculpture
32tk Cactus, Tamiko Kawata , saftey pin, stainless steel wire, 16” x 18” x 17”, 2013. Photo by Tom Grotta

Kawata’s work is in numerous collections, including: Museum of Arts and Design, New York, New York; Honolulu Contemporary Art Museum, Hawaii; Ishiguro Art Collection, Tokyo, Japan; Lafcadio Hearn/Yakumo Koizumi Art Museum, Matsue, Japan; Racine Art Museum, Wisconsin; Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Canada; Williamsburg Art and Historical Center, Brooklyn, New York; Yusuke Aida Collection, Tokyo, Japan; Davis Brody & Bond Architects, New York, New York; Ishiguro Art Collection, Tokyo, Japan; LongHouse Reserve, East Hampton, New York; PREC Institute, Tokyo, Japan; Buenno Premesela Art Collection, Amsterdam, the Netherlands. She is the recipient of numerous grants and fellowships including the Ucross Art Residency; American Academy for Arts and Letters, 2015 Purchase Award; Meet Factory Art Foundation Award,Solo Show and Residency, Prague, Czechoslovokia; Pollock/Krasner Foundation Grant; McDowell Art Colony Residency and the Yaddo Art Colony, Louise Bourgeois Residency Award for Sculpture.

Safety pin installation
August Grove by Tamiko Kawata. Photo courtesy of the artist.

“My works are personal.” she says. “They are my visual diaries.”


We’ve been hard at work — come see the results. Japandí opens this week!

Our Japandí exhibition features 39 artists from Japan, Finland, Norway, Denmark and Sweden and over 150 individual works. Here are details about just a few of the artworks that the exhibition includes.

Ane Henrsen portrait
Ane Henriksen preparing the material for Reserve. Photo by Ole Gravesen

A striking wall work, Reserve, by Ane Henriksen of Denmark is featured in Japandí. Henriksen originally found the material covered with oil spots, washed up along the sea by the west coast of Denmark – fishermen use it, on the table in the galley, so the plates don’t slide of when they are on the high seas. The piece also incorporates webbed, rubber matting, colored with acrylic paint. The warp is silk glued together with viscose (from Japan). “Nature is threatened,” says Henriksen. “I hope this is expressed in my image, which at first glance can be seen as a peaceful, recognizable view of nature, but when you move closer and see the material, it might make you uneasy, and and spur thoughts of how human activity is a threat against nature. By framing the nature motif museum-like in a solid oak frame, I try to make you aware how we store small natural remains in reserves – in the same way we store exquisite objects from our past history in our museums.”

Birgit Birkkjaer portrait
Birgit Birkkjaer at work. Photo by Kræn Ole Birkkjær

Also included in the exhibition are baskets by Danish artist Birgit Birkkjaer. They are made of black linen and Japanese tatami paper yarn (black and hand dyed with rust). “The technique I used for the structure is rya,” she reports, “which was known in Scandinavia already in the Viking Age — and from the 1950s until the 1970s as a trend started by Danish/Finnish artist collectives. So, the baskets have roots in both Japan and Scandinavia.”

Norie Hatakeyama portrait
Norie Hatakeyama creating paper-plaited work. Photo by Ray Tanaka

Among the works on display from Japan are intricately plaited objects created by Norie Hatakeyama. The artist works with factory-made paper-packing tape to realize her geometric concerns. It is an experimental material that enables her to break free from traditional limitations.

“My work stems from an impulse to redefine both material and method,” says Hatakeyama. Her intricately plaited, three-dimensional works possess the energy of growing organisms. “The works ‘defy the viewer to imagine how they were accomplished,’”art critic and author Janet Koplos has observed.

Jiro Yonezawa at Haystack Mountain School of Crafts, Deer Isle, Maine. Photo by Tom Grotta

Jiro Yonezawa is also represented in Japandí with several works. Yonezawa is known for innovative bamboo basketry based on traditional techniques. He says that his recent baskets “represent a search for the beauty and precision in nature and a way to balance the chaos evident in these times.” The search for balance and harmony is one of the elements attributed to Japandi style.

Please join us!

The hours of the exhibtion are: 

Opening and Artist Reception: Saturday, September 25th: 11 to 6

Sunday, September 26th: 11 to 6

Monday, September 27th through Saturday October 2nd: 10 to 5

Sunday, October 3rd: 11 to 6

Advanced time reservations are mandatory; Appropriate Covid protocols will be followed. Masks will be required. There is a full-color catalog, Japandi: shared aesthetics and influences, prepared for the exhibition available at for pre-order at:  https://store.browngrotta.com/japandi-shared-aesthetics-and-influences/


Elements of Japandi: Minimalism and Simplicity

The term Japandi combines Japan and Scandinavia to reference aesthetic approaches shared by artisans in the two areas. browngrotta arts will be explore these affinities in our upcoming exhibition, Japandi: shared aesthetics and influences (September 25 – October 3, 2021)Among the approaches that these cultures share is an appreciation for minimalism and simplicity. “Minimalist and mid-century designers have always been inspired by the design culture of Japan, so the cross between Scandinavian and Japanese design is rooted in a storied tradition. Today, in the Japandi style, we see more of a fusion of these two aesthetics, which makes them feel like equal partners in the space,” observes Alessandra Wood, Vice President of Style, Modsy (Jessica Bennett, “Japandi Style Is the Laidback Home Trend We’ve Been Waiting For,” Better Homes and Gardens, January 05, 2021).

Grethe Wittrock Detail
The Second Cousin, Grethe Wittrock (Denmark) white paperyarn knotted on steelplate, 67” x 78.75”, 2006. Photo by Tom Grotta

Danish artist Grethe Wittrock’s work includes expanses of twisted paper strands in single colors — minimal and simple yet powerful expressions of what Finnish Designer Alvar Aalto called “the language of materials.” Wittrock observed the similar appreciation for minimalism firsthand when she traveled to Japan and studied with Japanese paper makers and renowned indigo dyer, Shihoko Fukomoto. “I started to uncover what Nordic sensibilities are by living abroad,” Wittrock says. “I lived in Kyoto, and saw an aesthetic in Japanese design similar to the Nordic tradition. You could say that there is an agreement that less is more. As they say in the Nordic countries ‘even less is even more.’”

Tamika Kawata
Tamika Kawata, Permutation 7, Japanese safety pins, canvas on a wood board, 32” x 29.5”, 2017. Photo by Tom Grotta

Japanese artists have made similar observations. Tamiko Kawata, born in Japan, but living in New York for many years, reports working as an artist/designer position with a prominent glass company in Tokyo after four years of sculpture composition, architectural drawing and photography courses at University. “In those years, I often discussed the affinities of Scandinavian craft works with my colleagues. ‘Why do we appreciate skilful craft works? How can we produce them with a similar approach to understanding the skills in handicrafts and understanding the natural materials and the appreciation for simplicity that we share ?’” Kawata’s very first design, a set of crystal glass bowls, were exhibited with Scandinavian works in the SEIBU department store in Tokyo in 1959. They were purchased by Swedish artist/designer Stig Lindbergh who pronounced them the “most original glass designs in Japan.” It was so thrilling to me,” she says. “I was just 23 years old.” 

Gudrun Pagter detail
Detail of Gudrun Pagter’s http://www.browngrotta.com/Pages/pagter.php Thin Green Horizon, sisal, linen and flax, 45.5” x 55.5”, 2017. Photo by Tom Grotta

Gudrun Pagter is another Danish artist whose abstract works in primary colors reflect the modernism for which Scandinavia is known. “From the exotic and foreign land we find an aesthetically common understanding of a minimalist idiom,” Pagter says, “an understanding of the core of a composition — that is, cutting off everything ‘unnecessary.'” Pagter expresses this minimalist idiom in her work. In Thin, Green Horizon, her composition expresses a form of landscape. It might be the horizon between heaven and sea, or between heaven and earth, she says. In any case, the framed field shifts the horizontal line. There is a shade of difference between the two blue colors, the blue is slightly lighter in the framed field. The thin, horizontal line is made with many shades of blue and green thin linen. The main color is blue, but the thin, green horizon is essential to the whole picture. Pagter notes, “My old weaving teacher at the School of Design, said 40 years ago, ‘you have to be brave to express oneself simply, as a minimalist’ … I’m brave enough now, maybe!!”  

Kay Sekimachi weavings
Lines 2017, 10 Lines, 11 Lines, 17 Lines, 25 Squares, Kay Sekimachi linen, polyester warp, permanent marker, 13.5” x 13.5”, 2017. Photo by Tom Grotta

A series of simple weavings by Kay Sekimachi, a Japanese-American artist who lives in California, is a testament to restraint. Her spare markings on handwoven fabrics reference the paintings of Paul Klee and Agnes Martin .”Order is fundamental,” to the Japanese approach, observes Hema Interiors in its style blog, “but it’s an order based on balance, fleeing from symmetry and overly controlled spaces. The decorative elements are important to give personal brushstrokes to the spaces, always resorting to simple and organic elements”  (“Wabi Sabi Interiors,” Comparar Estilios de Decoración, Hema Interiors).

Join us at Japandi: shared aesthetics and influences to see more examples of ways these elements are exchanged and expressed. The exhibition features 39 artists from Japan, Norway, Sweden, Finland and Denmark. The hours of exhibtion are: Opening and Artist Reception: Saturday, September 25th: 11 to 6; Sunday, September 26th: 11 to 6; Monday, September 27th through Saturday October 2nd: 10 to 5; Sunday, October 3rd: 11 to 6; Advanced time reservations are mandatory; Appropriate Covid protocols will be followed. There will be a full-color catalog prepared for the exhibition available at browngrotta.com on September 24th.


Lives well lived: Sandra Grotta

Sandra Grotta at her 80th birthday party. Jewelry by David Watkins, Gerd Rothmann and Eva Eisler. Photo by Tom Grotta

browngrotta arts is devasted by the loss of Sandra Grotta, our extraordinary collector and patron and mother and grandmother. Sandy and her husband Lou have been pivotal in the growth of browngrotta arts through their advice and unerring support. Sandy graduated from the University of Michigan and the New York School of Interior Design. For four decades, she provided interior design assistance to dozens of clients — many through more than one home and office. She encouraged them to live with craft art, as she and Lou had done, placing works by Toshiko Takezu, Mariette Rousseau-Vermette, Helena Hernmarck, Gyöngy Laky, Markku Kosonen, Mary Merkel-Hess and many other artists in her clients’ homes. Among her greatest design talents was persuading people to de-accession pieces they had inherited, but never loved, to make way for art and furnishings that provided them joy. Sandy was a uniquely confident collector and she shared that conviction with her clients.  

Her own collecting journey began in the late 1950s, when she and Lou first stepped into the Museum of Contemporary Crafts in New York City after a visit to the Museum of Modern Art. “The Museum’s exhibitions, many of whose objects were for sale in its store, caused a case of love at first sight. It quickly became a founding source of many craft purchases to follow,” Sandy told Patricia Malarcher in 1982 (“Crafts,” The New York Times, Patricia Malarcher, October 24, 1982). It was a walnut table ”with heart” on view at MoCC that would irrevocably alter the collectors’ approach. The table was by Joyce and Edgar Anderson, also from New Jersey. The Grottas sought the artists out and commissioned the first of many works commissioned and acquired throughout the artists’ lifetimes, including a roll-top desk, maple server and a sofa-and-table unit that now live in browngrotta arts’ gallery space. She followed the advice she would give to others:  “When we saw the Andersons’ woodwork,” Sandy remembered, “we knew everything else had to go,” Sandy told Glenn Adamson. From the success of that first commission, the Grottas’ art exploration path was set. The Andersons introduced the Grottas to their friends, ceramists Toshiko Takaezu and William Wyman. “The Andersons were our bridge to other major makers in what we believe to have been the golden age of contemporary craft,” Sandy said, “and the impetus to my becoming our decorator.”  

Sandra Grotta in her Maplewood, NJ living room
Sandra Grotta in her Maplewood, NJ living room surrounded by works by Mariette Rousseau-Vermette, Peter Vouklos, William Wyman, Toshiko Takaezu, Rudy Autio, Joyce and Edgar Anderson and Charle Loloma. Photo by Tom Grotta

When Objects USA: the Johnson Wax Collection, opened in New York in 1972 at MoCC, by then renamed the American Craft Museum, the Grottas began discovering work further afield. ”Objects USA was my Bible,” Sandy told Malarcher describing how she would search out artists, ceramists, woodworkers and jewelers. A trip to Ariel, Washington, led the Grottas to commission an eight-foot-tall Kwakiutl totem pole for the front hall by Chief Don Lelooska. Sandy ordered a bracelet by Charles Loloma from a picture in a magazine. ”I always got a little nervous when the packages came, but I’ve never been disappointed,” Sandy told Malarcher. ”Craftsmen are a special breed.” Toshiko Takaezu, as an example, would require interested collectors like the Grottas to come by her studio in Princeton, NJ, a few times first to “interview” before she’d permit them to acquire special works. It took 15 years and several studio visits each year for the Grottas to convince the artist to part with the “moon pot” that anchors their formidable Takaezu collection. Jewelers Wendy Ramshaw and David Watkins in the UK also became dear friends as Sandy developed a world-class jewelry collection. At one point, in a relationship that included weekly transatlantic calls, Sandy told Wendy she needed “everyday earrings.” Wendy responded with earrings for every day – seven pairs in fact. “For me, the surprise was that they found me,” says John McQueen. “I lived in Western New York state far from the hubbub of the art world.” McQueen says that he discovered they the Grotta’s were completely open to any new aesthetic experience. “from that moment, we established a strong connection, that has led to a rapport that has continued through the years – a close personal and professional relationship.”

Sandy Grotta's bust by Norma Minkowitz
Norma Minkowitz’s portrait of Sandy Grotta sourounded by artwork’s by Alexander Lichtveld, Bodil Manz, Lenore Tawney, Ann Hollandale, Kay Sekimachi, Ed Rossbach, Toshiko Takaezu, Laurie Hall. Photo by Tom Grotta

Their accumulation of objects has grown to include more that 300 works of art and pieces of jewelry by dozens of artists, and with their Richard Meier home, has been the subject of two books. The most recent, The Grotta Home by Richard Meier: A Marriage of Architecture and Craft, was photographed and designed by Tom Grotta of bga. They don’t consider themselves collectors in the traditional sense, content to exhibit art on just walls and surfaces. Sandy and Lou’s efforts were aimed at creating a home. They filled every aspect of their lives with handcrafted objects from silver- and tableware to teapots to clothing to studio jewelry and commissioned pillows, throws and canes, a direction she also recommended for her interior design clients. The result, writes Glenn Adamson in The Grotta Home,”is a home that is at once totally livable and deeply aesthetic.” Among the additional artists whose work the Grottas acquired for their home were wood worker Thomas Hucker, textile and fiber artists Sheila Hicks, Lenore Tawney and Norma Minkowitz, ceramists Peter Voulkos, Ken Ferguson and William Wyman and jewelers Gijs Bakker, Giampaolo Babetto, Axel Russmeyer and Eva Eisler. They have traveled to Japan, the UK, Czechoslovakia, Germany and across the US to view art and architecture and meet with artists.

Perhaps their most ambitious commission was the Grotta House, by Richard Meier. Designed to house and highlight craft and completed in 1989, it is a source of constant delight for the couple, with its shifting light, showcased views of woodlands and wildlife and engaging spaces for object installation. The Grottas were far more collaborative clients than is typical for Meier. “From our very first discussions,” Meier has written,”it was clear that their vast collection of craft objects and Sandy’s extensive experience as an interior designer would be an important in the design of the house.“ The sensitivity with which the collection was integrated into Meier’s design produced “an enduring harmony between an ever-changing set of objects and they space they occupy.” The unique synergy between objects and architecture is evident decades later, even as the collection has evolved.  Despite his “distinct — and ornament-free — visual language, Meier created a building that lets decorative objects take a leading role on the architectural stage,” notes Osman Can Yerebakan in Introspective magazine (“Tour a Richard Meier–Designed House That Celebrates American Craft,” Osman Can Yerebakan, Introspective, February 23, 2020). The house project had an unexpected benefit — a professional partnership between Sandy and Grotta House project manager, David Ling, that would result in memorable art exhibition and living spaces designed for the homes and offices of many of Sandy’s design clients.

Sandy and Lou became patrons of the American Craft Museum in 1970s. As a member of the Associates committee she organized several annual fundraisers for the Museum, including Art for the Table, E.A.T. at McDonald’s and Art to Wear, sometimes with her close friend, Jack Lenor Larsen, another assured acquirer, as co-chair. At the openings, she would sport an artist-made piece of jewelry or clothing, sometimes both, and often it was an item that arrived or was finished literally hours before the event. “I wear all my jewelry,” she told Metalsmith Magazine in 1991 (Donald Freundlich and Judith Miller, “The State of Metalsmithing and Jewelry,” Metalsmith Magazine, Fall 1991) “I love to go to a party where everyone is wearing pearls and show up in a wild necklace …. I have a house brooch by Künzli – a big red house that you wear on your shoulder. I can go to a party in a wild paper necklace and feel as good about it as someone else does in diamonds.” Sandy served on the Board of the by-then-renamed Museum of Arts and Design, stepping down in 2019. 

Portrait of Sandy Grotta
Sandra Grotta Portrait in Florida Apartment in front of sculptures by Dawn MacNutt and a tapestry by Jun Tomita

From its inception, Sandy served as a trusted advisor, cheerleader and cherished client to browngrotta arts. She introduced us to artists, to her design clients and Museum colleagues. Questions of aesthetic judgment — are there too many works in this display? too much color? does this work feel unfinished? imitative? decorative? — were presented to her for review. (She was unerring on etiquette disputes, too.) The debt we owe her is enormous; the void she leaves is large indeed. We can only say thank you, we love you and your gifts will live on.

You can learn more about Sandy’s life and legacy on The Grotta House website: https://grottahouse.com and in the book, The Grotta Home by Richard Meier: A Marriage of Architecture and Craft available from browngrotta at: https://store.browngrotta.com/the-grotta-home-by-richard-meier-a-marriage-of-architecture-and-craft/.

The family appreciates memorial contributions to the Sandra and Louis Grotta Foundation, Inc., online at https://joingenerous.com/louis-and-sandra-grotta-foundation-inc-r5yelcd or by mail to The Louis and Sandra Grotta Foundation, Inc., P.O. Box 766, New Vernon, NJ 07976-0000.


Acquisition News – Part II, Abroad

More on museum acquisitions of works by artists from browngrotta arts in the last two years. We have 18 works to report on that have been acquired by institutions outside the US — from Norway to Lithuania to Italy to Japan and places in between.

Heidrun Schimmel
One of two works that comprise Hanging by a thread IV, handstitched by Heidrun Schimmel, 1986-1987, acquired in 2021 by the Diocesan Museum in Bamberg, Germany. Photo by: Monika Meinhart.

Heidrun Schimmel

Seven works by Heidrun Schimmel have been acquired since 2020. Two by the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen in Dresden, two by Museum of Applied Art, Frankfurt and three by the Diocesan Musuem in Bamberg.

Kyoko Kumai
Furious Anger by Kyoko Kumai acquired by the Janina Monkute-Marks Art Museum in Kedainai, Lithuania. Photo by Takashi Hatakeyama

Kyoko Kumai

One work by Kyoko Kumai was acquired by the Angers Museums in Angers, France (Jean-Lurçat and the Museum of Contemporary Tapestry) and another by the Janina Monkute-Marks Art Museum in Kedainai, Lithuania.

Carolina Yrarrázaval
Medioevo, jute and linen, Carolina Yrarrázaval. One of two tapestries acquired by the National Museum of Contemporary Art in Kyoto. Photo by Patricia Novoa.

Carolina Yrarrázaval

Two tapestries were selected on May of this year at Yrarrázaval’s exhibition in Kyoto by the National Museum of Contemporary Art in Kyoto.

Åse Ljones

Åse Ljones

Åse Ljones‘ work, Atterskin, was purchased by Nordenfjeldske Art and Craft Museum in Trondheim , Norway in 2020 and Mylder was purchased The National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design in Oslo, March 2021. 

Federica Luzzi
Federica Luzzi’s work acquired by the Museum of Contemporary Art, Salerno, Italy. Photo by Federica Luzzi.

Federica Luzzi

An encased textile, Shell-Omaggio a Costanino Dardi, by Federica Luzzi was acquired by the Museum of Contemporary Art, Salerno, Italy for a collection curated by Fondazione Filiberto e Bianca Menna – Centro Studi D’Arte Contemporanea.

The textile object is suspended and anchored with nylon thread in a plexiglass box. Like a seed, with an aerodynamic shape that is structured for long movements and transport, it is closed in a box that prevents its natural and complete movement, it is trapped in it. “This work was done just before the outbreak of the pandemic,” Luzzi says. “So without knowing what would happen, but continuing my research on envelopes, I visualized even better the containment condition of a body.”

Simone Pheulpin
Eclosion Epingles by Simone Pheulpin, photo courtesy of Galerie Maison Parisienne.

Simone Pheulpin

Two artworks by Simone Pheulpin have been acquired by the Musée des Arts Décoratifs i(MAD) inn Paris in December 2019: Jéromine, Série Eclipse (2019); Eclosion Epingles (2019). Another, Détail VII (2021), will be acquired by the same museum in 2021. The acquisitions were organized by the Galerie Maison Parisienne in Paris.

Wlodzimierz Cygan
Organic by Wlodzimierz Cygan, acquired by TAMAT in Brussels, Belgium. Photo by This Way Design.

Wlodzimierz Cygan

In 2021, Organic (2018) by Wlodzimierz Cygan was acquired by the Musée de la Tapisserie et des Arts Textiles de la Fédération Wallonie-Bruxelles (TAMAT) in Tournai, Belgium.