With its plush, inviting, and often-varied texture, velvet offers a sensory experience and brings to mind notions of wealth, splendor, and indulgence. For hundreds of years, this opulent textile operated as a status symbol, and today it remains a fabric with luxurious connotations. This exhibition, featuring 42 velvets from the permanent collection, examines the various effects of industry on the design and production of this splendid fabric from the 19th century to the present day, showcasing the remarkable diversity of modern velvet.
During the Renaissance and up until the Industrial Revolution, velvet production required a great deal of time, specialized labor, and a large volume of expensive materials, especially silk and gold. Industrial innovations in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, such as the Jacquard loom, allowed for faster production and encouraged the use of less costly materials, which made velvet available to a wider range of consumers. Despite this broader accessibility, designers and manufacturers of velvets sought to maintain the sense of luxury long associated with the textile.
The works in this exhibition demonstrate several modern approaches toward the design and production of velvet. Some of the velvets, including a colorful example designed by Gertrude Rapp in the mid-19th century, illustrate the way in which weavers recreated the look and feel of earlier velvets through careful reproduction of historical processes. Rapp, working in Pennsylvania, established and managed a small-scale operation that produced silk as well as hand-woven velvets. Her piece in the exhibition features a lush, black pattern on a smooth plum ground enlivened through additional brightly colored patterning threads that create a confetti-like effect. Other designs, including an early 20th-century panel by Maria Monaci Gallenga, seek to emulate the appearance of historic velvets. In Gallenga’s design, however, the black velvet is made of durable cotton and printed in metallic inks, rather than woven with precious silk and gold threads. While many designers, weavers, and manufacturers, including Gallenga, explicitly borrowed from historical motifs and techniques, they also sought to embrace the potential of the new in terms of materials, design, and production methods. Swedish designer Hans Krondahl’s 1965 Kyoto furnishing fabric, with a brightly colored, bold geometric pattern screen-printed onto cotton velvet, firmly grounds itself in 20th-century design.
As these examples attest, despite—and sometimes due to—industrial innovations, velvet continues to inspire designers and offer up its riches to the senses.
4 hours 59 min ago The Art Institute of Chicago “One day, I had a dream… there were three black boots in the middle of the road, with very high houses."
These are the words of Tarsila do Amaral, one of the leaders behind Anthropophagy, a national art movement that arose in 1920s Brazil with the goal of “cannibalizing” aspects of European modern art in order to make a new, more distinctly indigenous style. #5WomenArtists
Explore Tarsila’s work in depth when Tarsila do Amaral: Reinventing Modern Art in Brazil opens at the Art Institute this October.
Image: Tarsila do Amaral. City (The Street), 1929. Collection of Bolsa de Arte.
6 hours 59 min ago The Art Institute of Chicago NOW ON VIEW—Who Builds Your Architecture?
Whether majestic skyscrapers, eye-catching museums, or sprawling residential complexes, buildings emerge from intricate, lengthy processes of design and construction that involve a host of different actors. The New York–based group Who Builds Your Architecture? (WBYA?), who gives the show its name, presents research related to migrant workers and the global construction industry.
1 day 2 hours ago The Art Institute of Chicago Saints & Heroes brings the spiritual, domestic, and chivalric worlds of the Middle Ages and Renaissance to life in the 21st century.