"Weaving Abstraction in Ancient and Modern Art" at The Met Fifth Avenue

The Met

Weaving Abstraction in Ancient and Modern Art installation view
Image: Weaving Abstraction in Ancient and Modern Art installation view.
Image: © The Metropolitan Museum of Art, photo by Hyla Skopitz.

Exhibition Dates: March 5–June 16, 2024
Exhibition Location:The Met Fifth Avenue, Gallery 913

The process of creating textiles has long been a springboard for artistic invention. In Weaving Abstraction in Ancient and Modern Art, two extraordinary bodies of work separated by at least 500 years are brought together to explore the striking connections between artists of the ancient Andes and those of the 20th century. This cross-historical exhibition, which will open at The Met on March 5, will feature textiles by four distinguished modern practitioners—Anni Albers, Sheila Hicks, Lenore Tawney, and Olga de Amaral—alongside pieces by Andean artists from the first millennium BCE to the 16th century, who, though not known to us by name, created works of exceptional technical and formal refinement.

The exhibition is made possible by The Modern Circle.

“This stunning and highly focused exhibition draws out a fascinating lineage in the history of textile arts,” said Max Hollein, The Met’s Marina Kellen French Director and Chief Executive Officer. "From the ancient Andes, where textiles were arguably the most highly esteemed art form, to the 20th century, when inspiration met technological innovation, these artists each expanded upon the scope of woven design."

Weaving is one of the oldest and most complex art forms in the Americas, with a rich history beginning 10,000 years ago. While bold and exceptional in design, textiles in the ancient Andes were also fundamental to the exchange of information in the pre-Hispanic period, used to swiftly transmit social and political messages in a manner that overcame linguistic and geographic barriers.

In 20th-century art, artists of early European modernism and the American fiber arts movement sought to uplift and recenter the medium—commonly relegated to the realm of “women's work.” Each of the four modern artists featured in the exhibition developed innovative approaches to an ancient medium through deep study of Andean techniques. Within this legacy, they responded to the demands and challenges of the modern industrial society while maintaining a firm commitment to abstraction as the language of modernity. Shown together in this exhibition, these ancient and modern weavings reposition the place of textiles in global art history. 

Iria Candela, Estrellita B. Brodsky Curator of Latin American Art in the Department of Modern and Contemporary Art, said, "What is fascinating is that abstraction lays not only on the surface of these extraordinary weavings, but is embedded in the structure itself, as a result of a constructive process. The Andean sources provided a model for defining modernism with fiber, which is what ties these two distant legacies together."

Joanne Pillsbury, Andrall E. Pearson Curator of the Arts of the Ancient Americas in The Michael C. Rockefeller Wing, said, “It is difficult to overstate the fundamental cultural significance of textiles in the Andes. They were of profound symbolic importance, unparalleled as a medium for the expression of identity, value, and belief. In the Inca Empire, no political, military, social, or religious event was complete without textiles being exchanged or gifted, burned or sacrificed.”

Weaving Abstraction delves into the aesthetic and cultural choices artists make and how the technologies of fiber arts can give rise to inventive compositions. The textiles created in the Andean region of South America over a thousand years ago present bold geometric abstractions that culminated in what are now considered hallmarks of Inca design, such as a dramatic 16th-century tunic featuring a black and white checkerboard pattern with a vibrant red yolk and exquisitely detailed embroidery. Weaving Abstraction continues with works by Albers, Hicks, Tawney, and De Amaral, who were influenced by this Andean legacy—traditions that became better known in Europe and the United States in the wake of large-scale archaeological excavations in Peru in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. With an emphasis on the structural aspects of weaving as well as on its materiality, they experimented with patterns, multiple structures, and modular work, as shown in the dynamic cloth Black-White-Yellow that Anni Albers conceived while at the Bauhaus, or in Olga de Amaral's astonishing Alchimia 13, with its modulated golden surface. Each of these artists studied and, in some cases, replicated the ancient techniques, which can be appreciated in fine detail, as many of these works are being presented together for the first time. 

The exhibition offers new insights into the emergence of abstract imagery. The constructive nature of weavings, arising from the grid formed by crossing the warp and the weft (the vertical and horizontal elements of the loom), prompted the formal investigation into a geometric iconography that emphasizes the integral relationship between structure and design in textiles, forging distinctive paths to abstraction in both historical periods. 

Weaving Abstraction in Ancient and Modern Art will feature more than 50 works, including new acquisitions, such as two rarely seen signature works from Lenore Tawney, The Bride and Shrouded River. The exhibition will also feature loans from Buffalo Museum of Science; The Museum of Modern Art; Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum; Museum of Arts and Design, New York; The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation; Lenore G. Tawney Foundation; and private collectors.  

The exhibition also presents visitors with an opportunity to experience stunning works from The Met's collection of ancient American art—with its rich history of creative expression thousands of years prior to European colonization—while the suite of galleries in The Michael C. Rockefeller Wing, where the works are normally on view, are closed for renovation and reenvisioning until spring 2025.

The exhibition is curated by Iria Candela, Estrellita B. Brodsky Curator of Latin American Art in the Department of Modern and Contemporary Art, and Joanne Pillsbury, Andrall E. Pearson Curator of the Arts of the Ancient Americas in The Michael C. Rockefeller Wing.

Weaving Abstraction in Ancient and Modern Art will be accompanied by an issue of The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin.

The Met’s quarterly Bulletin program is made possible in part by the Lila Acheson Wallace Fund for The Metropolitan Museum of Art, established by the cofounder of Reader’s Digest.


The Met will host a variety of exhibition-related educational and public programs for visitors of all ages. On Friday, March 8, from 6 to 7 p.m. in the Grace Rainey Rogers Auditorium, The Threads of Architecture will celebrate International Women’s Day with fiber arts pioneer Sheila Hicks and celebrated architect Frida Escobedo. In this talk, Hicks and Escobedo join Weaving Abstraction curators Iria Candela and Joanne Pillsbury to discuss their shared interests, including ancient and modern architecture, textile technologies, and their experiences of Mexico in connection with their respective practices. On Saturday, April 13, from 1 to 4 p.m., the Museum will host Open Studio—Weaving, a drop-in experience and demonstration by fiber artist Sarah Zapata with a weaving textile activity, discussion with Met expert Christine Giuntini about the materials and processes of featherwork, and an opportunity to view rare textiles from The Met collection up close in the Antonio Ratti Textile Center. 

There will also be several exhibition-related Access programs, including Met Escapes, on March 19, for individuals living with dementia and their family members or care partners; Discoveries, on April 14, for children ages 5–13 in the morning, and adults ages 23 and older in the afternoon, with learning and developmental disabilities and those on the autism spectrum; and Seeing Through Drawing, on May 18, for adults who are blind or partially sighted.

The exhibition is featured on The Met’s website as well as on social media.



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