Floppy Cloth lecture

Floppy Cloth: textile exhibition strategies inside the white cube will be presented at the Textile Thinking symposium held at the Zhejiang Art Museum, Hangzhou, China September 26, 2016 in association with the Hangzhou Triennial of Fiber Art.

Textiles are notoriously difficult to display in the gallery setting. Cloth sags. It creases, wrinkles and droops. In response, some artists stretch and frame their work. Others trap cloth behind glass where there is no chance of knowing through touch. Worse still, endless miles of monofilament suspend installations without ever really managing to be invisible. Quilts taken from the bed and moved to the gallery wall are often then compared (unfavourably) to paintings they were never trying to be. Similarly, carpets can misbehave under the weight of their new vertical orientation. But attempts at casual dropping or folding often feel contrived.

It is tempting to see lengths of fabric as unfinished until they are made into a recognisable object. Empty clothing suffers a similar trouble only partially solved by the uncanny distraction of the mannequin. But to appreciate pattern, texture or fibre the textile does not necessarily need to be made into anything else… yet. To complicate matters further, photographs of textiles are a poor substitute. The lens flattens texture and everything we learn through the hands is channelled instead through the eyes.

Textiles occupy a meaningful and deserved place in the art gallery. But display strategies often do the particular qualities of cloth a disservice. This lecture considers a variety of strategies for the display of textiles inside the white cube. Included in the discussion will be the recent exhibitions Losing the Compass, White Cube Mason's Yard, London (8 Oct. 2015 - 9 Jan. 2016); Fiber at the KANEKO Center, Omaha, Nebraska (Feb. 6–April 25, 2015); Form through Colour: Josef Albers, Anni Albers and Gary Hume at the East Wing Galleries, Somerset House, London (5 June – 31 Aug. 2014); and artists such as Maxine Bristow, Susan Collis, Petter Hellsing, Ptolemy Mann, Anna Von Mertens and Emelie Röndahl.

An expanded version of this lecture is published as "Floppy Cloth: textile exhibition strategies inside the white cube".

  • Image credit

    Form through Colour: Josef Albers, Anni Albers and Gary Hume, East Wing Galleries, Somerset House, London (2014)