Fiber: Sculpture 1960-Present

text: Rebeca Schiller

Fiber enthusiasts rejoice! Boston’s Institute of Contemporary Art  presents Fiber: Sculpture 1960–present.  The first exhibition in 40 years that examines the development of abstraction and dimensionality in fiber art from the mid-20th century through the present. The exhibit highlights the adaptation of age-old techniques and traditional materials, but using fiber to manipulate gravity, light, color, mass and transparency, demonstrating the endless transformations. Fiber: Sculpture 1960–present is organized by Jenelle Porter, Mannion Family Senior Curator, and will be on view at the ICA  through January 4, 2015.

Fiber artists like Magdalena Abakanowicz, Sheila Hicks, Lenore Tawney, and Claire Zeisler redefined fiber art in the 1960s and 1970s, showcasing radical, non-representational forms that range from small-scale weavings to immersive environments. In addition to the artists mentioned, visitors to the exhibit can view the works of Olga de Amaral, Eva Hesse, Ernesto Neto, Rosemarie Trockel, Anne Wilson, and Haegue Yang—that range from small-scale weavings to immersive environments.

The exhibition is split between two themes: “Warp and Weft: The Grid” and “Formless Fiber: Softness Meets Gravity.” Numerous works examine multiple themes—including feminism, the use of color, and the shift from wall hanging to three-dimensional sculpture—allowing viewers to compare and contrast works as they move through the galleries.

Warp and Weft: The Grid
At the core of weaving is the grid generated by the crossing of warp and weft threads on the loom. The exhibit illustrates how artists use fiber to reimagine the grid. Lenore Tawney, for example, creates an open grid in Dark River (1961) by incorporating negative space into her woven forms. Some artists chose to work entirely “off loom” to achieve monumental forms while others lose it altogether, but retain the grid. Elsi Giauque’s Pure Spatial Element (1979) is a fragmented grid composed of uniformly-sized square metal frames strung with vertical and horizontal thread—a kind of simple frame loom.

Formless Fiber: Softness Meets Gravity
The exhibition’s second section shows artists who constructed pliable forms that strayed from the wall and that interacts with either the ceiling, the pedestal, the floor, and space itself. Techniques include wrapping, braiding, and crocheting, allowing for more freedom of expression and scale. Three-dimensional shapes include Jagoda Buićs monumental Falling Angel (1967), a pendulous, multilayered sculpture executed fully in the round; Françoise Grossen’s massive Inchworm (1972), comprising heavy plaited rope arranged on the floor.

“In the mid-century, artists began utilizing fiber to create large-scale, conceptual pieces—a move that mirrored the trajectory of contemporary art history at this time—yet these artists, many of them women, were often relegated dismissively to the category of craft and garnered limited attention within the art world,” said Porter. “Fiber: Sculpture 1960–present seeks to revise entrenched histories by assembling significant works by artists who transformed the material definitions of fiber. These objects are considered in terms of medium, process, and concept rather than in relation to categorical divisions within disciplines and art worlds.”

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