Uncommon Threads


In the early 2000s, three dozen acclaimed international artists received an intriguing invitation from collector Lloyd Cotsen and his then curator, Mary Hunt Kahlenberg. Would the artists—most of whom generally create two-dimensional fiber works—be game to attempt a three-dimensional piece that could fit into a relatively small and shallow box?

What followed were years of fascinating correspondence from an array of international artists who would participate in the project, including Richard Tuttle, Cynthia Schira, Helena Hernmarck, Jim Bassler, Gyöngy Laky, Gerhardt Knodel, Sherri Smith, N. Dash, Lewis Knauss, Ana Lisa Hedstrom, Kiyomi Iwata, Nancy Koenigsberg, and John Garrett. As expected, each interpreted the challenge in their own way, resulting in an exceedingly diverse collection of works that reflects the artists’ ingenuity, skill, and creativity.

This singular collection forms the basis of The Box Project: Uncommon Threads, an exhibition that will travel across the United States beginning in the fall of 2016 featuring thirty-six commissions—most presented in their accompanying 23” x 14” x 3” or 14” x 14” x 3” box— as well as additional examples of some of the artists’ oeuvre.

“The Box Project is about challenges,” explains current Cotsen Collection curator Lyssa Stapleton, “asking weavers who work in two dimensions to conquer three-dimensional space, requiring artists making art on a grand scale to work in miniature, and inspiring sculptors, painters, and designers to create something with fiber.” This exhibition spotlights the incredible versatility of fiber as a medium and delves into the interrelationship among artists, their process, and the collector, as well as the evolving position of fiber art in the larger art world.

Many of the artists represented push the definitional boundaries of fiber. Plastic tubing, copper wire, paper, Manzanita wood, zippers, buttons, beads, magnets, reflective tape, rubber sponges, and spools of thread are used to great effect. Similarly, the themes and appearances of the works themselves are as numerous as the materials employed.

Virginia Davis’ elegant submission conjures the vastness of the night sky, while Ai Kajima’s quilted fabric collage employs the pop culture imagery of children’s cartoons. Gerhardt Knodel and James Bassler both invoke game boards, but in ways solely their own. Some works, like Masae Bamba’s delicate garden of mushrooms topped with an ethereal shibori– dyed butterfly wing, reside neatly into their box. Others, such as Aune Taamal’s delicate, translucent weaving, can be stored in their boxes but lavishly overflow their confines when unfolded for display.

The small scale of the works commissioned for The Box Project offers viewers an intimate experience with the art, while larger works borrowed exclusively for the exhibition, video interviews, material samples, maquettes, correspondence, and concept sketches provide detailed information on the artists and their processes.

The Cotsen Collections and the Genesis of The Box Project
Lloyd Cotsen has built and dispersed several world-class collections—with the collaboration of his textile curator and longtime friend, Kahlenberg (who passed away in October 2011), and Stapleton. Among them are:

  • Costume, textile, and folk art acquisitions for the Neutrogena Collection that were donated to the Museum of International Folk Art in Santa Fe in 1995.
  • The world’s most comprehensive collection of Japanese bamboo baskets, now at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco.
  • Works in a variety of media that depict Noah’s Ark, donated to Los Angeles’ Skirball Cultural Center.
  • Ancient Chinese bronze mirrors donated to the Shanghai Museum in 2012.

In the mid-1990s, despite a proclaimed cessation of acquiring, Cotsen, Kahlenberg, and Stapleton began to assemble a new collection of textile fragments from every era and region of the world. Titled Textile Traces, this study collection now comprises approximately 4,500 fragments that demonstrate every possible method of weaving, fiber, surface treatment, and design. Cotsen determined that all the fragments be smaller than 23 x 14 inches and kept in beautiful handmade, indigo cloth-covered storage boxes—the same boxes that have become integral to The Box Project.
In setting for himself these physical parameters, Cotsen came to appreciate the power of limits. As he puts it, “When I place restrictions on my collecting, the results are more dynamic.” Understanding that boundaries can encourage innovation, he was curious to see how artists might respond to a commission with specific limitations.

Thus was born The Box Project: Uncommon Threads, an exhibition that would ask artists who usually work in two dimensions to create something three-dimensional that would fit within the confines of a Textile Traces box.

The thirty-six artists whose work appears in this exhibition are Masae Bamba, James Bassler, Mary Bero, Zane Berzina, N. Dash, Virginia Davis, Carson Fox, Shigeki Fukumoto, John Garrett, Ana Lisa Hedstrom, Helena Hernmarck, Agneta Hobin, Pat Hodson, Kiyomi Iwata, Gere Kavanaugh, Ai Kijima, Hideaki Kizaki, Lewis Knauss, Nancy Koenigsberg, Gerhardt Knodel, Naomi Kobayashi, Gyöngy Laky, Paola Moreno, Jun Mitsuhashi, Kyoko Nitta, Hisako Sekijima, Barbara Murak, Cynthia Schira, Heidrun Schimmel, Carol Shinn, Sherri Smith, Hadi Tabatabai, Koji Takaki, Aune Taamal, Richard Tuttle, and Peter Weber.

The Box Project: Uncommon Threads will debut at the Fowler Museum at UCLA on September 11, 2016 and travel to the Racine Art Museum in Wisconsin (spring 2017) and then to the Textile Museum at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. (fall 2017).

For more information, please visit http://www.fowler.ucla.edu/exhibitions/box-project-uncommon-threads.