The institutional revisionism of figures including Anni Albers and Ruth Asawa seems to suggest that textiles have been permitted entrance into the holy vault of acceptable art-historical media. Yet as Julia Bryan-Wilson maintained in her 2017 book Fray: Art and Textile Politics, the discursive latency of textiles and other crafts is precisely to scramble such divisions between fine and applied, high and low, professional and amateur, while rebuking and exploiting gendered notions of making. But a latency is just that—a possibility—until we have eye- or stitch-opening instantiations such as like Ingrid Wiener’s newest exhibition here.
Wiener, an under-recognized figure certainly in the United States if not in Germany, is her own testament to the variegated labors of the artistic profession. Studying textile design in Vienna in the early 1960s, Wiener (née Schuppan) joined an Austrian avant-garde that included Valie Export, and her future husband, the cyberneticist Oswald Wiener. After first emigrating to Berlin in 1969, the Wieners took up residence in the Yukon’s Dawson City in 1984, running a café and lodgings for gold diggers. Textiles, as documents both private and collective, here gather oblique connotations of biography, craft, domesticity, and entrepreneurship. Atelier Markus Lüpertz, 1992–93, a work of wool, cotton, and silk, for example, remotivates the sundry imagery of the titular Neoexpressionist: Corvids and squirrels bounce over a piano through a carefully delineated weft-and-warp pattern. The dreamy motifs seem personal but not totally idiosyncratic, citational but not simulacral. Might textiles articulate the imagistic unconscious of consumer culture more than Euro-American Pop painting ever could? The Holy See of Whitehouse Cabins, 2003, even manages to suggest a distanced masculinism within Gerhard Richter’s reified still lifes.
The large-scale installation Norden, 2010–12, expands an imagined scene of quotidian weaving into a broader, archaeological travelogue. On one wall, Wiener has hung the ready-made leather shirt of Lincoln Ellsworth—one of the first explorers to traverse the North Pole by plane—and in a vitrine in the gallery’s center she has compiled imagery based on his travels. These images culminate in another wall tapestry with depictions of Ellsworth’s garment and various Alaskan vistas. The performatively collagic nature of tapestries, like that of quilts, opens the border of the home to memory, identification, and a touch of the geopolitical. Maybe textiles were too capacious for establishment inclusion, after all.