In the seven years from 1962 to 1969, the world of tapestry experienced a radical transformation. Accepted concepts, principles, rules, practices and techniques were seriously challenged by events at the Lausanne Tapestry Biennials.
The founding fathers, Pierre Pauli and the French artist Jean Lurçat, had envisioned the Biennials functioning as a kind of seismograph, but in reality, they became the epicentre of an earthquake that seemingly destroyed traditional mural tapestry, and laid the ground for a new, three-dimensional approach. The first four Lausanne Biennials were stormy. They witnessed tensions that degenerated into conflict between advocates of old and new, and brought to the surface formidable challenges and revolutionary innovations.
By 1962, the year of the first Biennial, Jean Lurçat had launched the tapestry revival on the world stage by organising numerous exhibitions and conferences on all four continents. In that same spirit, along with Pierre and Alice Pauli, he had envisaged an international exhibition which would take place in Lausanne every two years and showcase the latest developments in wall tapestry.
The challenge came from young artists, mainly from Switzerland and central and eastern Europe. From the very first 1962 edition, they brought a fundamental change by breaking with the principle of the painter/weaver duo (the designer working with the craftsman). Moreover, in a world hitherto dominated by men tapestry-makers, this shift opened doors for young women artists, who took on both the roles. By 1967, most artists were women, and it has stayed that way to this day in the Fiber Art movement.
Entries were broadened to include all woven and embroidered works – a highly contentious issue between the French and the Swiss organisers. As the makers of wall tapestries explored new textures, contemporary artists were increasingly investigating the three-dimensional possibilities of the medium. By 1969 these innovative approaches were accepted and numerous pieces had moved off the wall to textile sculptures. By the 1970s, the different currents were able to co-exist, exploring their own individual paths which often crossed, but rarely merged.
Choice of works
Thanks to a world-wide research, it has been possible to select 35 tapestries, the very same works that were originally exhibited in the Lausanne Biennials. French wall tapestries will include mature works by Lurçat and his friend cartoon painters such as Prassinos, and Tourlière, and some tapestries based on paintings by well-known artists such as Picasso, Delaunay, Estève. Other tapestries will illustrate European and American productions, including Somville, Rousseau-Vermette, Yoors, and Scholten. Certain Polish artists that caused a stir and generated much commentary such as Abakanowicz, Owidzka, and Sadley will also be on view. Three-dimensional works showcased will include emblematic pieces by Giauque, Jobin, Abakanowicz, Daquin, and Lindgren.
Bruno Ythier, Cité de la tapisserie, Aubusson
Giselle Eberhard Cotton, Fondation Toms Pauli, Lausanne
Magdalena Abakanowicz, Red Abakan
4th Lausanne Biennial, 1969
Photo CITAM archives
Exhibition Website Link: https://www.cite-tapisserie.fr/expositions/le-mur-et-lespace