Le Corbusier. Marie Cuttoli, 1936. © F.L.C. / ADAGP Paris 2013.
Francis Bacon. Sans titre, 1929. © Tate, London © The Estate of Francis Bacon. ADAGP Paris 2013.
Omega Workshops (Frederick Etchells). Ideal Home Exhibition Rug, 1913. Chelsea Space, University of the Arts, London. © ADAGP Paris 2013.
Anni Albers. With Verticals, 1946. © Josef and Anni Albers Foundation. Art Resource, New York © ADAGP Paris 2013.
Nathalie Du Pasquier. Equador, 1986. © Nathalie Du Pasquier.
Nina Beier. Fatigues, 2012. © Laura Bartlett Gallery, London.
Vincent Vulsma. WE455 (VIII), 2011. © Galerie Cinzia Friedlaender.


by Guillaume Benaich

The Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris has dedicated an entire floor to the art of textiles with more than a hundred rugs, tapestries, and freestanding sculptures by modern and contemporary artists. The scenography of the stylishly titled exhibition Decorum was designed by artist Marc Camille Chaimowicz, who, in a Surrealist touch, placed unexpected domestic objects on and around the carpets. Anne Dressen, the exhibition’s curator, grouped the works into the provocatively themed categories: The Painterly, The Sculptural, The Decorative, Orientalisms, and Primitivisms.

Spanning the modern rediscovery of textile art, Decorum highlights influential 20th-century makers including Le Corbusier, Pablo Picasso, Sophie Taeuber-Arp, Louise Bourgeois, and Italian Memphis group designer Nathalie du Pasquier. Arts and Crafts–era textiles are presented by the likes of William Morris, the Vienna Secession group, and the Omega Workshops in England, along with tapestries by Bauhaus weavers Anni Albers, Gunta Stölzl, and Johannes Itten.

Among a great collection of contemporary works, Fatigues (2012), by Berlin-based artist Nina Beier, is a remarkably subtle piece that stands out as a poignant reminder of the medium’s ephemeral nature. Beier tested the limits of a stain-and tear-resistant fabric with ink, dye, bleach, and abrasion methods to demonstrate that, of so many manufactured products, textiles are among the most vulnerable. 

Dutch artist Vincent Vulsma challenges modernism’s appropriation of African culture with his abstract take on a precolonial Kuba textile. The title WE 455 (VIII) (2011) refers to Vulsma’s source imagery, a Walker Evans photograph from the 1935 exhibition African Negro Art at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Transformed by several stages of production, such as documentation, digital translation, and jacquard weaving, the traditional Kuba pattern is compromised, leaving a vestige of a once vibrant textile.

Decorum favors the under-recognized genre of textile art by revealing the carpets and tapestries of canonical 20th-century painters alongside contemporary works by artists working across disciplines. Bringing together this rich and ornate history, Decorum reminds us that weaving has held a special place in possibly every mythology and every culture, and that all of these woven artworks, if read properly, have a lot to tell us about the strong interpersonal ties of their authors, their elective affinities, and historical commonality.

Guillaume Benaich works as an artist assistant in Paris.

Decorum is on view through February 9, 2014, at the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris.