Will spring never come? Baby Fitz has seen a great deal of art the last couple of months, partly because we can’t navigate snow-covered sidewalks with the stroller. This week we strolled through the second floor of MIA, entered the center courtyard area, and I stopped short. Jan Groth! Huge tapestries! When did this happen!? There weren’t labels yet, so I called my friend Beth McLaughlin, Textile Conservator at the adjoining Midwest Center for Conservation. What’s the deal?
They were just being installed; three of four were up on Tuesday. Now there are four. Three are on loan. The fourth, “Sign (1979),” is owned by the museum, a recent acquisition.
From the museum website:
Jan Groth is best known for his decades-long exploration of the relationship between form and field, line and picture plane. He alternates between different media – crayon on paper drawings, metal sculptures, and wool tapestries – but he is best known for his tapestries, which he regards as central to his oeuvre. Groth has said that his work is about “silence and light,” and “the balance between almost something and almost nothing.” He cites the restrained work of Giorgio Morandi, Alberto Giacometti, and Henri Michaux as important early influences.
Here are the two weavings on one side of the fountain courtyard. (MIA’s “Sign” is on the left.)
Here are the two on the other side. I am happy that at least one is vaguely within range to view the “weaverly” aspects.
If you look down on the courtyard from the third floor, you see the tapestries to the right and left. I’ve always appreciated that the courtyard has such a nice view of the sculpture in the gallery beyond. 🙂
Here is the sign identifying the four tapestries.
And here is the biographical label. I have read about Jan Groth in the past, and knew he collaborated with his wife Benedikte Groth, but I hadn’t remembered that she taught him to weave. He married his weaving instructor!
I was lucky to see a recent Jan Groth solo exhibition, “The Festival Exhibition 2017” at Bergen Kunsthall in Bergen, Norway. I could examine the tapestries closely, and it was an amazing experience to stand in front of each tapestry right at my own height. It was like being enveloped in black. The black was so dense that my camera refused to take it all in, it could only report back dark gray. (I adjusted my photos afterwards.) The spare lines bear examination from across the room and also up close. There is great mastery in weaving those lines, in choosing exactly when the white and black should be over any given warp thread. These are my inadequate photos from the Bergen Kunsthall exhibit.
Beth helped to mount the tapestries, and she sent me a behind the scenes photo. “As only a weaver could appreciate, here’s a photo of the back of the hem on one of the Groth tapestries,” she wrote. At first I looked and thought it wasn’t so interesting, but then I noticed an instructive detail. The edges are merely knotted, and the hem folded over. But notice that there are a myriad of small stitches on the back. I assume that is so that the hem is sewn to the face of the tapestry so that it is very flat.
These are tapestries that lose so much in photographs. If you can get to MIA, you should, to get lost in the beautiful black expanses and to appreciate the spare beauty of Groth’s strokes across the tapestry canvases. For further inspiration and next-best-thing-to-being-there photos of his work, see: jangroth.net.