Françoise Grossen at Blum & Poe New York
By: Wendy Vogel
In the two years since septuagenarian Swiss-born artist Françoise Grossen mounted her first show here, several institutional exhibitions have positioned her as one of the most inventive fiber artists of her generation. Grossen’s strange, corporeal forms speak to her eclectic training—she studied architecture and textiles in Europe, got an MFA in California, and spent a great deal of time in Africa, observing various craft techniques. This show features twenty works from 1970 to the early 1990s, showcasing the breadth of a practice that, as she describes it, “broke with the wall.”
Based in New York since the 1960s, Grossen’s influences include experimental dance choreography made for the floor. The piece Embryo, 1987, composed of knotted manila and cotton rope wrapped at the base with synthetic material, resembles a defeated, floor-bound body—or one tucked into child’s pose. Works such as Timbuctu, Alpha, and Delta (all 1991–92) suggest darker histories; suspended from the ceiling and tinged with red, they look like punished flesh.
The show takes an archival turn with a gallery devoted to Grossen’s large-scale public installations of the 1970s and 1980s—often commissioned for incongruously sterile spaces. A wall of black-and-white photos documents her dramatic knotted constructions in open-plan offices, hotel ballrooms, and cavernous university buildings. The opposite wall displays scale models of the installations, such as the intricately braided Maquette for Citibank, 111 Wall Street NY, 1979, in shades of earthy burnt orange and burgundy. In the rougher-hewn Rudin Management Fragment, 1981, dozens of golden ropes hold a loose wad of fabric—it feels like a long, gauzy mass of hair. It’s hard not to read the jarring shift in aesthetics and politics of the Reagan years in this work, and the gulf that would divide Grossen’s art from the hard-edge geometric work we typically see in the corporate lobbies of today.