Artisanal Modernism

, University Teaching Gallery, Harvard Art Museums

Gunta Stölzl, Textile Sample, 20th century. Textile fibers. Harvard Art Museums/Busch-Reisinger Museum, Association Fund, BR49.697. © Stölzl Estate, VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

University Teaching Gallery, Harvard Art Museums

Complementing seminars taught in Harvard’s Department of History of Art and Architecture in 2022 and 2023, this installation probes the relationship between modernist painting and modern textiles to subvert the traditional hierarchy of value within which these arts have typically been understood.

The ultimate objective is to produce a more inclusive and expansive history of the development of modernism since the later 19th century—one that is better able to acknowledge the labor of women as artists and artisans.

Highlights include a cluster of works by Edouard Vuillard, which show his mother and sister dressmaking in their family home, where he lived and painted for much of his life. Sonia Delaunay is represented by a late lithograph that harks back to her very first abstraction in 1911, which was a patchwork coverlet for her newborn child. The modernist grid of Anni Albers’s large-scale wall hanging lays bare the structural condition of weaving itself—the interaction of warp and weft threads. Textile samples and swatches by Bauhaus weavers Gunta Stölzl and Otti Berger offer either freewheeling experiments or prototypes for mass production, including for the seats and backs of tubular metal furniture. In her drawings, Ruth Asawa redeploys the rubber stamps that were used in Black Mountain College’s laundry room to categorize bed linens, while Mary Lee Bendolph translates into fine art prints the abstract patterns of her decades-long practice of quilting at Gee’s Bend.

This installation’s related course is taught by Maria Gough, Joseph Pulitzer, Jr. Professor of Modern Art, Harvard University.

A digital catalogue comprising object essays by graduate and undergraduate students in the 2022 seminar was designed for the installation by Alexandra Dennett, Ph.D. student in the Department of History of Art and Architecture. Click here to access the catalogue.

The University Teaching Gallery serves faculty and students affiliated with Harvard’s Department of History of Art and Architecture. Semester-long installations are mounted here in conjunction with undergraduate and graduate courses, supporting instruction in the critical analysis of art and making unique selections from the museums’ collections available to all visitors.

This installation is made possible in part by funding from the Gurel Student Exhibition Fund and the José Soriano Fund. Modern and contemporary art programs at the Harvard Art Museums are made possible in part by generous support from the Emily Rauh Pulitzer and Joseph Pulitzer, Jr., Fund for Modern and Contemporary Art.