At the MOCA Cleveland, the exhibition “Wall to Wall: Carpets by Artists” presents some of the best contemporary artists through the lens of craft.
The Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) Cleveland unveils an ambitious new exhibition that positions the woven carpet as a vital medium in today’s interdisciplinary culture, one that serves simultaneously as object, concept and adornment.
The “artist carpet” is a form that bears a long and distinguished historical pedigree, from Raphael and Peter Paul Rubens, to Pablo Picasso, Fernand Léger, and Joan Mirò. Yet, “Wall to Wall” takes as its point of departure a history of art rather than history of medium, focusing on the ways in which these objects advance relevant ideas and practices today. Unlike exhibitions that examine artist carpets through an ethnographic lens detached from the world of art, “Wall to Wall” proposes that these carpets function in a continuum of modern art history as a critical form that is accelerating in use and application.
“Wall to Wall” is structured by five basic categories for comparative analysis: “Eastern,” “Geometry,” “Icon,” “Text,” and “Materiality.” Starting with progenitor Alighiero Boetti, one of the first contemporary artists to employ craft traditions in foreign ethnic contexts as a form of readymade, Wall to Wall explores artists whose work in carpets taps into, and bridges, traditions and histories from East to West, such as Faig Ahmed and Ken Lum. Pierre Bismuth, whose works draws upon mathematical and architectural traditions, is considered alongside Sarah Morris, who integrates an urban grid to the carpet’s woven surface. Artists like Joseph Kosuth apply their ongoing critical exploration of language and relationships to the carpet, while others like Polly Apfelbaum emphasize the carpet’s common function as something to walk on.
Some, like Christian Jankowski, realize gestural practices like drawing and mapping in carpet-form, while others like Alexandra Kehayoglou transform the carpet into a lush fiber landscape. Franz West’s floral motif is featured, literally, wall-to-wall in the exhibition, while Maurizio Cattelan’s quirky, digitally-printed carpets are presented on the spine of the Museum’s externally-visible Donna + Stewart Kohl Atrium. The role of production and delegation is tended to as well in “Wall to Wall”. Carpets demonstrate the process spectrum, from the handmade to the industrially manufactured. The featured carpets represent diverse approaches to collaboration as well: artist and weaver, artist and designer, artist and producer, artist and commercial business. These relationships reveal the blurring of traditional domains between art, craft, and design, and emphasize shifts in artisanal traditions and weaving centers across the globe. Wall to Wall raises questions about the geopolitics of production and the art market as expressed in the carpet, and the ways in which both respond to and express the significance of the artist in creating value and demand.
The artist carpet models the interwoven nature of art, design, craft, industry, and sociocultural politics today. With range and depth, “Wall to Wall” reveals how and why artists are advancing contemporary art practice through this ancient yet persistent medium.