Textiles at the Whitney Biennial

I’ve visited the 2012 Whitney Biennial a few times by now and I’m happy to report that textiles are well-represented there, particularly in the work of Kai Althoff, Elaine Reichek, and Nick Mauss.

German artist Kai Althoff’s work is prominently displayed as the first work visitors encounter on the second floor. Althoff has worked with fiber in the past, creating fabric sculptures and installations as well as paintings. At the Whitney he uses a giant technicolor weaving, made by Travis Josef Meinolf, as a semi-transparent divider for the gallery and as a wall upon which to hang his two paintings. On the other side of this divider stands one of Althoff’s fabric sculptures– a soft organic-looking object. With this, he challenges the gender associations of textiles and the traditional method of displaying paintings against a wall.

Elaine Reichek was trained as a painter (under Ad Reinhardt, no less), but found herself drawn towards thread. The Biennial has reserved a small room for her works, a series titled Ariadne’s Thread, and based on the Greek myth of Ariadne, who saved her love Theseus from the labyrinth by giving him a ball of string so he may find his way out. Theseus later abandons her, but in the end she marries the god Bacchus who makes her immortal by turning her into a constellation. A large machine woven tapestry with Titian’s Ariadne and Bacchus is the centerpiece of the room. Several smaller hand and digital embroideries hang beside it, with embroidered images and quotes relating to the story of Ariadne and the labyrinth. Reichek’s works make reference to history and literature, using fiber as a story-telling medium.

Last but not least is Nick Mauss’s velvet vestibule on the third floor. Here Mauss was asked to create a mini show within the show using works from the Whitney’s show. He has recreated the vestibule of the Guerlain Perfume Company in Paris, designed by Christian Bérard in 1939, which suggests elegance. Mauss looks at artists with homosexual identities, selecting works that are lesser known or atypical of their oeuvre, in order to ask the audience to reconsider these artists. The fabric lined vestibule serves as both the entrance to and part of this dialogue.

Overall, the presence of textiles at the Whitney Biennial stands as testament to fiber’s place among “high” art in the museum.

Image sources, from top down: aibartincontext.wordpress.com, artnet.com, avaxnews.com, whitney.org, artinfo.com, nytimes.com. 

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