Category: Art

Scenes from an Exhibition: Crowdsourcing the Collective this Week

Photo by Juan Pabon/Ezco Production

Despite some Covid cancellations, we’re enjoying good attendance to our Spring Art in the Barn exhibition, Crowdsourcing the Collective; a survey of textile and mixed media art this week. We had visitors in line on Sunday morning. We have had artists stop by, including Dawn MacNutt, Norma Minkowitz, Wendy Wahl, Nancy Koenigsberg, Jeannet Lennderste and Kari Lønning. We are hoping to see Blair Tate and Christine Joy later in the week.

We’ve had visits from groups from the Wilton Encore Club and Westport MoCA and a curator from the Flinn Gallery at the Greenwich Public Library. We are expecting more curators yet this week. 

The inspiration for the works in Crowdsourcing is of great interest to those attending. Lia Cook’s tapestries incorporate images of ferns from her California garden. Blair Tate experiments in visual layering based on frescoes interrupted by superimposed paintings and incised niches that she saw throughout Bologna. She rearranged separately woven strips to create windows on the wall — intentionally splintered, fragmented, unsettled as a reflection of our times. Dawn MacNutt’s works of seagrass and copper wire, The Last One Standing and Interconnected, are the last two works remaining from her earlier series, Kindred Spirits.

Dawn MacNutt and Norma Minkowitz
Dawn MacNutt and Norma Minkowitz. Photo by Tom Grotta

There are five days remaining — hope you can join us.

Schedule Your Visit Here: 

Remainder of the exhibition
Thru – Saturday, May 14th: 10AM to 5PM (40 visitors/hour)

Final Day
Sunday, May 15th: 11AM to 6PM (40 visitors/ hour)

Address
276 Ridgefield Road Wilton, CT 06897
(203)834-0623

Safety protocols
Eventbrite reservations strongly encouraged • We will follow current state and federal guidelines surrounding COVID-19 • As of March 1, 2022, masks are not required • We encourage you to wear a mask if your are not vaccinated or if you feel more comfortable doing so. • No narrow heels please (barn floors)

Art for a Cause: A portion of browngrotta arts’ profits for the months of May and June will benefit Sunflower of Peace, a non-profit group that provides medical and humanitarian aid for paramedics and doctors in areas that are affected by the violence in Ukraine. browngrotta arts will also match donations collected during the exhibition as part of browngrotta arts’ 2022 “Art for a Cause” initiative. A portion of the artists’ proceeds for certain works will also go to Sunflower of Peace: https://www.sunflowerofpeace.com/


Artist Focus: Rachel Max

Rachel Max portrait
Rachel Max in her studio, Photo by Tom Grotta

Rachel Max’s interest in basketry grew out of experiments with the tactile and the textile properties of metals. The UK artist’s work will be included in browngrotta arts’ upcoming exhibition Crowdsourcing the Collective: a survey of textile and mixed media art.  A background in metal work that informs her work, while the materials and techniques used in basketry enable her to create a “fabric” with which to shape sculptural forms. The fabric is a delicate grid structure forming an intricate network of lines that are interlinked. Her pieces are often inspired by natural shapes. The unique shapes that result are endlessly engaging — each takes on a different appearance when viewed from varying vantage points.

The weave creates the foundation of all Max’s work. “I have developed a technique of layering to form structures that explore the relationship between lines and shadows and space,” she explains. The relationships between containment and concealment and movement and space are the constant rudiments in her works. “The materials used may vary; however, I have a particular penchant for fine cane, which has a delicacy that is pliable, with wire-like characteristics that suit the open weave compositions that I have been exploring. The contrast of very regular patterns with looser weaves is a recurring theme.” This weave has become her vocabulary, “a way of drawing in space that enables me to explore patterns and form through the interplay of lines, or light and shadow through density and color.”

Rachel Max wall basket
6rm Tonal Fifths, Rachel Max, dyed cane, plaited and twined, 25″ x 21″ x 7.5″, 2017. Photo by Tom Grotta

Music is a large part of Max’s life and an important artistic influence. She has been exploring the ways in which musical terms, structure and composition can be translated into woven form. Both Endless and Tonal Fifths use, as a starting point, the fugue, a musical composition based upon one, two or more themes, which are gradually built up and intricately interwoven into a complex imitative form. “Elements of weaving are comparable to notes in music, a measure of time, a beat or a pulse. Rhythm is everywhere, in the movement of my hands as I weave, in the tension and spaces between each stitch, in the beat of our hearts and in the pace of our footsteps,” says Max.

Rachel Max,  blue basket
8rm Continuum, Rachel Max, dyed cane, plaited and twined, 15.5″x 17″ x 17″, 2018. Photo by Tom Grotta

Color, the final stage in Max’s work, does not appear as an afterthought, but as an integral element. Color is “a necessary ingredient that unifies the process; it is paramount in my work,” she says. Works like Continuum explore the temporal and spatial elements associated with color. The color blue Max describes, for example, as an “ambiguous” color — cold yet often warm and comforting. “It is a color of depth and distance,” in Max’s view,  “of darkness and light and of dawn and dusk. It is a color linked closely to the sky and sea, both of which seem infinite and finite. Blue is paradoxically continuous, yet like the sky and sea, has a beginning and an end. Our lives, too, are structured around the continuous cycle of beginning and end. Our perception of color constantly shifts as the light changes. My aim was to translate these seemingly abstract ideas into something concrete. Continuum is a piece about such contrasts and opposites. It is both infinite and finite. A Mobius strip forms the inner core of the piece and the structure gradually shifts, forming a piece with two very different aspects.”

Rachel Max, Red basket
12rm Balance, Rachel Max, plaited and twined cane, 12″ x 16″ x 9″, 2022. Photo by Tom Grotta

Max was eager to participate in Crowdsourcing. “The way in which we are all currently living is one of the biggest adjustments I have ever had to make and one none of us could ever have imagined,” she wrote. “I would like to make something in response to the situation. At the moment it all feels uncontrollable, weighty and fragile. But the words ‘ together and apart’ keep coming to mind and I remember writing them down back in March. There is a huge sense of solidarity and compassion. We’re looking out for each other, we’re closer than we ever were but we cannot touch, hug or meet up. Our spatial awareness and of sense touch has become heightened as the air between us and the surfaces we touch have become dangerous. I would like to make piece which reflects this.” The result is Balance, which explores notions of infinity and time. “My aim was to distort the form, but still create something that is both finite and infinite. It’s rare that the title of a piece comes to me during the making process but as I was weaving this I became aware of its changing weight and stability, forcing me to rethink how I originally intended it to be seen. It became a subconscious reflection on the world we are in now: Everything seems to be in the balance.”

See Max’s work at Crowdsourcing the Collective: a survey of textile and mixed media art (browngrotta arts, May 7 -15, 2021). https://www.eventbrite.com/e/crowdsourcing-the-collective-a-survey-of-textiles-and-mixed-media-art-tickets-292520014237


Art + Science + Textile

We are big supporters of STEAM — Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Mathematics — education initiatives. STEAM adds the soft skills of the Arts to the harder Scientific, Technological, Engineering or Mathematical STEM studies to enhance critical and innovative thinking. As an example, STEAM encourages collaboration to understand STEM concepts. STEAM uses tools such as data visualization or fine art imagery to deepen one’s understanding of science, math and technology. This kind of out-of-the-box thinking is what leads STEAM professionals to create new products using 3D printers or distill complicated data sets into easy-to-understand formats, such as infographics. 

Hannah Skye Dunnigan, NASA’s Breakthrough, Innovative and Game-Changing Idea Challenge interview

Projects that result from this collaborative approach can be exciting and out of the box — and some of them involve textile concepts. In an unconventional partnership, a team of undergraduates in design and engineering from Brown and RISD won Most Creative Concept in 2021 at NASA’s Breakthrough, Innovative and Game-Changing Idea Challenge. The team was given $90,000 to create a solution for moon dust. Their solution to control moon dust, which creates significant problems for astronauts and their equipment, involved bundles of fibers, inspired by chinchilla fur, that carry a static charge. Dust that’s not repelled by the charge is caught in the fibers. The design and prototyping lead of the project was Hannah Skye Dunnigan, daughter of bga artist Wendy Wahl and furniture designer John Dunnigan. As a designer, Dunnigan told The Brown Daily Herald,  she was very proud that the team showed that “designers can be in the space as well, not just engineers.” (“Brown, RISD team wins ‘Most Creative Concept’ at NASA Challenge Forum,” The Brown Daily Herald, November 22, 2021). The Brown-RISD connection is potent, Christopher Bull, a senior lecturer in engineering and principal investigator of the project, told the Herald, because it “gets diverse people in the same room trying to solve the problem.” (Here is a Youtube link of their presentation. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zQnJnzSlxBo.) 

27lc Data Dots Emotional Intensity cotton, rayon, woven 78” x 50,” 2015. Photo by Tom Grotta

Lia Cook of California, has spent years in STEAM experimentation of her own, exploring the intersections of art, technology and science in her artwork. She is one of the artists in Radical Fiber: Threads Connecting Art and Fiber at the Tang Museum at Skidmore College, a celebration of interdisciplinary creativity and collaborative learning. As the Museum explains, Radical Fiber provides the work as at once fine art, process-driven craft, and scientific tool, complicating existing frameworks across fields. It asks questions: “Can a crochet hook and yarn uniquely explain the complexities of non-Euclidean geometry? How does the 1804 Jacquard loom relate to modern computing?” The exhibition reframes the histories of fiber/science intersections, asking not only how artists continue to engage in scientific inquiry through fiber, but also, how the medium can be used to improve our world for the future. Among the questions to be asked is one Cook has been exploring for some time: How do viewers’ reactions vary when they look at a photograph versus her Jacquard weavings of a photo image  During the Radical Fiber exhibition, a study will be conducted by the Skidmore’s Psychology Department in the neuroscience lab comparing behavioral responses to a series of woven faces by Lia Cook with with the identical photo of the same image. The subjects will be shown 10 digitized photos of the black-and-white photographs of faces and 10 digitized photos of the black-and-white, cotton-and-rayon, woven tapestries translated from the photos and asked to rate the intensity of the facial expression depicted in the image, from 1 (not at all intense) to 7 (extremely intense).

Cook has conducted her own studies of viewers’ responses. To create Data Dots Emotional Intensity, Cook conducted an informal survey of viewers of a large childhood photo of herself and a weaving of the same image. She translated the data she collected into dots and superimposed them on a woven portrait — blue for people who felt no difference between the two; yellow for those more affected by the photo and red for those who found the woven image more emotionally affecting. The woven image won. Red dots predominate, an observable amalgam of art and science.  “A visual pun is at hand,” writes Deborah Valoma of Lia Cook’s work.“[D]igital technology is juxtaposed to digital senses, a reminder that no matter how technologically sophisticated the process, weaving is still a medium of touch and embodied thought….,” Deborah Valoma, “Lia Cook: Seeing Touch,” Lia Cook: In the Folds — Works from 1973-1997 (2007, browngrotta arts, Wilton, CT).

10-11fl White Shell Tongue no.1-2, Federica Luzzi, fine art print on “baritata” paper, 66.875” x 24.75” x 1.25”; 78.625” x 32.75” x 1.25”, 2006

Italian textile sculptor, Federica Luzzi has created works born of conversations with researchers at the National Institute of Nuclear Physics in Frascati, Italy on concepts of dark matter, antimatter, nuclear, subnuclear physics, and an accelerator of particles. Various images of each side of three white sculptures are depicted; “gesture and matter are the terms of a relationship still waiting to be deciphered,” Luzzi explains. Working in the opposite direction of the classic and traditional concept of sculpture as a “way of removing,” the textile medium allows Luzzi to work around a void. Each sculpture, while having a mathematical initial scheme, is ultimately rendered with an element of mistake. “The final unexpected effect I interpret as an ideogram, a gesture, that presents itself as the work unfolds,” she says. “The White Shell Tongue prints suggest a primordial voice, speaking in a language now unknown to us but original, a pure, reductive writing externality, with wrappings and emptied shells.” 

9gs Out of Focus 1-9, Grethe Sørensen, handwoven cotton, 87″ x 85.5″ x 1.5″, 2007

In Denmark, Grethe Sørensen has unpacked digital technologies to create her tapestries. She has developed her own technique, combining weaving and video, selecting and manipulating still images to create a poetic universe of pixels, headlights, traffic lights, neon shop and advertising signs meticulously rendered in cotton thread. She is fascinated by color gradation; dying on the warp before weaving, varying the colors by mixing threads of different nuances in the warp. For Out of Focus 1-9, the artist created an image of hard-edged pixels in basic colors blown up until they appeared “liquid.” Pixels in basic colors are the starting point for her woven constructions. 

Another California artist, Sarah Rosalena Brady,  draws on her multiracial background as Huichol and Laguna Pueblo,  focusing her research on Indigenous scholarship and mentorship in STEAM. She describes her work as deconstructing technology with material interventions, creating new narratives for hybrid objects that speak on issues such as AI, aerospace technologies, and decolonial posthumanism. Her hybrid works operate between human/nonhuman, ancient/future, and handmade/autonomous principles to override power structures rooted in colonialism. Her solo exhibition at Blum & Poe, LA in 2021, https://contemporaryartreview.la/sarah-rosalena-brady-at-blum-and-poe/ featured AI-generated double-sided tapestries depicting satellite images of ice on Mars. 

Brady is Assistant Professor of Computational Craft and Haptic Media in the Department of Art at UC Santa Barbara. UCSB’s is just one of the labs and departments around the US exploring the links between art and science. Another is the recently opened International Arts + Mind Lab at Johns Hopkins Univeristy in Maryland, which studies neuroaesthetics, the scientific study of how the brain responds to the arts and aesthetic experiences, and undertakes this study for the purpose of improving biological, psychological, social/cultural or spiritual outcomes for individuals or populations. “We’re on a mission to amplify human potential,” the Lab declares on its website. The Los Angeles County Museum hosts the LACMA Art + Technology Lab which supports experiments in design, creative entrepreneurship, adventures in art and industry, collaboration, and interdisciplinary dialogue. Another nonprofit endeavor, the SciArt Initiative,  encourages the connectivity and cross-disciplinary approaches needed for the 21st century. The organization notes that artists and scientists seek answers to the same fundamental questions: who are we, why are we here, and where are we going? Both art and science build models of human experience in order to extend the boundaries of human capacity. Despite this common ground, artists and scientists are too often separate in their endeavors. Through exhibitions and micro-grants, the Initiative aims to create more scientific and artistic exchange. 

Exploration into the merger of art and technology, science and craft, is in its early days — watch for more experiments and innovative works.


Art in the Barn at browngrotta arts this May – Crowdsourcing the Collective: a survey of textile and mixed media art

Włodzimierz Cygan, Stéphanie Jacques
On the wall Włodzimierz Cygan, sculptures by Stéphanie Jacques. photo by Tom Grotta

This May, browngrotta arts presents their Spring 2021 Art in the Barn exhibition, Crowdsourcing the Collective: survey of textile and mixed media art  (May 7 – 15, 2021). It will be accompanied by our 53rd catalog, available on browngrotta.com after May 6th.

Chang Yeonsoon, Naomi Kobayashi
Chang Yeonsoon, The Path which leads to the center GR-202101, teflon mesh, pure gold leaf, eco-friendly resin, 8″ x 8″ x 4.25″, 2021; ITO Naomi Kobayashi, Coma, cotton thread, 20″ x 20″ x 2.25″, 1982. photo by Tom Grotta

The 40 artists in Crowdsourcing the Collective: a survey of textile and mixed media art illustrate the vitality of art textiles, ceramics and mixed media. The growing prominence of these art forms finds them the subject of exhibitions in major museums, intermixed with paintings and traditional sculpture in ways unthinkable a decade ago. The journey of the artists in Crowdsourcing the Collective tells us much about where craft and fiber art are now, and about how they got here. Some of the artists began working during craft and fiber art’s less popular period in the ’80s and ‘90s; some have been working since fiber art’s first heyday in the ’70s. Their education, experience and inspiration vary. They differ in material and approach. They come from more than a dozen countries around the world and the influence of those places is often evident in their work.

works by Polly Sutton
Works by Polly Sutton: Quatro, cedar bark, cane, 5” x 8.375” x 8.125”, 2022; Wila, cedar bark, ash, spruce root, 6.875” x 10.75” x 9.75”, 2022. Photo by Tom Grotta

This exhibition reflects the astonishing range of materials and techniques that make this work so well regarded. Tapestries of silk and agave, sculptures of seaweed, seagrass and willow, wall works made of sandpaper, hemp and horsehair and ceramics of Shigaraki clay will all be included. The scope of these artists’ preoccupations are on view here, too — from environmental concerns, to questions of the cosmos and identity, to explorations of material and process. It includes new work, work from earlier periods and work from artists we have invited specifically for this exhibition. Come and see what we have compiled!

Reserve a space on Eventbrite:
https://www.eventbrite.com/e/crowdsourcing-the-collective-a-survey-of-textiles-and-mixed-media-art-tickets-292520014237

Exhibition Dates/Hours

Opening & Artists Reception
Saturday, May 7th: 11AM to 6PM (300 Visitor Cap)

Remainder of the exhibition
Sunday, May 8th: 11AM to 6 PM (40 visitors/hour)
Monday, May 9th – Saturday, May 14th: 10AM to 5PM (40 visitors/hour)

Final Day
Sunday, May 15th: 11AM to 6PM (40 visitors/ hour)

Address
276 Ridgefield Road Wilton, CT 06897

Safety protocols
Eventbrite reservations strongly encouraged • We will follow current state and federal guidelines surrounding COVID-19 • As of March 1, 2022, masks are not required • No narrow heels please (barn floors)


New Viewing Room: Art With an Edge – the case for frames

68-69bb Mini Basket Symphony in Black & White, Birgit Birkkjær ashes, glued, horsehair/cotton yarn, linen, paper yarn, polyamide, viscose, 19.25″ x 19.25″ x 2” each, 2019. Gessoed Poplar floater frames. Photo by Tom Grotta

Contemporary textile works are often installed effectively right on the wall. Dimensional textiles in particular rarely need an edge. Yet, there are some works that can manage the counterpoint of an artful frame. There are works given more emhasis by the addition of a shadow box or an edge. A frame can also protect a textile from touching and from dust and, with UV glass, even from sunlight to some degree. In our current Viewing Room, Art With an Edge: the case for framing, we are sharing a number of works that feature frames.

Mary Luke of browngrotta arts planning Maple for multiple frames

Many artists are content to let galleries or museums or collectors handle frames. Other artists are intentional about frames, often going so far as making frames themselves. Members of the Ashcan School (late 19th-early 20th century) wanted frames that reflected “the raw, unsentimental spirit of their work, not that of an Old-World cathedral,” notes Eleanor Cummins. (Is It Time to Recognize Frames as an Independent Art Form?, Smithsonian Magazine, June 29, 2020). Georgia O’Keeffe wanted viewers to consider the way the shapes, colors, line and composition worked, without distractions, explains Dale Kronkright, head of conservation at the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe. To ensure her vision was realized, O’Keeffe worked with Of, the New York City frame maker, to develop eight distinct frames that precisely suited her paintings. Scott Rothstein, whose works are available at browngrotta arts, says he thinks of the frame as a part of the work itself. “The black matte and the frame tightly control how the work is seen,” he says, “which is something I have done with intent. My work can’t be seen any other way.”

Scott Rothstein
25sr #47, Scott Rothstein, hand stiched silk thread on silk ground, in black wood frame with denglass, 13″ x 25″ , 1993. Photo by Tom Grotta

An unabashed fan of frames, Matthew Jones, managing director of the framers and conservationists firm, John Jones London argues that, it’s really about harmony. “A good frame can completely change a work. I very much want the outcome of the project to offer what I call ‘the three wows’. When you first see a work that’s been framed, you should be drawn immediately to the image itself. We then like the eye to cast out to the frame, and — finally — to make a connection with the object in its entirety. If you’ve got a slight imperfection on the frame, or a slight imbalance in colour, it’s going to distract you from your enjoyment of the image.” (“How to choose the right frame for your picture,” Christie’s online, https://www.christies.com/features/How-to-choose-the-right-frame-for-your-picture-10005-1.aspx).

Barnscape by Susie Gillespie, hand spun and machine-spun linen yarn, cotton, nettle, raffia, gesso, earth pigments, 27.5″ x 27.5″ x 1″, 2011. White-washed maple frame with museum glass. Photo by Tom Grotta

At browngrotta arts, we rely on the expertise of Mary Luke https://www.maryluke.com, our Gallery Associate. Luke is a painter, stylist and designer — but also an experienced framer. “Artwork that would otherwise be lost on a wall can be given a strong, powerful voice with a simple mat and frame.” Material and color offer options, Luke says. “Material and color can be used to contrast or blend with the artwork — either way, though, the artwork should always remain the focal point.”

More Framed work from the exhibition

Check out more of Mary Luke’s Framing Q&A in the Art With an Edge Viewing Room. You’ll find 50+ works of art with various frames — shadow boxes, natural edges, perspex, plexiboxes, frames with mats — illustrating their possibility and potential.

“Art is limitation; the essence of every picture is the frame.” G.K. Chesterton


Trends Observed, Part 2

As we wrote earlier this month, in December 2021, we were asked to talk to a group of fiber artists about trends we had observed in browngrotta arts’ 30+ years in the art textiles field. Here is second of two arttextstyle posts on the insights we shared with that group. In the last post (January 12, 2022) we spoke about fiber art’s resurgence from 2004 on, after a few decades of the medium’s being on the art world’s out list.  In this post, we’ll discuss two art trends that we have seen propel fiber art’s growing popularity.

Democratization 

The most important of these trends is the democratization of the art experience which the internet, among other cultural changes, has wrought. Art lovers now find work by scrolling the internet from the Google home page to museums’ digitized collections. Pinterest users compile images of artwork they find everywhere. Art lovers do not approach art chronologically as museums required or by movement or medium or by fine art versus decorative art. Galleries and museums are no longer the gatekeepers. Current art viewers have no patience for exclusionary labels – they are content to just like what they like. In a corresponding change, online sales have quadrupled in the last several years, doubling between 2019 to 2020 alone.

online art

Galleries and Museums Take Note

The move toward a more inclusive approach to art and artists is evident in what galleries exhibit. It wasn’t that many years ago that an art fair we attended posted large signs dividing Fine Art from the section that housed glass, ceramics and other mediums, Our booth was near the signs and we saw people abruptly turn heel, rather than look at artwork labeled other than “fine art.” Quite a contrast to today’s Art Basel booths, where a mix of media – often including fiber art – is the norm. 

Yale University show ceramics
Ceramic Presence in Modern Art at the Yale Art Gallery in 2015

Museums have been forced to respond to democratization, too. Fiber art is not the only medium that has benefited from this trend – all craft media have. The Ceramic Presence in Modern Art at the Yale Art Gallery in 2015, masterfully combined 80 ceramics with paintings from their permanent collection by artists such as de Kooning, Noguchi and Mark Rothko. The curators cited a dissolution of boundaries and hierarchies, where artists bear less allegiance to any particular historical medium or tradition, opting instead to use “whatever materials best suit their ideas at a given moment.” 

Meernalini Mukherjee at MoMa
Meernalini Mukherjee at MoMa

The trend toward democratization means a pointed inclusion of women artists and artists from underrepresented groups. Traditionally excluded by curators and critics, institutions have committed to changing the racial and gender composition of their collections. The reopening of MoMA in 2019, announced, with great fanfare, “a reimagined approach to its presentation of modern and contemporary art.” A work by newly appreciated Indian fiber artist Meernalini Mukherjee held center court. CBS News reported that MoMA planned to add five times as many women artists as before to its collection. And Director Glenn Lowry described the elimination of departments and the creation of displays that would mix paintings, sculpture, photography, architecture, design and new media in a way that feels much more “whole and real.”

Mariyo Yagi sculpture
Mariyo Yagi 300-pound sculpture. Photo by Tom Grotta

Appreciating Art Without Labels 

We’ve seen this new openness to art – without labels — in our business, too. Fewer people compare work we show to other art forms – no longer needing to place it in a context that’s familiar. We’ve sold important work through online platforms to clients that we have next-to-no contact with, including a large tapestry to an executive in Peru and the 300-pound sculpture pictured in this post to a large company in Indonesia. And museums are willing to look at art that’s by artists other than the stalwarts of the field. We’ve placed work by Eduardo Portillo and Mariá Dávila, Venezuela, Aleksandra Stoyanov of Israel and Chang Yeonsoon of Korea in museum collections.  As Forbes Magazine notes: “The expectation that craft techniques will be seen in an art museum … allows the techniques to flourish, to facilitate new artistic expression, and to make new meaning.”

Democratization (and the pandemic) has meant that people are more willing to find art in unexpected places – including a renovated barn in Wilton, Connecticut. We’ve had busloads of students from Canada, textile fans from Chile, collectors from California, and curators from Illinois, Minnesota and Missouri. More people now travel to us from New York and fewer people balk at buying art from Connecticut and not New York.

Judy Chicago
Judy Chicago’s The Dinner Party

Illustrating concerns about political issues and the environment

A second trend we’ve observed in the last decade is a more explicit presentation of concerns about political issues and the environment. The re-examination of the origins of fiber in the last few years brought attention to the important role that feminism had played, particularly in the 70s – as artists used fiber art to take a provocative stance against the male domination of “pure” art forms such as Minimalism. Judy Chicago’s The Dinner Party is probably the best-known feminist work from this period; it was the subject of a retrospective at the de Young Museum in San Francisco last December. Chicago and other artists of the period like Miriam Shapiro and Faith Ringgold consciously sought to reclaim those mediums, traditionally considered “craft,” as fine art mediums, equivalent to painting and sculpture.

In the last decade, craft techniques, those identified as women’s work in particular, have again been reappropriated by emerging artists as ways to address feminist and other current issues. The NYT realized in 2018 that “Some of the Most Provocative Political Art is Made With Fibers,” observing that  “… a generation later, fiber art looks fresh again.” With threads and hair, fabric and flags, Sonya Clark examines the African experience and the harmful legacy of the Confederacy. Artists Sophie Narrett and Orly Cogan use embroidery to highlight what Narrett calls “the freedoms and restraints of femininity.” Bisa Butler has reinvented quilting – a traditionally marginalized medium—to explore the historical marginalization of her subjects.

Gyöngy Lakás Slowly and Variant
Gyöngy Laky Slowly, 2002 and Variant, 2021. Photos by Tom Grotta

At browngrotta arts, one of the artists we represent, Gyöngy Laky, who studied fiber at Berkeley in the 70s, has always reflected her activism In her work. Slowly (2002) can spell “LAG” or “GAL.” It makes a statement on the lack of female faculty in the University of California system. On the right is Variant, a newer work, made of painted branches and red golf tees, that makes a statement about the coronavirus and Trump’s inattention. 

James Bassler Flag
James Bassler, They’re Ready For Their Seat at the Table, 2021. Photo by Tom Grotta

James Bassler has spent a lifetime investigating Peruvian and cube weaving and other techniques and materials like nettle and cochuyi. In some of his works, though, the political takes center stage. An earlier flag was meant to be hung upside down as a statement on current events. A flag he made last year is entitled They’re Ready for Their Seat at the Table. “The recent street action of all these young people has really inspired me,” he wrote us. “For years I’ve held on to some wonderful handspun cotton from Guatemala, dark, dark brown and some lighter natural brown hand spun from Oaxaca.  Well the dark brown has become the warp to replace the red and the brown cotton replaces the white. There will be a trace of red amongst the dark brown, I don’t want to completely wipe out the Puritans,” he says. ”I just want room for everyone to sit at the table.” 

Neha Puri Dhir Forest Fire
Neha Puri Dhir, Forest Fire, stitch-resist dyeing on handwoven silk, 2017. Photos by Tom Grotta

Neha Puri Dhir from India says she is generally inclined to look inwards for inspiration which brings a sense of peace and empathy to her work. “But gradually, the growing disquiet around me became impossible to ignore,” she says describing has work Forest Fire. “Polluted water table, climate change, extinction of species, and forest fires – made me anxious. The complexity of these layered thoughts, could no longer be expressed in closed geometric shapes. Art adapted itself to the chaos within…,” she says.

As we concluded in Trends Observed, Part 1, it’s an exciting time to work with fiber artist and to promote art textiles and fiber sculpture. Thanks for joining browngrotta on this journey.


Contemporary Fiber Art – Trends Observed, Part I

In December of 2021 of last year, we were asked to talk to a group of fiber artists about trends we had observed in the art textiles field. In two arttextstyle posts we’ll summarize the insights we shared with the group. First, we described a bit about browngrotta arts’ creative journey and fiber arts’ place in the art world in the years we’ve been the medium’s champion.

2004 Art Palm Beach. Works by Masakazu Kobayashi, Mary Merkel-Hess, Deborah Valoma, Jo Barker and Sheila Hicks, among others. Photo by Tom Grotta.

browngrotta arts began quite informally in 1987, showing artwork in our Connecticut home at parties or by appointment – a concept we called “art in use.” We quickly discovered two things – First, people weren’t terribly willing to buy paintings from a suburban home, with New York galleries nearby. Second, fiber work was not well represented on the East Coast. The fiber art we showed, however – baskets by Mary Merkel-Hess and Markku Kosonen, and tapestries by Mariette Rousseau-Vermette – was new and interesting to clients and us.  We decided to focus on that.

1987 Contemporary art-in-use
browngrotta arts 1987 exhibition. Contemporary art-in-use

Fiber art on the outs

That said, 90s and early 2000s were not great for fiber art. The slick and shiny were popular in furnishings and design. Some of the public fiber commissions from the 70s had begun to show their age and give fiber a bad name. The craft/art divide was harsh and dark – and women’s work, like weaving, knitting and crochet – was at the bottom of that chasm.  The period saw fiber friendly galleries like Sybaris in Detroit, Louise Allrich in Califoria, and Bobby Okun in Santa Fe all close their doors. But we hung in there, with our unusual business model – presenting fiber artists from Japan, Scandinavia, the UK and pioneering and emerging artists from the US, attending art fairs, partnering with art centers and documenting the work in catalogs and on our website.

Beyond Weaving: International Art Textiles
browngrott arts exhibition Beyond Weaving: Internatioanl ArtTextiles at the Flinn Gallery in Greenwich, Connecticut

In 2006, we curated Beyond Weaving: International Art Textiles at the Flinn Gallery in Greenwich, Connecticut, which included work by Sheila Hicks, Magdalena Abakanowicz and Lenore Tawney. Mildred Constantine, the former textile curator at MoMA, told us it was the “best fiber exhibition in 15 years,” which tells you a lot about how the medium had been sidelined in that period.

Gradual reemergence

But slowly, in that time period, fiber’s profile began to improve. Appreciation for natural materials increased as did appreciation for the hand made. Sheila Hicks had an exhibition of miniatures at Bard in 2006; Ruth Asawa a retrospective at the de Young 2007; 50 years of Sheila Hicks opened at the Addison, then the Mint and ICA in Boston in 2010 and so did Contemporary Fiber Art: a selection from the Permanent Collection at the Art Institute in Chicago.

ICA Boston 2014
ICA Boston, 2014 Fiber Sculpture – 1960 to the present. Photo by Tom Grotta

The watershed for fiber art’s resurgence was just four years away. In 2014, Janelle Porter, who had worked on 50 Years of Sheila Hicks, organized the expansive ICA show, Fiber Sculpture – 1960 to the present. The exhibition travelled to Columbus, OH, Produced a detailed book and Porter was awarded a best museum exhibition award. 

It was as if a dam had broken – 50 Fiber artists toured the US in Innovators and Legends in 2013, initiated at the Muskegon Museum of Art, a retrospective of François Grossen’s work opened at Blum and Poe and one of Ethel Stein’s work opened at the Art Institute of Chicago in 2014. Anne Wilson, Louise Bourgeois, Lenore Tawney were also featured in Thread Lines at the Drawing Center 2014. Richard Tuttle unveiled a vast installation of weavings in Tate Modern (followed by an exhibition of Textiles by Sonya DeLauney in 2015). The Art Newspaper declared: “Soft Fabrics Have Solid Appeal;” the Wall Street Journal called Fiber “The Art World’s New Material Obsession.” 

Taking a thread for a walk-MoMA
Aurélia-Munñoz-Åguila-Beige-(Brown-Eagle) at Taking a thread for a walk-MoMA. photo by Denis-Doorly

Fiber Art’s Continued Recognition and Appreciation

The trend has continued since – Anni Albers at the Tate in 2018; Women Take the Floor in Boston; Off the Wall: American Art to Wear in Philadelphia and Taking Thread for Walk at MoMA, all in 2019,Weaving Beyond the Bauhaus in Chicago in 2020 and Olga d’Amaral’s Weaving a Rock in Houston in 2021 and at Cranbrook in 2022. Sheila Hicks, Off the Grid, at The Hepworth Wakefield in West Yorkshire, UK, Faith Ringgold, American People at the New Musuem in New York City open this year as do 34 fiber artists, including Lia Cook, in Subversive, Skilled, Sublime: Fiber Art by Women at the Smithsonian in November. 

It’s an exciting time to promote art textiles and fiber sculpture as browngrotta arts has done for three decades. In Contemporary Fiber Art — Trends Observed, Part 2, we’ll examine some of the changes we’ve seen in the field and in the approach of the artists who work with us.


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.   


Check Out Our One-of-a-Kind Gift Guide: No Supply Chain Issues Here

2021 browngrotta Gift Guide

This year we’ve gathered our art selections into a clickable lookbook format. Whether you are gifting yourself, a friend or family member, a work of art makes a truly unique choice. Our curated collection includes art for every location, including crowdpleasing centerpieces (Rocking the Table) and coveted items to set on a bookshelf (Boosting a Bookshelf) or counter top (Counter Balancing)

Narrow wall art pieces

We’ve included art suggestions to fill special spots — including those often hard-to-fill narrow walls (On the Straight and Narrow). Our choices include a pleated fabric work by Caroline Bartlett of the UK and a hanging of hand-painted threads by Ulla-Maija Vikman, known as “Finland’s colorist.” Or have you got your eye on an empty space? The one that makes you think — “I wish I could find just the right piece of art for that spot.” We’ve got a batch of ideas for you there — from embellished photographs by Gyöngy Laky(US) to an intricate embroidery by Scott Rothstein(US) to a newsprint and lacquer collage by Toshio Sekiji of Japan.

Natural baskets

There are works at every price point, from the brightly colored abstract tapestry, Flow, by Jo Barker, a Cordis Prize winner from the UK to a basket sculpture of cottonwood by Christine Joy(US) to a new book about the innovative weaver Włodzimierz Cygan of Poland.

Take a look here: http://www.browngrotta.com/digitalfolios/HolidayFlipBook/Hoilday FlipBook 2021.html

The small print:

Order for the holidays by December 13th and we’ll ship by December 14th for domestic delivery by the holidays (though due to COVID and other delays, we can’t guaranteed the shippers’ schedule). If you’d like us to gift wrap your purchase, email us at art@browngrotta.com, as soon as you have placed your order. To ensure we know you want gift wrapping, don’t wait to contact us — we generally ship as soon as the orders are received. Quantities are limited.