Museum Abteiberg


22 June – 10 November 2013
Opening: Saturday, 22 June, 8 pm

Before the opening, at 6 pm – as part of Ensemblia 2013:
Morton Feldman, Crippled Symmetry (1982), concert in the exhibition, musikFabrik Köln

With works by Magdalena Abakanowicz, Anni Albers, Carl Andre, Leonor Antunes, Tonico Lemos Auad, Thomas Bayrle, Otti Berger, Center for Social Research on Old Textiles (Seth Siegelaub),Yael Davids, Sofie Dawo, Hans Finsler, Elsi Giauque, Sheela Gowda, Eva Hesse, Sheila Hicks, Johannes Itten, Elisabeth Kadow, Paul Klee, Heinrich Koch, Benita Koch-Otte, Beryl Korot, Agnes Martin, Katrin Mayer, Cildo Meireles, Nasreen Mohamedi, Blinky Palermo, Lygia Pape, Walter Peterhans, Josephine Pryde, Florian Pumhösl, Grete Reichardt, Elaine Reichek, Willem de Rooij, Fred Sandback, Desirée Scholten, Johannes Schweiger, Gunta Stölzl, Lenore Tawney, Rosemarie Trockel, and Vincent VulsmaCurated by Rike Frank and Grant Watson

A vague idea for this exhibition which considers the textile as a medium already existed for some years. In fine art, textile material has often only been considered as the medium of the canvas. In so-called applied art, however, and in world history, the textile has been one of the most important media since the dawn of civilisation. Textile creation is perhaps the oldest cultural technology alongside pottery; a technically and aesthetically highly emblematic product of threads of every kind, a fabric, a texture, and an optic and haptic sensory pattern. Textiles as a theme is of some relevance to Mönchengladbach, in quite different ways, starting with late avant-garde art. Pop, Minimal and Conceptual Art, all process- and fundamentally reality-oriented ideas in art after 1960, turned materials into models for structural perception and revealed their cultural substance (say‘fabric’): entirely pure canvases (Piero Manzoni, Lucio Fontana), sewn cotton surfaces (Blinky Palermo), schematic lines, threads, meshes (Francois Morellet), textile clothes and stage props (Joseph Beuys, Mike Kelley, Anna Oppermann, Gregor Schneider), fabrics of object and text (Marcel Broodthaers’ shirts ‚Un coup de dés’). Surrounded by the objects of Mönchengladbach’s exhibition and collection history, this project reaches more deeply into the historical, modern and directly contemporary aspects of the material. It recalls the forgotten importance of textile art to the art of modernism. On the one hand, its importance for the modern utopia – the innovative weaving and textile design at the Bauhaus and the many textile and applied art schools that followed was in both formal and economic-industrial terms probably the most successful department of modern aesthetics (succeeded by anonymous mass production, IKEA and ultimately Manufactum). And, on the other, there is its importance to the broader currents in art and culture history in the 1960s and 70s, when the free textile and multimedia engagements of Fibre Art found a large audience. Textile art was presented at global exhibitions and in biennials of textile art, as well as in leading art venues like the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, the Museum of Modern Art, New York, and Kunsthalle Bern. But it still remained separated from the dominant discourse about fine art and categorized as merely design, craft or female art. Mönchengladbach is textile industry city and was titled in earlier times as the Manchester of the Rhineland. The city grew rich with cheap flax and cotton fibres and with its industrialisation of textile manufacturing machines which kept becoming more efficient, fast and automated and were exported worldwide, leading to the city’s own demise as a site of textile manufacturing. Thousands of jobs went to cheaper regions in a process of decline that was a ‘silent death’ compared to the industrial decline of the Ruhr region, but just as dramatic and brutal and is manifested and memorialized today in the textile machine depot of the city’s municipal museum with its wide range of fast, loud, high-technology automats, along with their story as the origin of computer technology. The textile companies of today still have their headquarters for planning, design, logistics, advertising and marketing here, while their production takes place elsewhere. During the prehistory of Museum Abteiberg a textile pattern and sample collection was regarded as an important task for the Mönchengladbach museum, which aimed to be a modern museum for this modern textile city. Citizens and engineers were to understand the city’s long tradition of textile production. Beginning with antique Coptic samples, historical originals were collected in the early 20th century and following World War II. The local aspect of industrial history is also present in the exhibits from the nearby German Textile Museum in Krefeld. There are rare documents by Johannes Itten and his students from the almost entirely destroyed archive of the Höhere Fachschule für textile Flächenkunst in Krefeld, which was initiated in 1932 by entrepreneurs from the lower Rhine region and formed the seed of today’s textile departments at Hochschule Niederrhein.Rike Frank and Grant Watson created TEXTILES: OPEN LETTER as a long-term research project starting in 2012. In cooperation with Sabeth Buchmann and the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna as well as Leire Vergara and Bulegoa z/b in Bilbao, this project is developing a comprehensive new perspective on the textile as a medium. The thematic engagement of TEXTILES: OPEN LETTER is a work in progress. A different focus will follow in 2014 at the Generali Foundation in Vienna with a new selection of objects. A comprehensive publication on TEXTILES: OPEN LETTER with texts and images will finally document the full research. In the context of the exhibition at Museum Abteiberg there will be a series of talks and discussions held at the Abteiberg on 3 October 2013.


Abstraktionen, Textilien, Kunst

Using a combination of historical and contemporary materials, TEXTILES: OPEN LETTER initiates a reflection on the mutual influence between textile and fine art production. It investigates the ways in which textiles, through their specific form, vocabulary, materiality and cultural history, have shaped artistic language both in the past and present and, how textiles and ‘textile art’ have evolved alongside and in close affinity with formal and conceptual themes in fine art. The works, artefacts, documents, and archives presented in this exhibition testify to the fascinating qualities of textiles - their language of abstraction, their history which derives from one of the oldest cultural technologies, their complex structure and visual poetry. At the same time, the many references that textiles have produce a field of interpretation that point beyond the medium towards a political dimension – for example being situated between applied and ‘free ‘artistic practice, between craft and art, or being associated with female work, industrial labour, commodity and trade. TEXTILES: OPEN LETTER is the attempt to subvert existing conceptions of woven objects and, at the same time, to indicate which qualities were excluded from the conventional canon of (modern) art. The exhibition title “Open Letter” refers to a work by the (Bauhaus) artist Anni Albers from the year 1958 and is therefore to be understood also as an invitation to adopt a new perspective on the influential role of textiles for critical contemporary discourse.
At Museum Abteiberg, the works selected enter into dialogue with each other and also into a relationship with the museum’s collection history as well as the textile history of the city of Mönchengladbach. The museum’s architectural concept with its closed and open spaces designed by Hans Hollein supports the many cross-references between the current and historical works and creates openings into the collection. Its focus on minimalism and conceptual art places TEXTILES: OPEN LETTER in an art historical context which is not only a key reference for many of the contemporary artists presented in the exhibition, but whose logic also corresponds in many respects to textile production processes. For example the woven structure is based on the interrelation between warp and weft that together produces a grid made through a process of repetition, series, condensation and interruption, while the medium’s relation to both craft and industry means that textiles function at the interface between unique object and reproduction.
The exhibition is not ordered chronologically, but it does follow historical lines and positions that are grouped spatially, in particular the Bauhaus tradition, which developed an aesthetic language across different categories and disciplines, and the Fibre Art movement, that left behind the technical limits of the loom as part of a feminist practice and wanted to establish an autonomous position for textiles within the fine arts. The focus is thereby on the woven structure and on the thread as an organic line as described by Paul Klee whether this is in the form of expansive woven structures, minimalist wall hangings, material experiments, improvisation or strict notation. The short texts compiled for this brochure provide information about individual artists and their works, as well as the documents and archives in this exhibition.
The exhibition was developed in close cooperation with Susanne Titz and is based on the long-term research project TEXTILES: OPEN LETTER that evolved in cooperation with Sabeth Buchmann and the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna as well as Leire Vergara and bulegoa z/b in Bilbao since 2012. In preparation of the exhibition a series of seminars, lectures, film programs and presentations in London, Leipzig, Bilbao, and Vienna explored different perspectives with respect to the mutual influence between art and textile. Documentation and additional information about the project is available at”
The exhibition at Museum Abteiberg is the first spatial endeavour in this research and will continue in 2014 with another major exhibition at the Generali Foundation Vienna. Also in 2014 a comprehensive publication accompanying the exhibitions and the research will be published in cooperation with Museum Abteiberg and the Generali Foundation.


In cooperation with Allianz Kulturstiftung and funded by Kunststiftung NRW and Mondriaan funds.

More information in the booklet that you can download here.