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Museum of Arts and Design Presents Audrey Cowan Tapestries 3/1-6/19

This March, the Museum of Arts and Design will present a special exhibition celebrating the generous gift of tapestry weaver Audrey Cowan and her husband Bob of the archive documenting her collaboration with Judy Chicago, the internationally renowned artist, feminist, and educator. Judy Chicago Tapestries: Woven by Audrey Cowan will provide a behind-the-scenes view of their creative process, in which Chicago designed tapestries that Cowan then interpreted in thread. The exhibition will feature Chicago's original sketches, initial and final studies, black-and-white cartoons, and wood engravings, hung next to nine finished tapestries. Two of these will be opus works-"The Creation" and "The Fall"-from Birth Project and Holocaust Project: From Darkness into Light, which alongwith five other tapestries, and many of Chicago's most important cartoons and studies, are to be part of the Cowan gift and will be on display in this exhibition from March 1 until June 19, 2011.

The two women met in 1976, when Cowan became part of a corps of artisans involved in the creation of Chicago's legendary and influential installation piece "The Dinner Party," today permanently installed in The Brooklyn Museum. Cowan's role was to weave an Aubusson-style tapestry runner, designed by Chicago, for the place setting honoring Eleanor of Aquitaine. Befitting the heightened social consciousness of that era, Chicago took umbrage with the fact that Aubusson tapestries were traditionally woven from the reverse side, so that the weaver was unable to see the front of the tapestry while she worked and so exercise artistic control. In response, Chicago in collaboration with Aubusson master Jean-Pierre Larochette devised a modified Aubusson tapestry technique, which allowed the weaver to work from the front of the tapestry. After learning the technique from Larochette, Cowan used it in all her projects with Chicago.

During the first half of the 1980s, Judy Chicago produced Birth Project, which included dozens of images of birth and creation realized in a variety of needlework and textile techniques. Among the most significant components was "The Creation," a 14-foot wide tapestry woven by Cowan. She continued her collaboration with Chicago in the 1990s with the powerful Holocaust Project: From Darkness Into Light, which examined profound issues relating to the human condition Cowan wove the massive 18-foot wide tapestry, "The Fall," depicting the power dynamics between men and women and among nations and cultures through scenes ranging from the battle between the Greeks and Amazons to humankind's conquest of nature.

"This exhibition is significant for MAD in many ways," says David R. McFadden, the Museum's Chief Curator. "Throughout her career, Chicago has always valued materials and techniques that were, for many decades, sidelined in art museums. This magnificent gift from Audrey and Bob Cowan enriches the Museum's Permanent Collection of art made in fiber, and underscores MAD's mission to explore creativity through materials and process. We are delighted that this rich repository will be enjoyed by visitors, students, and historians today and in the future."

Judy Chicago concurs: "I am thrilled that Audrey and Bob Cowan are making it possible for MAD to house the weaving collection that she and I created. Audrey and Bob are among a small group of people who have helped to sustain my career. Together we pioneered a way of weaving that evidences a new spirit of collaboration, one in which both artist and artisan contribute to the creation of art in an equal partnership. And MAD is the perfect home for our work because of its long commitment, under David McFadden's leadership, to breaking down the many false barriers between art and craft, and thereby opening the way for a re-newed and re-visioned type of art-making."

This exhibition will be accompanied by an illustrated catalogue documenting the archive and Judy Chicago's projects, by a website presence, and by video interviews with both artist and weaver.

The Museum of Arts and Design explores what Chief Curator David R. McFadden calls "the blur zone between art, design, and craft today." It focuses on contemporary creativity and the ways in which artists and designers from around the world transform materials through processes ranging from the artisanal to the digital. The Museum's exhibition program examines and illuminates issues and ideas, highlights invention and craftsmanship, and celebrates the limitless potential of materials and techniques when used by gifted and innovative artists. MAD's Permanent Collection is global in scope and focuses on art, craft, and design from 1950 to the present day. Central to the Museum's mission is education. The Museum's dynamic new facility features classrooms and studios for master classes, seminars, and workshops for students, families, and adults. Its Open Studios enable visitors to engage artists at work and further enhance exhibition programs. Lectures, films, performances, and symposia related to the Museum's collection and topical subjects affecting the world of contemporary art, craft, and design are held in the building's historic 144-seat auditorium.


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