Review: Françoise Grossen, a Fabric Artist Inspired by Other Fields
By: Martha Schwendener
In the catalog for “Fiber Art: Sculpture 1960-Present,” an exhibition that’s been touring the United States since last year, Françoise Grossen offered a succinct description of her generation’s approach: “First we broke with the rectangle, then we broke with the wall.” That is, artists in the ’60s ditched the loom and the modernist grid — primary tools of Bauhaus practitioners like Anni Albers — and drew inspiration from fields like experimental dance, where movement and space were being re-evaluated.
This small, excellent retrospective of Ms. Grossen’s work from 1967 to 1991 offers plenty of examples. The earliest piece here, “Swan” (1967), resembles a macramé tapestry made of undyed sisal. It was in the germinal “Wall Hangings” exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in 1969 and still hugs the wall. “Sisyphe” (1974), a magnificent sculpture made of manila rope and laid out on a low platform, is reminiscent of elaborately braided hair or masses of coiled rope on a ship’s deck. Works from her “Metamorphosis” series (1987-90) are suspended from the ceiling like hanging nets or carcasses with exposed skeletons.
Ms. Grossen has worked almost exclusively with rope, knotting and braiding it, and some of the works here, made from untreated fiber, have a strong olfactory component — like standing in a barn or a field of cut hay. Others, treated with plaster or acrylic paint, have no smell but are covered with dark, muted pigment.
Ms. Grossen’s works recall those of fiber artists from her generation, such as Sheila Hicks, Claire Zeisler and Lenore Tawney, as well as younger artists like Sheila Pepe and Orly Genger. But her works reach beyond the fiber art world, to Process artists like Eva Hesse and Barry Le Va. (Ms. Grossen, who was born in Switzerland and moved to New York in 1969, also studied with Bernard Kester at the University of California, Los Angeles in the ’60s and worked for the textile designer Jack Lenor Larsen.) Like other branches of art history populated primarily by women, fiber art’s rich legacy got a little lost, but it — and Ms. Grossen’s contribution — are being favorably revisited now.