Philadelphia— This year The Fabric Workshop and Museum (FWM) unpacks its own history, along with a good number of little-known narratives within contemporary art. The occasion is its 40th anniversary and capping the year has been the literal unpacking of a rarely exhibited holding within the Museum’s collection—Artist Boxes bursting with notes, sketches, tests, prototypes and ephemera packed by an array of artists ranging from Laurie Anderson, Cai Guo-Qiang and Richard Tuttle to Mark Bradford, Hella Jongerius and Robert Pruitt.
On view from December 15, 2017 to March 25, 2018, Process and Practice: 40 Years of Experimentation pairs evocative items from more than 100 Artist Boxes with the finished works produced in FWM’s Workshop. The selection is drawn from 371 boxes stacked floor to ceiling in the Museum’s archive and from the permanent collection of some 5,000 objects. Finished works too large for the exhibition will be represented by photographs. Videos drawn from FWM’s collection of artist interviews and documentation of artists at work will also be shown in the galleries.
The Fabric Workshop and Museum was founded as both a workshop and an exhibition space by the visionary Marion Boulton “Kippy” Stroud, who led it for 38 years. Stroud created a program whereby visiting artists would work with highly skilled artist technicians to realize ambitious projects that were often otherwise beyond their reach. Since its inception, the Museum has collected the process materials from the artist residencies into boxes as tangible evidence of the artmaking process.
“Early on in my tenure, members of the staff urged me to look through the boxes to gain insight into the Museum’s impact on the field and better understand its history,” says exhibition curator and FWM Executive Director, Susan Lubowsky Talbott. “Tissue paper was drawn back, fabric unfolded, layers of source material sifted through and notes read. It was a thrilling experience and a way of connecting to the artists—to their thoughts, creative leaps and even false starts. The experience led to this exhibition.”
A number of the objects on view document what are today considered milestones in contemporary art practice. Among these, process material from Chris Burden’s L.A.P.D Uniforms and Gary Simmons’ Step in the Arena (The Essentialist Trap), both exhibited in 1994, are especially timely for their engagement with the issues of violence and race in America. Talbott notes that when she opened the box for the former, the contents revealed the extensive research conducted by Burden and FWM staff to create the larger-than-life replicas of the LAPD uniforms. A label inside one of the uniform shirt prototypes reads, ‘WPL #4304 Guarantees this article to meet or exceed, the Los Angeles Police Department specifications.’
Visitors to Process and Practice also will encounter items from boxes that track exciting conceptual leaps, as when Jim Hodges created the first of his large, sculptural floral veils (Every Touch, 1995) or when Roy Lichtenstein moved from painted canvas to screen printing on textile in a work that takes the form of a silk sateen shirt (Untitled, 1979) painted with the Benday dots and bands of color that became his trademark. Still other boxes illuminate the progress of an idea, such as one from Lenore Tawney’s 1980-1982 residency, in which notes documenting an exacting process of color correction were found among cloth fragments and antique German and Austrian buttons of intricate lace and thread.
Process and Practice: 40 Years of Experimentation features a good many works of art exhibited for the first time in decades, as well as the never-before-exhibited, such as Untitled (pulpit no. 2.5) by Nate Young (2016). Also included is a box from a ‘unfinished,’ project—i.e., one that was never finally realized—that also has an interesting story to tell. Vito Acconci’s Leaf Shirt box (1986) reveals a trove of experimental materials, from annotated sketches and stamps of leaves on muslin and satin to one small Polaroid collage of women’s breasts. Never completed, the shirt was to mimic a naked chest covered in ivy—and the discomforting wit of this idea foreshadowed his later giant bra series.
Some box contents speak eloquently to the sheer delight of visual imagination, like the burst of bunnies from Claes Oldenburg’s Calico Bunny box (1997) and the many-colored silk organza shirts nested inside each other in descending sizes like Russian dolls in Do Ho Suh’s Paratrooper II box (2005). Other boxes showcase the magnitude of projects undertaken by FWM, such as María Fernanda Cardoso’s, which contains yards of mint green, orange and poppy-red fabric and a small-scale model of the intricately decorated “big top” tent from her 1997 performance-based installation Cardoso Flea Circus. While the finished work was deemed too large to fit in the galleries, it will be represented by photographs and performance documentation as will several other large-scale installations.
By opening up the Artists’ Boxes in a systematic way, The Fabric Workshop and Museum has found mysteries yet to unpack—why, for instance, does the David Ireland box of 1989 not match the projects he created in that residency? Also uncovered are works in need of conservation, including Mona Hatoum’s Pin Carpet (1995). Says Talbott, “Our recent research has yielded the Museum a bonanza, whether it be by opening up lines of inquiries for future scholarship or by clarifying conservation needs.”
Artists, A to Z
The 84 artists represented in Process and Practice are Vito Acconci, Doug Aitkin, Laurie Anderson, Janine Antoni, Miroslaw Balka, Lynda Benglis, Ecke Bonk, Mark Bradford, Louise Bourgeois, Denise Scott Brown, Chris Burden, Scott Burton, María Fernanda Cardoso, Lenka Clayton, Willie Cole, Dale Chihuly, Mark Dion, Leonardo Drew, Teresita Fernández, Viola Frey, Tom Friedman, Nancy Graves, Renée Green, Red Grooms, Ann Hamilton, Trenton Doyle Hancock, Anna Halprin, Mona Hatoum, Mary Heilmann, Jim Hodges, Cynthia Hopkins, David Ireland, Joan Jonas, Hella Jongerius, Tommy Joseph, Narelle Jubelin, Jun Kaneko, Anish Kapoor, Frank Faulkner, Robert Kushner, Roy Lichtenstein, Glenn Ligon, Donald Lipski, Tristin Lowe, Lysiane Luong, Jiha Moon, Robert Morris, Louise Nevelson, Kori Newkirk, Claes Oldenburg, Laura Owens, Jorge Pardo, Stephen Petronio, J. Morgan Puett, Robert Pruitt, Cai Guo-Qiang, Faith Ringgold, Matthew Ritchie, Ed Ruscha, Alison Saar, Betye Saar, Jean Shin, Yinka Shonibare, Shahzia Sikander, Gary Simmons, Do Ho Suh, Kiki Smith, Pat Steir, Jana Sterbak, Sarah Sze, Lenore Tawney, Toshiko Takaezu, Richard Tuttle, Robert Venturi, Ursula von Rydingsvard, Kara Walker, Nari Ward, Marie Watt, Carrie Mae Weems, Rachel Whiteread, Betty Woodman, Mario Ybarra, Jr., Nate Young and Claire Zeisler.