Wearables and wall hangings with intricate patterns and detailed faces and figures push the bounds of the fiber and craft movement.
In fact, some of the pieces in Excellence in Fibers V don’t look like they’ve been woven together at all.
Excellence in Fibers V brings together some of the best in fiber and craft art at Muskegon Museum of Art this winter. The exhibition moves entries published in Fiber Art Now off the page and puts them in a real-life venue.
“A lot of expectations are being defied,” said Art Martin, MMA’s director of collections and exhibitions and senior curator. “You come in thinking you are going to see quilts and, initially, you don’t think you are looking at a quilt. It looks like a painting, and you realize it’s all done in assembled fabric.”
Excellence in Fibers V features nearly 40 diverse works by artists from the United States and Canada that were among the top entries in the 2019 Excellence in Fibers, an annual, international juried fine arts competition organized by the Fiber Art Network. Viewers can study large-scale wall hangings, unique vessel basketry, wearables that address the #MeToo movement and a bombed-out Mosul, and see Biggie Smalls on a quilt.
“They are very much on the pulse of contemporary political, culture and social issues,” Martin said. “They feel very now and of the moment, but at the same time, because they are fiber, they are very accessible and beautiful. We wear fabric every day; it’s on our beds, on our bodies, on our furniture.”
Fiber arts encompass anything using weaving or textile as a broad generalization. The final exhibition represents striking examples of a wide array of textile and fiber-based pieces including sculpture, tapestry, jewelry, costume, clothing, quilting, weaving, basketry, installation, and more.
“These are artists who are showing their fibers all over the world; they are teaching all over the U.S. and Canada,” Martin said, noting a few artists have been included in past MMA exhibitions.
People tend to gravitate toward fiber art because it is accessible and relatable, Martin notes, which made it a great fit for the museum.
“You really get down into this wonder people have of how things are made. People seem to appreciate fine crafting, fine handiwork.”
As for social commentary, the works are “sophisticatedly social” and ask more questions than answers given.
“It brings these issues to light, but they are not didactic, they are not beating you over the head with it.”
From pedestal-size baskets to towering textiles that fill entire walls, Excellence in Fibers offers “new perspectives for how we see and interact with our world, and how deeply such familiar materials as cloth and thread can confound our expectations,” according to Martin.
As the hosting venue, Muskegon Museum of Art curated the exhibit and handled the logistics of collecting the work from the individual artists and the transportation costs. Martin was charged with culling from entries chosen by a panel of jurors for the 2019 competition and organizing them into a cohesive and visually appealing display.
Fiber Art Network evolved from the magazine Fiber Art Now, an internationally distributed publication focused on fiber art with a strong following. The Fiber Art Network has since developed into an organization for the contemporary fiber arts and textiles community.
“We bring a community of more than 100,000 followers and readers,” said Marcia Young, publisher and editor-in-chief of Fiber Art Now. “We heavily promote the show and the venue. We try to be a really strong partner for them."
Each year, Fiber Art Network receives hundreds of entries for the competition, from artists around the world. A team of expert jurors representing artists, curators, and designers wades through the online submissions and selects about 50 works for the magazine.
Those top entries are featured in a special edition of the magazine as a way of showcasing the current state of the fiber arts movement. This competition issue, coming out in early December, also serves as a catalogue to accompany the exhibit.
Then comes the roaming Excellence in Fibers exhibition, now in its fifth year, which features select winners from the competition. Past venues include Craft in America Center in Los Angeles, Visions Art Museum in Los Angeles, and New Bedford Art Museum in Massachusetts.
“Excellence in Fibers is our biggest and most well-known and most impactful exhibition,” Young said. “The venue gets to select the work that best fits their audience and their space.”
Martin served as a juror for Excellence in Fibers a couple of years ago and became familiar with the competition and jurying process. He learned that in some cases, the works are not available to travel or the international shipping costs make it cost-prohibitive to include them in the exhibition.
For the competition, the work is not divided into mediums but organized into five categories: Wall/Floor Works: including quilts, tapestries, weavings, carpets, or works intended for wall or floor display; Sculptural Works: three-dimensional pieces; Vessel Forms/Basketry: functional work and sculptural expressions of the vessel form; Installation Works: three-dimensional work created as an environment; and Wearables: body adornments such as wearable art clothing, accessories, and jewelry.
“A lot of the newer artists, they have no preconceived notions,” Young said. “They just use whatever techniques they want to use to accomplish their work. Fiber art is being shown with other mediums, and it’s all getting integrated, and that is one of our priorities to get it seen more and integrated into fine crafts and art.”
To that end, the number of works selected for each category is proportional to the number of entries for that category. This keeps the possibilities wide open while putting the focus on the makers’ intentions, Young said.
“At the core of all meaningful art is the intention behind it and the attention and meaning that the artist puts into it.”