Ellen Ramsey
Contemporary Tapestry

In the Galleries: Christina Forrer, Again

For my birthday, I was able to make a quick trip to New York City for an infusion of artistic inspiration.  I had a divine day visiting a few selected shows featuring tapestry and textile art. I feel inspired to share my experiences, so here goes…. 

The author’s husband attempts to look interested at Luhring Augustine Tribeca

I started my day by hitting Luhring Augustine Tribeca. On display are tapestries by Swiss born, L.A. based artist Christina Forrer (through October 29). I have written about her before (see blog post dated May 24, 2019) and her folk art/fairy tale/German Expressionist influences. Her last show seemed very focused on exploring communication and interpersonal conflict between people. It featured a lot of work like this one I saw hanging in the back room of the gallery:

Christina Forrer, unknown title, tapestry

This current showing was quite different from her last exhibition. This newer work is very fairy tale focused, albeit fables that Aesop might not recognize. They are far from bland retellings of the familiar narratives. She still features cartoonish characters in complicated, candy colored compositions but instead of arguing with each other these characters seem to be acting out their anxiety dreams.  For example, in Gretel Gretel  the main character throws her future self (the witch) into the fire. Have you ever been afraid that you will turn into your less than perfect mother in your old age?  This one, I can relate to!

Christina Forrer, Gretel Gretel, 2022, cotton, wool, 72.5” x 102”

Others were less clear to me, not knowing anything about the fables that inspired them. From my ignorant perspective these images are puzzles to be solved, requiring more effort than I am willing to exert for the most part. If, unlike me, you know your folklore, you might be able to speculate on what these curious works are really about.

Christina Forrer, Turnip Growing, 2022, cotton, wool, 120” x 80”

Christina Forrer, Turnips Falling, 2022, cotton, wool, 130” x 94”

Christina Forrer, Elephant on Chair, 2022, cotton, wool, 52” x 42”

The “masterpiece” in the room was the very large work Sepulcher. This work was featured in Forrer’s 2022 solo show at the Wadsworth Athenaeum.  

Christina Forrer, Sepulcher, 2021, cotton, wool, linen, 97” x 162”

The Wadsworth’s brochure tells the story of this tapestry much better than any explanation I could possibly muster: 

 “Sepulcher is the centerpiece of the exhibition—four vertical panels stitched together in a monumental tapestry measuring eight by thirteen feet. The work is a tour de force, deftly combining elements of Greek myth, religious narrative, and allegorical fantasy, as well as Grand Manner and history painting. Forrer calls Sepulcher her “unicorn tapestry” after the iconic medieval masterpieces at The Cloisters of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Visual metaphors abound in Forrer’s tapestry and everything is interconnected.”  

(You can see more work and read the full brochure text at https://www.thewadsworth.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/10/WA-MATRIX-Brochure-187-3-pages.pdf).  

I was happy to see Sepulcher in New York.  I saw a picture on Instagram of this piece installed next to a medieval tapestry for reference, which I thought was very cool. If you know me, you know I love a good compare/contrast.  

I will confess that, in the general sense, I am not a fan of “sloppy craft.”  Forrer’s work has grown on me only because the thought process behind her work is rigorous and her subject matter is interesting from an intellectual perspective. She appeals to my inner art historian, if not my inner artisan. Of course, her folky subject matter and her purposeful technical naïveté do go perfectly hand-in-hand.  This work presents like theatre (very much like medieval tapestries functioned as a type of theatre) and every aspect of its making plays a role in the show. 

Admittedly, Forrer’s work only rarely rewards close inspection of the weaving. You do not experience one of those magical transformations where you discover, as you approach, that the imagery is actually woven. She is not a “weaver’s weaver” in this way, like Erin M. Riley. Forrer’s methods are in your face from the jump. Her joins can be seen from across the room! But I will tell you what I takeaway from seeing her work: I like how the whole is composed of several tapestries sewn together, how she flattens the picture plane, and I admire her dedication to the narrative tradition in tapestry.

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