Nomadic Murals: Contemporary Tapestries and Carpets

Boca Raton Museum of Art

Though the history of the medium of tapestry may stretch back more than 5,000 years, contemporary artists are exploring the potential of large-scale weaving in new and exciting ways. Nomadic Murals: Contemporary Tapestries and Carpets, on view at the Boca Raton Museum of Art from April 24 through October 21, 2018, is an exhibition of more than 40 carpets and tapestries by Aziz & Cucher, Alex Katz, Kiki Smith, Nancy Spero, William Kentridge, Fred Tomaselli, Kara Walker, and Kehinde Wiley, among others. The works in the show are conceived and executed as tapestries and not copies of works that already exist in painting or other media. These groundbreaking artists worked with experts in the field to create these colorful, magnificent, and monumental artworks.  

Nomadic Murals takes its title from pioneering modernist architect Le Corbusier, himself a producer of tapestry, who called tapestries “nomadic murals” because unlike paintings of similar size they are easily portable. This is one of the reasons that in Europe from the 14th century until relatively recently, tapestries were considered much more valuable than paintings and sculptures. They could easily be transported between the many royal residences, covered vast amounts of wall space, and absorbed sound and retained heat in cavernous castles. They were designed by artists, made by artisans, and coveted by kings and nobles who spent astounding amounts of money to procure them. Unlike smaller paintings, many tapestries did not survive the turmoil of their times. For example, French revolutionaries defaced these hated symbols of the ancient régime or burned them to extract gold threads. Fabric is also more prone to damage from insects and climate and can easily be cut into small pieces. 

The tapestry medium is ancient. It was used in Pharaonic Egypt, mentioned in Homer’s Iliad, and some scholars believe that tapestries covered the interior walls of the Parthenon. Raphael and Rubens were renowned for their tapestries but over the years the popularity of the medium has waxed and waned. The late Victorian Arts and Crafts movement saw a revival of interest in fabrics, and tapestry and carpets by artists were produced at Bauhaus, the German art school operational from 1919 to 1933 that combined crafts and the fine arts. Later in the 20th century artists including Picasso, Mirò, Dalí, Chagall, Calder, and Léger experimented with tapestry. Today, artists have increasingly incorporated tapestries and carpets into their oeuvre no matter the medium for which they are known.

The works in this show are conceived and executed as tapestries and not copies of works that already exist in painting or other media. Many of the tapestries were produced in collaboration with experts at Magnolia Editions in Oakland, CA and artisans in Belgium who employed the Jacquard weaving process first used in 1801, a kind of proto-computer punch card system that, when used with the latest technology, produces precise and luscious color and texture. Other producers include Equator Production, BravinLee Programs, The Stephens Tapestry Studio, The Rug Company, and Henzel Studio.

Nomadic Murals is made possible by the Museum’s Leadership Fund with major support generously provided by the Estate of Ardele L. Garrod, Jody H. & Martin Grass, Dalia & Duane Stiller, Angela & John DesPrez III, Patricia Savides, Steinberg Global Asset Management, Ltd., the Museum’s Friends Auxiliary, and those who wish to remain anonymous.