International Textile Art, 1960-1979

Lead Research Organisation: University College London
Department Name: History of Art


This studentship is designed to promote original and innovative research into international textile art in the 1960s and 70s and its place in the museum of modern and contemporary art. The doctoral project will explore the historical reception of textile media in the international circuits of twentieth century art, using a series of case-studies to focus attention on a small number of artists from Eastern Europe and Latin America and in particular, their role in landmark exhibitions in Western Europe and North America in the 1960s and 70s. Many of these artists have been represented within major western museum collections and exhibitions and yet further research is urgently needed to look at their work in depth. This study will address questions about the western reception of practices from 'elsewhere', in particular from countries under oppressive political regimes; the relationships between textile practices and 'folk' or indigenous traditions; the subversive potential of the textile medium; the position of textiles within the global histories of art and as presented within the museum of modern and contemporary art; and the significance of international exhibition circuits and networking structures and their legacies for textile-based art practice.

The project will build on the successful collaboration between Ann Coxon (Curator, Tate Modern) and Briony Fer (Professor, History of Art, UCL) in researching, curating and presenting the critically acclaimed Anni Albers exhibition and related conferences at Tate Modern and UCL. Broad academic and public interest in the exhibition has raised many questions about textile-based art practices. A number of recent exhibitions and research projects have looked back to textile-based art practice, 'fibre art' or soft art from the 1960s and 70s in an attempt to rediscover and redefine bodies of work using fibre, thread or rope, many of which have not been included in canonical accounts of twentieth century art history. Examples include the exhibition Fiber Sculpture: 1960 - present at the ICA Boston, 2014; Art & Textiles, at the Kunstmuseum Wolsburg, 2014; and Textiles: Open Letter at the Museum Abteiberg, Mönchengladbach in 2013. In addition, publications such as String, Felt, Thread: The Hierarchy of Art and Craft in American Art, 2009 by Elissa Auther or Fray: Art and Textile Politics, 2018 by Julia Bryan Wilson have considered the territory of textile art and craft practices in the US. At Tate Modern, textile works from the 1960s by Lenore Tawney, Sheila Hicks and Olga de Amaral have been acquired in the past decade and were brought together in the display titled Beyond Craft, 2017-18, and within the major retrospective exhibition Anni Albers, 2018-19. Despite this, and despite historical attempts to establish the importance of 'fiber art' in the US, or the significance of the radically expanded forms of tapestry at the international Lausanne Tapestry Biennial in the 1960s, these bodies of work remain under-researched and under-represented within academic and museum contexts.

While the above-mentioned exhibitions and projects have focused predominantly on artists from North America and Western Europe, this research project aims to explore the history and reception of certain textile-based practices from Eastern Europe and Latin America. Artists from Eastern Europe came to prominence in the 1960s at the Lausanne Tapestry Biennials, where they radically expanded the medium of tapestry, having affinities with others from North America and Western Europe. Key figures in the movement were inspired by their studies of Pre-Columbian textile techniques and practices, tracing a thread back to the Latin American regions. This project will critically examine these cultural, historic and geographic networks, taking into consideration the 'other transatlantic' modernisms arising from and between Eastern Europe and Latin America and the contribution of textile-based media.


10 25 50