Since its invention by Joseph Marie Jacquard in the late 1700s, the eponymous technique of Jacquard weaving has revolutionized tapestry-making. Whereas previously weavers and textile artists had been limited to more rudimentary looms, this new breed of machine allowed unparalleled control of individual threads—unlocking limitless possibilities for craftsmen and artists alike. In “Woven,” a new exhibition at Santa Fe’s Turner Carroll Gallery, we find evidence of just how far the technology has come, opening doors for some of today’s biggest artists.
At the center of the exhibition are works by husband-and-wife Don and Era Farnsworth, whose pioneering textile works have long explored an interest in the intersection of art, myth, science, and spirituality. Whether depicting Buddhist imagery or creating mythologies of their own, the Farnsworths describe their goal as “aesthetic animism,” finding a common ground that unifies both religious and artistic traditions from around the globe. A towering figure in modern printing practice, Don is the proprietor of Magnolia Editions, a groundbreaking press that has transformed digital techniques of printing and Jacquard weaving; indeed, it is thanks to the collaborations facilitated by his “Tapestry Project” that the many brilliant artists in this exhibition, from Squeak Carnwath to Chuck Close, have been able to try their hand at textiles.
Other standout works in “Woven” include a stunningly photorealistic piece by Alan Magee—one of his trademark compositions of river stones, flawlessly translated into tapestry thanks to Farnsworth’s technology—and an enormous Alex Katz, Ada with Sunglasses, based on a 1990 portrait of his wife. In a painstaking process, Farnsworth and Katz worked together for months to agree on the palette of 500 colors to be used in the work, an extraordinary number by textile standards. Some of the most affecting works come from Hung Liu, who takes her signature appropriation of archival photographs one step further by transferring her paintings to tapestry. Centering on her fascination with reactivating forgotten parts of Chinese history, Liu’s works in the show include Last Emperor, a depiction of Pu Yi, China’s coddled and manipulated final emperor who assumed the throne at age two in 1908. In Liu’s works, as in all of “Woven,” the medium’s weighty history of its own—referencing craft, industrialization, gender, labor—adds another layer of complexity.
“Woven” is on view at Turner Carroll Gallery, Santa Fe, March 17–April 7th, 2014.