September 13–December 13, 2018
The exhibition From the Desert to the City: The Journey of Late Ancient Textiles highlights textiles from Late Antique Egypt placed in multiple contexts—original use in 3rd-7th century, modern archaeological rediscovery and influence in the early 20th century, and contemporary reception and inspiration—all with an effort to connect today’s audiences with our communal ancient past.
The exhibition, curated by Warren Woodfin in collaboration with museum directors Elizabeth Hoy and Brita Helgesen, centers on the recent gift of eighty-five textile pieces from the Rose Choron collection to the GTM.
The first part of the exhibition sets the stage for the original use of these textiles, placing them in context with other household and religious objects, all of which provide comparisons for motifs and themes that dominate the textiles: myth, the natural world, and health and prosperity. With a major loan from the Brooklyn Museum, the GTM is displaying two large-scale mosaics of birds and fish, carved architectural stonework, and figural sculptures, the likes of which are rarely, if ever, seen in Queens, let alone for free!
The second part of the exhibition addresses the archaeological discovery of “Coptic” textiles in the late 19th and 20th centuries. Here, comparative works highlight the impact of the rediscovery of these textiles on modern art from the visual to theatrical, including the drawings by Henri Matisse and stagings of Jules Massenet’s opera Thaïs.
The third and final section will juxtapose the Late Antique textiles with contemporary works inspired by them. From the Desert to the City will include work by Brooklyn artist Gail Rothschild who has created large-scale paintings directly inspired by the fragmentary condition of the Choron textiles. Figurative works in crochet by Queens-based Caroline Wells Chandler propel stylized late antique figures into bold, humorous, 21st century technicolor. By tracing the reception of the textile arts of the Late Ancient world into the 21st century, the exhibition will attest to their continued vitality as sources of creative inspiration as well as scholarly insight.
As with a number of past exhibitions at the GTM, Queens College’s students are contributing to the research and writing for the exhibition and accompanying catalogue. This was facilitated through an Art History graduate seminar taught in Spring 2018 by Warren Woodfin.
The full color catalogue will feature essays by Jennifer Ball, Glenn Goldberg, Brita Helgesen, Elizabeth Hoy, Thelma Thomas, and Warren Woodfin, along with contributions from Queens College graduate students in Art History.