Olga de Amaral: The Elements
Lisson Gallery, New York
November 02 – December 18, 2021
Best known as a textile artist, this exhibition positions Olga de Amaral as a vital force in sculpture, installation art and indeed in painting, albeit using her foundational materials of fiber, thread, wool, gesso and metallic leaf. Amaral’s inaugural show at Lisson Gallery New York coincides with her first major retrospective in North America, ‘To Weave a Rock,’ which is now on view at the Cranbrook Art Museum, Michigan after its debut at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.
Exploring the core principles of her varied career, this combination of seven different bodies of work, spanning 40 years, reveals how Amaral’s oeuvre ranges all the way from an appreciation of Colombian heritage and indigenous craft, through the influence of Latin American Modernism, to latter-day developments in experiential art, optical abstraction and post-Minimalism. The earliest work in the show, Estudio en dos Elementos (Study in Two Elements) from 1976, is composed of coarsely intertwined horsehair and serpentine coils of cord, which switch from deep red and ochre to black, recalling the natural tones of earthworks she was making at the time.
A decade later comes the 1988 Tierra y Oro (Earth and Gold), a free-floating cascade of vertical lines that relates in conception to her imposingly physical structures titled Woven Walls – as well as the comparably large-scale Memorias (Memories), 2014 – but with the addition of light as an extra material or element – the looser weave allowing a moiré pattern to develop in its interstices.
Visitors are greeted at the entrance by the vision of five hanging ‘stones of gold’, invoking a sacred convention of ancient monoliths. Hovering above ground, these shimmering Estelas (Stelae) defy gravity and form individual parts to an ongoing series of densely packed tapestries, conjoined by layers of linen, gesso and gold leaf, with a stony gray painted on the back.
Amaral’s work veers away from the domestic in feel, approaching monumental architectural proportions through the spectral presence of crosses, stripes, lines and organic shapes in others. Indeed, she initially trained in architectural drafting in Bogotá during the 1950s, but went on to study textiles at Cranbrook Academy of Art, which makes the opening of her retrospective in Michigan even more poignant.
Employing not only these forces and forms of nature and leaving behind both the ceiling and the wall, comes another singular Amaral form, the Nudo (Knot), 2016. Hundreds of painted threads strung up by hand form a giant mane, with multiple loops and threads performing the knotting gesture – an essential yet overlooked aspect of weaving. Gravity finishes the composition as the threads reach the floor and touch back down to earth.