Monthly archives: July, 2024

Woven Histories Highlights – National Gallery, Washington, DC

Woven Histories Entrance
Entrance to Woven Histories, National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC. Photo by Tom Grotta.

During our recent trip to Washington, DC we visited Woven Histories: Textiles and Modern Abstractionthrough July 28, 2024 at the National Gallery. We are not going to pout about the fact that it has taken a few decades for contemporary fiber art to make it into the hallowed halls of the National Gallery. We are just going to revel in this expansive textile coming out party — an exhibition that challenges, however belatedly, the hierarchies that often separate textiles from fine arts.

Woven Histories Installation
Installation view: Work by Ruth Asawa, Kay Sekimachi and Martin Puryear. Photo by Tom Grotta.

The 150 objects in Woven Histories highlight a diverse range of transnational and intergenerational artists who have shaped the field including: Ruth Asawa, Anni Albers, Lenore Tawney, Kay SekimachiSheila Hicks, Rosemarie Trockel, and Diedrick Brackens. There are also painters and sculptors like Agnes Martin and Eva Hesse whose work also played a role in modern abstraction. 

Ed Rossbach
Ed Rossbach, Constructed Color Wall Hanging, 1965. Photo by Tom Grotta.

Curated by Lynne Cooke, the exhibition offers “a fresh and authoritative look at textiles — particularly weaving — as a major force in the evolution of abstraction.” Basketry is given prominence. Cook notes in the book that accompanies the exhibition, Woven Histories: Textiles and Modern Abstraction, that basketry was a moribund artform in the mid-60s, when Ed Rossbach began his “[s]triving for expressive content, signification and meaning” within basketry’s time-tested techniques. The exhibition highlights others creating basket referents, including John McQueenDorothy, Gill Barnes, Martin Puryear, and Yvonne Koolmatrie.

Shan Goshorn
Shan Goshorn Baskets. Photo by Tom Grotta.

There are more than 50 artists whose work is included. The timeline is expansive — beginning with work created during World War I by Sophie Taeuber-Arp of the Zurich Dada circle, and continuing through to 21st century efforts to create community and celebrate the politics of identity by such artists as Ann Hamilton, Liz Collins, and Jeffrey Gibson. The exhibition will travel next to the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, from November 8, 2024–March 2, 2025 and then the Museum of Modern Art, New York, April 20–September 13, 2025. 

Lives Well-Lived: Hiroyuki Shindo (1941-2024)

Hiroyuki and Chikako Shindo portrait
Hiroyuki and Chikako Shindo at browngrotta arts Sheila Hicks, joined by seven artists from Japan exhibition in 1995. Photo by Tom Grotta

We first met the talented and charming artist, Hiroyuki Shindo in 1995. Shindo was one of the artists in the east-west textile dialogue that Sheila Hicks crafted at browngrotta arts’ original location. Entitled Sheila Hicks, joined by seven artists from Japan, Shindo was one of the exhibition artists who created, in Hicks’ words, “strictly abstract, nonfolkloric works … Major statements in modest formats. Livable art. More than livable — inspirational and elevating, magnets of meditation.” Shindo and his wife, Chikako, came to Wilton, Connecticut from Japan, as did artist Chiyoko Tanaka, to install the exhibition with Hicks. Shindo served as an invaluable translator and witty raconteur. We learned about the virtues of cold sake, offerings made to the indigo gods, and his adventures in Broken Bow, Nebraska. (He had travelled, he told us, to Nebraska because it was where Sheila Hicks was born.) 

Indigo Thread Balls, Hiroyuki
Indigo Thread Balls, Hiroyuki Shindo, linen, cotton, indigo dye, 1995. Photo by Tom Grotta

We also learned in 1995 about Shindo’s remarkable art process. Shindo worked with indigo, which he first encountered as a student at Kyoto City University of Fine Arts in the late 1960s. An older artisan had told Shindo that he was the last of 14 generations of indigo dyers — Shindo was determined to prevent this art form’s extinction.

Hemp & Cotton, Hiroyuki Shindo
21hs Hemp & Cotton, Hiroyuki Shindo, linen, handspun and handwoven, indigo dye, 82″ x 44″, 1998. Photo by Tom Grotta

Shindo used only natural indigo for his work, which involved an elaborate ritual of his own formulation. He would first ferment the dye, pour it into a cement pool that contained pebbles. Next, he would move pebbles in a trough into the configuration he liked. Finally, he would press linen or flax into the trough of pebbles and dye, revealing the shapes and blurred edges he envisioned — from areas of nearly black to nearly invivible blue shadows. Shindo also made fascinating “thread balls” of wound thread where certain areas were highlighted with dye. As Hicks described the result, ”He is painting. He is sculpting. He is creating entire environments.” The white was as important to these works as the indigo Shindo believed. “If the white is not brilliant enough, or the undyed portion is not the right proportion, the balance is broken, and so I insist, white is as important to my work as is indigo.” Once dyed, the balls were placed in a nearby stream for rinsing, a process that is beautifully filmed in the video Textile Magicians by Cristobal Zanartu.

Wall Hanging, Hiroyuki Shindo
2hs Wall Hanging, Hiroyuki Shindo, linen and handspun and handwoven, indigo, x 12″, 1995. Photo by Tom Grotta

Shindo’s work has been exhibited widely. At the North Dakota Museum of Art, he created a series of panels responding to the flat landsape of the plains. He was among the artists included in Structure and Surface: Contemporary Japanese Textiles at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City and Textile Wizards from Japan at the Israel Museum of Art in Jerusalem. His work is in a large group of museum collections including the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, the Netherlands, the Art Institute of Chicago, Illinois, the Cleveland Museum of Art, Ohio, Museum of Arts and Design, New York, New York, and Museo de Arte Carrillo Gil, Mexico City. In 1997, he became a professor and head of the textile department at the Kyoto College of Art. 

Two Large Indigo wall hangings by Hiroyuki Shindo
Two Large Indigo wall hangings by Hiroyuki Shindo. Photo by Tom Grotta

In 2005, Shindo founded the Little Indigo Museum, in an old thatched-roof house, in the village of Kayabuki-no-Sato, north of Kyoto. This private art museum includes examples of indigo works not only from Japan, but also from Asia, Africa, Europe, and Central America — a representation of indigo dye culture from all over the world. The collection features indigo textiles found by the artist among discarded belongings, collected during field trips, and pieces received “from people along the way.”

Hiroyuki Shindo Large Wall Hanging detail.
Hiroyuki Shindo Large Wall Hanging detail. Photo by Tom Grotta

We are among the people he met along the way. He will indeed be missed.