I was fortunate to see tapestries by French-Romanian artist Alexandra Mocanu at Twenty First Gallery, New York, in December. For the weaving geek, there was much to swoon over.
First of all, allow me to apologize for the yellow cast in my photos. They are phone photos, and the gallery lights were a warm tone. What you are looking at are monumental Gobelin tapestries, stretched over frames and presented as paintings. The weavings are interpretations of Alexandra’s small gouache paintings.
The Twenty First Gallery bills itself as a decorative arts gallery. Its roster of European artists all belong to the French craft guild “Les Campgnons du Devoir.” Mocanu grew up among artisans. Her mother is Romanian tapestry artist Georgeta Mocanu. Alexandra was born in Bucharest and later moved to Paris when her mother took a job for Chevalier Conservation. (Gallerie Chevalier in Paris is an amazing tapestry gallery dealing in antique and contemporary work.) Not surprisingly, Alexandra learned to weave from her mother.
However, Mocanu’s primary form of expression is painting, not weaving. The label text said that she came from a family of artisans, but the gallery director told me the work was not woven by Mocanu. From her instagram posts, I could tell that she works with a dye master to select the fibers for the blue pieces, but there were no WIP photos of weaving. I messaged her to see if she was also a weaver and she said yes, but explained that she had this work woven for her by a classically trained weaver in Romania.
I don’t have a huge problem with the fact that she outsourced the weaving - that’s especially common in France - but it does bother me when the weaver (or workshop) isn’t acknowledged, especially when the weaving is so transformative. I guess that’s my weavers ego speaking!
There is no doubt that the work is thrilling to dissect if you weave tapestry yourself. This work is FLAWLESS, especially the largest ones that are blue. That these images are woven is not apparent until you are really close, and even then the uniformity of the surface makes it look like pigment soaked into canvas. The trompe l’oeille effect is astonishing.
I thought you might like seeing these tapestries and enjoying their beauty as I did. I love the scale. I love the color interactions. I’m giddy about the edges where contrasting colors meet. But as incredible as these works are, I was of two minds about them. On the one hand, if one were in my home I could probably see a new, rewarding flourish everyday, but on the other hand, they lack something - “life?” Compare to the work of Sara Brennan (see last post) - similarly minimalistic color studies, but complimented by subtle surface textures and tonal shifts that imbue movement and enhance materiality. Here, evidence of the hand is minimized to the point of invisibility, aided by the stretched framed canvases. Does this work say that art can be woven or that weaving can be art?
Mocanu’s exhibition asserts the primacy of painting and the hierarchy of old. The implication is that weaving is less important, yet clearly that is not the case. As weavers, we can scrutinize the details, admire and learn. But as artist weavers we can take these lessons and do more. We can make tapestry that transcends the hierarchy by marrying meaning, heart, and process.