New York

Lenore Tawney

American Craft Museum

Lenore Tawney is one of those rare innovators who, through the powerful example of her own work, helped to open up an entire field. As this long overdue retrospective demonstrates, contemporary fiber art received a giant boost when Tawney introduced her revolutionary woven forms in the early ’60s and set the craft on the ambitious esthetic track that still characterizes the field’s most enlightened corners today.

Tawney’s woven forms can be as sublime as a Mark Rothko, as meditative as an Agnes Martin, and as life enhancing as a Henry Moore. Tawney transcended the limitations of the craft by combining various methods of weaving and restructuring strands of fiber to give the material shape and dimension. Her poetic sensibility comes to full fruition in works like Black Woven Form (Fountain), 1966, Four Petaled Flower II, 1974, Dark River, The King I, The Queen, and Lekythos, all 1962. These works are as mesmerizing as any first-rate painting or sculpture. With Lekythos, for example, Tawney has taken a classic vase shape and reinterpreted both its traditional functional and decorative qualities as a wonderfully airy skein of strands hanging in space. In the tall, tapered construction Dark River, and the totemic structures The King I and The Queen, the woven forms take on a monumental, almost magical presence. The strong physicality of these forms—their “thereness”—arises from the visceral quality of the bodily associations triggered by the composition, as well as from the quality of warmth intrinsic to fiber. In a black linen piece entitled Four Petaled Flower II, it is this warmth that gives the otherwise stark pattern of crossed rectangles a sensual glow, provoking a meditation about the relationship of nature and abstraction—a major theme in Tawney’s work.

Ronny Cohen