Textiles Close Up at the Metropolitan Museum by Kirstin Purtich
November 15’s Textiles Close Up program provided a great opportunity to hear from the team of curators responsible for the Metropolitan Museum’s exhibition Interwoven Globe: The Worldwide Trade, 1500-1800. A multi-gallery show at least six years in the making, Interwoven Globe represents a unique collaboration across several of the museum’s departments, bringing together textile artifacts from around the world, many of which have not been exhibited previously. The majority of the objects in this exhibition, which range from flat textiles to finished furniture and articles of clothing, come from the Met’s own collections, though they are supplemented by loaned objects that flesh out the narrative of the international trade and transfer of designs.
The first half of the day-long program was devoted to an in-depth tour of the exhibition, which addressed both the themes present in individual objects and some of the challenges presented by a display almost entirely comprised of textiles. Exhibition curators Amelia Peck, Melinda Watt, Amy Bogansky, and Joyce Denney presented on individual objects in their various areas of expertise, while TSA president Elena Phipps offered further insights into some of the more practical elements of the weaving and dyeing techniques on display.
Several of the curators addressed the difficulty of attribution in the case of many of these textiles – as many of these artifacts combine materials, dyestuffs, and applied decoration from various sources around the globe, it can often be difficult to give a single credit line to these complex objects that will fit neatly on a gallery label. The museum’s approach to installing these objects was also interesting – although many of these textiles invite close examination, due to safety concerns, Plexiglas cases proved to be the only reasonable method of display for many of these delicate objects.
There were many highlights, but one of my personal favorite sections was the gallery titled “Looking East, Looking West,” which emphasized the cross-pollination of Western and Eastern motifs and decorative themes. Melinda Watt pointed out one deliberate juxtaposition of a 17th-century English mirror with an embroidered satin frame and an Iranian pictorial carpet of the same era – while each object borrows motifs from the opposite culture, both share a common composition derived from the title pages of printed books circulated by European traders. Another fascinating object in its own right was a mid-18th century Indian palampore made for the European market, whose embroidered white lines imitate resist outlines. If you look closely at the design, you can tell that the individual vines and flowers must have been copied from a pattern book, just scaled up or down as needed to fit the overall composition.
After a lovely lunch in the American Wing offices, we were able to visit the appointment-only Antonio Ratti Textile Center, which I was surprised to learn has been a part of the Met’s program of public access to the museum collections since 1909. Here the curators presented several objects that had been considered for the exhibition but ultimately not chosen. Unlike in the galleries, where alarms prevented us from getting too close to the objects on display, here we had the chance to examine the textiles more carefully. The curators also acquainted us with certain supplementary materials like pattern books and written documents, like the letters from West African merchants featuring sample swatches shown above.
Even without a tour by the curatorial team, I would highly recommend visiting this exhibition before it closes in January, and taking advantage of the Ratti Center’s extensive collections and facilities. For more information on the exhibit, the Met’s website is a great resource, as images of all the objects in the show have been digitized along with their label information: http://www.metmuseum.org/exhibitions/listings/2013/interwoven-globe.
Kirstin Purtich is a new member of TSA and a current MA candidate at the Bard Graduate Center in New York City.