Critics’ Picks

View of “Tradition,” 2013.



Capucijnenstraat 98
March 16 - May 19

In 1986, Conceptual art pioneer Seth Siegelaub founded the Amsterdam-based Centre for Social Research on Old Textiles (CSROT), an institution dedicated to investigating the social history of textiles. Today, the CSROT’s collection contains over 650 objects and 7,000 books. While an exhibition last year at Raven Row, titled “The Stuff That Matters,” privileged Siegelaub’s bibliographic research, “Tradition” takes a pointedly different tack, placing the objects in an unmoored space of inquiry that takes up the constitution of textiles as carriers of interwoven aesthetic and economic histories.

Curators Maxine Kopsa and Krist Gruijthuijsen culled a selection of fifty artifacts from the collection and have installed them among contemporary works by Willem Oorebeek, Lucy Skaer, and Christopher Williams, whose practices ruminate on mechanical reproduction, representation and its deconstruction, and materiality. The textiles smuggle in citations of their social histories and intended functions, but their formal aspects come through more forcefully here, as the curators have emphasized their potential for abstraction. An imposing early-twentieth-century Tapa headdress-mask from Papua New Guinea is doubled by the reflective surface of Oorebeek’s Pirelli Portal, 1994, which is hewn from mass-produced rubber flooring. This curatorial gesture invites the historical artifact into an ahistorical dialogue about industrial production and craft and their varied effects on representation.

Skaer’s Rachel, Peter, Caitlin, John, 2010, plays most with Siegelaub’s interest in the dual character of textiles as vulnerable, aesthetic keepsakes and durable objects of trade. Three 16-mm films intimately crawl over the totemic surfaces of a Gutenberg Bible, a cat’s eye, and a Rothko painting, and are occasionally interrupted by abstract white forms that have been punched from the film. Offering different shapes formed by various ticket punchers used by railroad conductors, these forms introduce an overlooked symptom of industrialization that here becomes rarified and aesthetic. With a Warburgian grasp, “Tradition” holds Siegelaub’s phantomic fragments up to a contemporary discourse on the economy of the image that begins to address the resonances between his early Conceptualism and his current commitments.