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A Beautiful Mess: Weavers & Knotters of the Vanguard

September 27, 2024 — January 5, 2025

From micro artworks the size of your hand to mammoth, room-sized installations, the diverse roster of women artists in A Beautiful Mess: Weavers & Knotters of the Vanguard twist, tie and braid tactile, utilitarian materials to push the boundaries of fiber art and elevate the traditional status of weaving, knotting, and macramé. The eleven artists in this exhibition transform rope, yarn, clay, wire, and extension cords into wall hangings and sculptures that range from minimal and hyper-organized to expansive, organic installations. Mining a lifetime of experiences, the artists explore personal and political ideals and freely break the rules to create works that make a strong cultural and intellectual impact.

While the media and means of production vary tremendously for each artist in A Beautiful Mess, they find commonality in their pursuit to upend the status quo. By bringing their unique stories to the forefront, the artists draw from potent source material to create sculptures and installations staggering in beauty and conceptual underpinnings. These works tell profoundly personal and powerful histories, not only about the artist, but about the traditions and norms we honor and those that need to be addressed and eradicated. The artists confront uncomfortable issues like racism, sexism, patriarchal systems, and climate change. They also reveal the brilliance of the natural world, the richness of tradition, and the power of self-acceptance, all while demonstrating extraordinary technical skill.

A Beautiful Mess also taps into the fiber arts renaissance currently taking place in the contemporary art world. Historically considered craft, weaving, knotting, and macramé are often more approachable and relatable, opening the door to a broader, more inclusive audience and removing barriers for art appreciation. This unique accessibility has inspired many to collect fiber and textile art and explore their creative nature. Through relentless creativity and reinvention, the artists in A Beautiful Mess take the art form to new heights conceptually and physically, building on a massive scale. The resulting works are visually stunning, command attention, and offer an opportunity to reflect on the stories woven into each piece.

In many ways, A Beautiful Mess is a perfect antidote to our rushed daily lives. Our diminished attention spans and demand for instant gratification have left little space for creativity or time to think beyond the immediate. The pandemic has compounded many unhealthy habits and exposed the controlled chaos of our society. In stark contrast, the work in this exhibition takes time and a tremendous amount of patience and imagination to make. While some of the artworks may seem disordered, the audience is encouraged to slow down and appreciate these handmade works for all their intricacies and hidden meanings.

As artist Kira Dominguez Hultgren puts it, “weaving is about strange combinations.” Whether by utilizing non-traditional materials, tapping into personal histories to untangle imperialist and colonial legacies, or using the physical process of making as a means to map emotion, these artists have revolutionized a previously marginalized genre. We honor and celebrate the work of the contemporary women artists in A Beautiful Mess who have radicalized the medium from varying perspectives, producing spectacular, thought-provoking artworks.

-Emilee Enders, Curator of Exhibitions and Programs, Bedford Gallery

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Image: Lisa Solomon, Senninbari {1000 stitch knot belt}, 2016, hand-dyed & tied cotton rope, 122 x 299 x 4 inches. Courtesy of Walter Maciel Gallery, Los Angeles, CA, detail.