Nnenna Okore exhibited at browngrotta arts

For over 30 years, browngrotta arts has been advancing the field of contemporary fiber and textile arts by curating and exhibiting renowned contemporary artists who celebrate the exploration of fiber art techniques and drive the unique possibilities of soft materials. Representing many of the artists who have helped define modern fiber art since the 1950s, browngrotta arts reflects the cultivated eye and intellect of its directors, husband and wife team, Tom Grotta and Rhonda Brown.

Founded in 1987 in Wilton, Connecticut, browngrotta arts showcases unique sculptural and mixed media works with an emphasis on concept, supported by technique. The focus of the work is on the materials and the technical mastery of the artist as intrinsic to the significance of the work, and prioritizes aesthetic value over utility. Works of more than 100 international artists and dozens of museum-quality artworks are represented through art catalogs, art fairs, co-partnered exhibits at museums, retail spaces, and an online gallery.

Each Spring, the couple open their private home - a two-story barn built in 1895 expanded and contemporized by architect David Ling in 2000 - for “Art in the Barn”, a unique annual salon-style exhibition for 10 days. The 3500+ square foot space is airy with a viewing vista of 55’ that allows for experiencing works that reflect complex illusionary space. The 21’ high ceilings permit the installation of tall sculptures and two free-standing walls enable dramatically shaped fiber structures best hung off the wall. The living environment also grants the artwork to be shown in situ.

This year, browngrotta arts presented a multimedia group show art + identity: an international view, from April 27 - May 5 and extended online (https://www.artsy.net/browngrotta-arts) through May 31st. The exhibition features more than 50 international artists whose works are included in major museum collections around the world.

With a representation of artists reflecting five continents, the exhibition takes an expansive survey of identity and art in a global world. The identity that each artist explores may be personal, political, social or cultural; it may reflect the influence of a hometown, country of birth or adoption, a place visited, or a region whose art has made an impression, an artistic or scientific movement or a broader focus on the effects globalization. Works by artists from, or influenced by, North America, South America, Europe, Asia, Africa and the UK will create an intriguing dialogue about the influence of culture, geography and personal experience and spur questions about the universality of art.

The range of works include ceramic vessels, woodblock prints, three-dimensional sculptures made of paper, wood jute, wax linen, steel and lead, and basket forms of bark and twigs, ginger and bamboo, willow and cedar. A number of artists have created wall works of linen, viscose, steel, cotton, horsehair, coconut fibers and in one case, silk, from silkworm raised by the artists. The techniques are as varied as the materials -- weaving, plaiting, knotting, molding, ikat, tying, bundling, crochet, Kagami and photography.

“The artists we have invited to art + identity have taken a wide-ranging approach to the exhibition’s theme,” says Grotta. “We are delighted by the diversity and the accomplishment of the works that will be included.”

Among the artists participating will be Gudrun Pagter of Denmark, whose work is reflective of a serene and abstract Scandinavian sensibility - “I get inspirations from many places in the world, but the Nordic ‘cool’ sensitivity is the foundation for everything I’m dealing with. The pictograms I use are sober and concrete and reflects Scandinavian temperament and philosophy of life.”

Mary Merkel-Hess is inspired by the prairie of her native Midwest. Her work, Last Light, was inspired by a line from Willa Cather, “the whole prairie was like the bush that burned with fire and was not consumed.”

For other artists, that sense of place may be broader, transcending boundaries and reflecting effects of increased exchange among artists. Rachel Max from the UK merges multiple influences. “I’ve been hugely inspired by Japanese basketry,” she says. “The material I use is imported from Indonesia and the technique is torchon lace, which I first saw used on a Scandinavian basket.”

US artist, Norma Minkowitz’s work, The Path, speaks to the universal — “the path we each take regardless of who we are or where we began.” She uses camouflage to suggest the act of hiding to avoid the inevitable end of the path.

Nnenna Okore, who grew up and studied in Nigeria with El Anatsui, uses ordinary materials, repetitive processes, and varying textures to make references to everyday Nigerian practices and cultural objects. For her piece Ashioke is made of multiple ceramic pieces, individually sewn into hessian burlap. It derives its form and name from the popular Yoruba textile known as Aso oke.

Kyoko Kumai of Japan weaves, sew, knits and twists metallic fibers, spun steel, and titanium, to celebrate the myriad Gods she feels in Japanese nature.

A relentless innovator, Lia Cook explores identity as perceived by others. To create Data Dots Emotional Intensity, Cook conducted an informal survey of viewers of a large childhood photo of herself and weaving of the same image, asking which was more emotionally affecting. She wove the survey results — represented by dots of varying sizes and colors -- into her work. The woven image won, telling us about ourselves and how we experience art and image.

browngrotta arts has published nearly 50 art catalogs and placed works in private and corporate collections in the US and abroad, including the permanent collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Museum of Arts and Design, Art Institute of Chicago, Philadelphia Museum of Art, and the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian Museum. They also regularly work with architects and interior designers offering consultation for commissioned artworks and site-specific installation for commercial and residential spaces.