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See a giant abstract fabric inchworm at the ICA's new exhibition

The ICA brings its never-before-seen artwork to the US in a new exhibit showcasing fiber sculpture.

"Pure Spatial Element" by Elise Giauque at the ICA's Fiber exhibit. Credit: Lisa Weidenfeld "Pure Spatial Element" by Elise Giauque at the ICA's Fiber exhibit.
Credit: Lisa Weidenfeld

The Institute of Contemporary Art opened its newest exhibit on Oct. 1, called "Fiber: Sculpture 1960-present." The title is very intentional. Jenelle Porter, Mannion Family senior curator, says, "I wanted it to be a sculpture show," rather than a display of hangings. The works by 33 artists are all crafted from some kind of cloth material, and all play with concepts of space and gravity. While early work with materials like the ones exhibited here was often wall hangings done on looms, many of the artists exhibited at the ICA were keenly interested in, as Porter puts it, "addressing the grid, messing with the grid, breaking the grid down."

Indeed, walking through the exhibit, guests will find some art on the walls, but even more draped across the floor, or hanging from the ceiling like a giant, colorful waterfall. That giant waterfall is courtesy of artist Sheila Hicks, who's been working with fiber art for 50 years. "For me, it's what is the emotion, the expression, the feeling when you come into contact with it," Hicks says, when asked what the waterfall represented to her. Fiber art can also mean some changes in the way the art is shipped: Porter showed off the collection of laundry bags that Hicks' art showed up in.

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Francoise Grossen's "Inchworm" was a little more explicit: It does look a bit like a worm along the floor. But in a good way! Grossen joked that maybe she shouldn't have named it that, because it made it too easy to think about what the piece was. Though "Inchworm" stretches across the floor, Grossen says she's been moving away from floor pieces lately, for a very simple reason. "It takes too much space."

Not all of the art is so earthy. Elsi Giauque's work, as seen in the image above, is much more geometric, and hangs in a series of grids taking up almost a third of the room. Porter says that Giauque's work has never been seen in North America before.

The whole exhibit is quite the passion project for Porter, who spent years poring over old exhibition books, since much of the art wasn't preserved. (Read our breakdown of how they reconstructed an old Robert Roehm piece that had been destroyed.) Preservation issues generally can be problematic with art like this: an information booklet warns that certain works are displayed in dim lighting to prevent decay.

The exhibit's commitment to breaking down the idea of what constitutes fabric art goes beyond the walls. There's even art (by Sheila Pepe) draped in the elevator shaft for the glass elevator taking guests up to the second floor.

Fiber: Sculpture 1960-present runs from now through Jan. 4. And don't forget to take a look out the elevator while you're at it.

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