“Throughout the history of art, the use of fabric has been a fascination for artists. Fabric, like clothing or skin, is fragile; it translates the unique quality of impermanence.” —Christo and Jeanne-Claude
For millennia, textile artists and manufacturers have created fabrics for very specific purposes, such as clothing, sails, or interior decoration. More recently, especially since the 1960s, artists have created sculptures and installations from found, purchased, or appropriated fabric, rejecting the weight or durability of traditional sculptural materials like stone or wood. Claes Oldenburg, Robert Morris, Yayoi Kusama, and Joseph Beuys, among others, used felt and other consumer-grade fabrics to create “soft sculptures”; Christo and Jean-Claude draped entire buildings and natural geological formations in millions of square feet of bright or shimmery textiles to draw attention to their impermanence. In his recreation of historic European costumes, Yinka Shonibare uses the colorful patterns of Dutch wax fabric—popularly associated with Africa, but actually produced in Holland—to highlight the role textiles have played in the history of colonialism and global trade.