Why Is Textile Art So Rare in NYC?

Although NYC is known for embracing all styles of artistic expression and even inventing a few, one form has a difficult time finding friends here: textile art. Hold on a minute, you say. What about Billie Zangewa’s show at Lehmann Maupin last fall, Sanford Biggers at the Bronx Museum of the Arts, or those quilt shows the American Folk Art Museum does every few years? Well, yes, those are artists or craft forms that use textile materials, but we don’t know of any gallery that specializes in textile arts (but if there is one, let us know so we can visit) or has more than a general interest in the technique.

Some of this must be a bit of art world snobbery, where this kind of material is seen as part of craft or trade objects as opposed to a genuine artistic method. But we tend to feel it’s more about ignorance, because it happens to be very difficult to work with cloth or fibrous materials: fabric or raw textile material has many quirks and challenges from a technical as well as artistic point of view. But when an artist succeeds in molding the material to an idea, the result can be deeply satisfying both intellectually and visually.

To see what we mean, stop by the Fridman Gallery on the Bowery and see their latest show ‘Dindga McCannon: In Plain Sight’, which has a beautifully expressive selection of McCannon’s textile works along with paintings and a single sculptural piece. For decades, her desire to educate and inform viewers about Black American history through her art has been the cornerstone of her practice and teaching and in the process, created a memorable narrative style.

Other forms of textile art may be a little more traditional in form, such as clothing, but no less complex and inventive. The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s new exhibit, ‘In America: A Lexicon of Fashion’, takes various intangible qualities of humanity as a filter to examine American fashions from the 1940s to the present. Outfits are contextualized through ideas ranging from nostalgia and comfort to belonging and consciousness, with the hope that these themes will encourage visitors to reflect on both the history and current social issues of the United States, just as the clothing designers have done. It’s a new direction for The Costume Institute’s annual show, and we’ll be watching with interest to see if the public has an appetite for it after the political and public upheavals of the last eighteen months or if they prefer the extravaganzas of the past.