Extra Large Tapestries from Picasso and Le Corbusier to Louise Bourgeois
March 28.2020 to January 3.2021 at the Kunsthal Rotterdam
Within this exhibition, the tapestries that were produced in the French state manufactories were presented for the first time in the Netherlands. Designed by 35 of the most prestigious artists of the past 100 years, the 56 exhibited tapestries span the period from World War I to the present day. Apart from the fact that many of these tapestries clearly represent their original purpose of luxury, prestige, cultural identity and display of power, they also, and especially, reveal just how surprisingly vibrant the traditional craft of weaving still is.
The exhibition uncovers a relatively unknown aspect in the world of many modern and contemporary artists. Without exception, these textile masterpieces were created in close collaboration with the weavers of the French state manufactories. The combination of artistic finesse and superb craftsmanship remains unsurpassed to this day. From preparing the design up to the finished result, creating a large-scale tapestry still takes thousands of working hours. At the same time, the manufactories continue to reinvent themselves within the possibilities offered by the combination of ancient weaving techniques and creative innovation.
In the light of the recent debate about gender, textile art is currently attracting a great deal of attention. As an act of subversion and an expression of individuality, young artists are increasingly choosing to work in this so-called “Typical feminine” and often devaluated medium.
This was the original introduction to the general public to this remarkable exhibition, that I reprint in total to give a feeling of how textiles in art are now everywhere reconsidered by exhibition curators. For me this exhibition, that I visited in July 2020 was an eye opener in so far as I never have seen such a long period of tapestry weaving- in extremely large format- in one exhibition! On top of that , most of the works were not or seldom shown to a larger public and that made it fresh and unexpected.
Living in Germany , I was especially surprised to see tapestries by the German painter Werner Peiner, woven in France for Nazis like Hermann Göring, next to a huge portrait after a cartoon by Paul Charlemagne of Marshall Pétain, who collaborated with the Nazis during WO II. The above mentioned display of power and prestige was all to present in these works. All authoritarian regimes seem to like huge tapestries, not only the Nazis but also in the German Democratic Republic , in Russia and more or less all the countries behind the former Iron Curtain.
Happily these kind of commissions has now stopped, and in the case of France, after WO II commissions were directed towards modern painters like Dufy, Picasso, Vasarely, Picasso, Leger, Sonia Delaunay and many more.
From the 60s t0 the late 8os when the Lausanne Biennales revolutionized two dimensinal tapesty art into sculptural textile art , and from on the early 70s also the French manufactories started experimental research workshops to carry out weaving tests using new materials or synthetic threads. An unconventional approach to material was encouraged, daring to question existing boundaries. For the first time, different manufactories pooled resources to realize the tapestry triptych by the sculptor Alicia Penalba: the techniques employed by the Manufacture des Gobelins and the Manufacture de la Savonnerie were combined to produce a relief-like version of a wall hanging. They also experimented with differing thickness of wool thread, which would be used again two decades later for Louise Bourgeois work “Saint Sébastienne”.
Despite being open to new approaches, the state manufactories still consider it their duty to preserve the traditional techniques of the weavers´ craft. As a matter of principle, the state manufactories invariably upheld tapestry´s basic function as a two-dimensional wall decoration.