EXTRA LARGE Tapestries at Kunsthal in Rotterdam

Le Corbusier La Femme et le Marchal Ferrant 1967

1st June – 3rd January 2021.

From Monday, 1st June, Kunsthal Rotterdam will be open to the public again.

Despite all restrictive measures, the Kunsthal team has managed to build an entirely new exhibition. The walls of the hall where only recently Thierry Mugler’s iconic designs were presented, are now filled by the metres-high, handwoven tapestries of the exhibition ‘Extra Large’.

Visitors will be able to book their tickets with timeslot from the Kunsthal website; this is mandatory for everyone. The Kunsthal Café and the outdoor terrace will also be open again from 1 June. With especially designed signing, and a newly constructed, eye-catching, temporary staircase in the largest hall, the Kunsthal building is also ready to ensure inspiring and safe visits.

During its closure, that lasted more than eleven weeks, the Kunsthal has kept in touch with its audience through online masterclasses, challenges, the Kunsthal LIVE event ‘See you later, Illustrator!’, workshops, and highlights from the Kunsthal’s 28-year history. This resulted in a high level of engagement, and a boost in the number of followers for our social media channels. We were forced to thoroughly review our 2020 exhibition programme. As a ‘collectionless’ institute, the Kunsthal has every freedom, but also no collection to fall back on. The interactive exhibition about Alice in Wonderland, that the Kunsthal was planning to attract a large and international audience with this summer, had to be cancelled. Other exhibitions could be postponed or have been prolonged successfully. The prestigious exhibition about Alexander Calder and his influence on contemporary art, in collaboration with the Calder Foundation in New York, has been pushed back to the autumn of 2021. On Saturday 20th June 2020, the Kunsthal will open the exhibition ‘Black Album / White Cube. A Journey into Art and Music’, with work from various collections, by artists from all over the world.

So, more about EXTRA LARGE – From Picasso and Le Corbusier to Louise Bourgeois.

For the first time in the Netherlands, Kunsthal Rotterdam is presenting a large-scale retrospective of imposing tapestries based on designs by renowned artists like Pablo Picasso, Le Corbusier, Miró, Vasarely and Louise Bourgeois. The exhibition ‘Extra Large’ focuses on a period of a hundred years, with tapestries made directly after the First World War up until now, and reveals a virtually unknown aspect in the bodies of work of many modern and contemporary artists. They have been using the age-old weaving technique as the point of departure for their textile art while constantly reinterpreting it. Most of the sixty works were produced at the historical institute ‘Manufacture des Gobelins’ in Paris. With their combination of artistic finesse and extraordinary craftsmanship, these metres-high, handwoven tapestries are of an unrivalled quality and a joy to behold, and show how surprisingly modern the traditional craft of weaving still is.

In ten chapters, ‘Extra Large’ will show the development of the tapestry. The colourful, figurative and occasionally very abstract works reveal the endless possibilities of the craft. The brightly coloured ‘Une carte du Japon’ – made between 2012 and 2017 after a design by the French artist Alain Séchas – shows how weavers are able to imitate the expressive brushstrokes used in painting. Also surprising are the handcrafted optical illusions of Victor Vasarely and the Israeli artist Yaacov Agam. Their often square-shaped tapestries look as if they are three-dimensional and almost appear to be moving. Since the beginning of this century, technical aspects of the digital age also started to make an appearance in the designs. With a computer-manipulated self-portrait, the French artist ORLAN is for instance challenging conventional ideals of beauty. And with extremely enlarged pixels in his work ‘Jardins des Gobelins’, Christophe Cuzin, another French artist, emphasises the similarities between digital imaging techniques and the woven grid structure of the tapestry.  

Intensive manual labour
Already since the beginning of the seventeenth century, the French State has been commissioning renowned artists to design tapestries that are subsequently produced in the national weaving workshops. The designs sometimes convey a sociopolitical message or depict historical revolutions, while other tapestries have a more decorative purpose. Although the old techniques for weaving and knotting have remained unchanged, the often complex designs of the tapestries have resulted in innovating the craft. Picasso’s design ‘Les Femmes à leur toilette’, for instance, remained on the shelf for thirty years until, in 1971, the weavers were finally experienced and confident enough to start working on the particularly detailed tapestry. The realisation of this tapestry took no less than six years. Even now, the completion of a unique tapestry often requires years of intensive manual labour.

For the exhibition ‘Extra Large’, the Louvre Museum in Paris is taking the tapestry ‘La Globe terrestre’, which is only finished for one third, out of storage for the first time. In 1940, the German painter Werner Peiner was commissioned by the German occupying force to make this 72 m2 design. After the liberation in 1944, the production of the monumental tapestry was abruptly halted. In 1943, the French artist Jean Lurçat had responded with his design for the gold-coloured tapestry ‘Liberté’, expressing the French people’s desire for freedom. This work is also shown at the Kunsthal.