Let me say this right up front: Creating a tapestry is hard work. Artists have to work from the back, relying on a mirror to see what they’re doing, and using thread to make the composition. Labeling it labor intensive is an understatement. Its heyday in western art was during the Middle Ages, when tapestries lined the walls of castles and manor houses. A wonderful example is “The Unicorn in Captivity,” one of the most famous tapestries in history and a masterpiece of complex design and color (Google it). “Painting with thread” indeed.
With this in mind, head over to the Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft to see 24 tapestries from 16 countries in “The New Art of the Loom: Contemporary International Tapestry.” The title tells us the exhibition is about recent fiber art handmade by artists from around the globe. As curator Dirk Holger states, “The methods used by contemporary weavers are the same practiced for two millennia across the world, a testament to the durability and adaptability of the medium.”
To understand and appreciate what’s on view, the wall text explains the process: “The tapestry is created by interlacing one set of yarns (the weft) through another (the warp). The warp consists of the threads that are attached vertically to the front and the back of the loom … The warp acts as the lengthwise structure upon which the pattern is woven and is not visible once the tapestry is complete. The weft consists of the colored threads that are horizontally passed through alternating warp threads to create the pattern.”
Hungary’s Ibolya Hegyi let’s viewers experience a dark cobalt space dotted with gold stars in “Galaxy II.” She says she “chose this subject to counter the acceleration of time experienced in daily life.” It worked on me. As the first piece I encountered in the show, I slowed to examine a tapestry that set the bar pretty high for the rest of the exhibition. I was not to be disappointed.
“Three Fragments” by Polish artist Malgorzata Buczek resembles overlapping torn pages. The three sections were done in different years. While individually intriguing, arranged together they create a more powerful design reminiscent of an ancient unreadable manuscript.
South African artist William Kentridge has one of the largest pieces in the show. “Porter with Bicycle: Espagne et Portugal, Porter Series” features 19th century maps of Spain and Portugal superimposed with two figures in brown silhouette. Kentridge explains the “Porter Series” is about the migration of people.
“Hopelessness and Possibility” is a stunning creation by Bum Soo Song of South Korea. The nonrepresentational tapestry is composed of tints and shades of blue, which form a trompe l’oeil effect of spikes projecting from a rounded surface. Stand back to enhance the 3D effect.
Exhibition curator Dirk Holger also has a work in the show. “Aubusson Bordure,” with an Art Deco flavor, is touchable (a rarity in a museum or gallery). Holger says you can, because he believes “tactility is an important quality of weaving.”
KMAC is including the community in the exhibition. The Little Loomhouse is assisting with an interactive project called. “Weaving A Community With Our Stories” on a loom built by YouthBuild Louisville. KMAC asked local organizations such the Cabbage Patch Settlement House, Gilda’s Club and The Healing Place to be part of the ongoing tapestry. Museum visitors are invited to add to it.