Françoise Grossen at Blum & Poe New York
By: Murtaza Vali
Dismissed as craft for decades, fiber as a sculptural medium is finally getting its much deserved due. The recent rediscovery of its many forgotten pioneers continues with this modest but must-see survey of work by the seventy-two-year-old Françoise Grossen—astonishingly, the New York–based Swiss artist’s first ever survey in the United States.
Dangling languidly from the ceiling, Grossen’s sculptures are largely constructed through the repetition of simple everyday actions like twisting, braiding, and coiling, using two basic types of knots. Though primarily abstract, they cannot help but evoke bodies, owing to their palpable weight, soft contours, textured surfaces, and roughly human scale. While the modular structure of Five Rivers, 1974, acknowledges Minimalism, its row of five vertical stacks of plaits, varying in color, thickness, and length, resembles a festive conga line. Some of the braids in each stack reach across to their neighbor, draped casually on them like an arm resting on a friendly shoulder.
The five works from Grossen’s “Metamorphosis” series, 1987–90, are less cordial. Fiber is supplemented with plaster, plastic, paper, and acrylic paint, introducing smooth but sticky surfaces and rigid, bulbous protrusions. With their ashen surfaces, tinged with blood red and mustard yellow, these works summon fossils or eviscerated carcasses, all ribs, spines, and skins. Some are topped with a thick loop of cord, which, doubled over, strongly suggests a broken or cut neck, a simple abstraction that brings to mind the image of a lynched body.
In contrast, the most recent works, a trio from 1991 named after the three graces (Euphrosyne, Aglaia (Pink Touch), and Thalia (All Natural)), are positively buoyant, showcasing the almost fleshy beige of natural fiber. Vertical loops of thick phallic coils and soft undulating sheets are nested together to create delicate furrows and folds, playfully implying female genitalia while simultaneously re-creating the rhythm and lyricism traditionally associated with the oft-represented classical motif. Given that these were completed close to twenty-five years ago, one wonders about Grossen’s subsequent output. The understated strength of this sample suggests that a more in-depth presentation of her work is both warranted and inevitable.