Textiles and ceramics occupy a special place in the shared artistic tradition. The MAK’s HARD/SOFT exhibition demonstrates the versatility, beauty and role of these two materials in contemporary art.
- Around 40 international artists feature
- Broad range of pieces
- Many as vehicles for sociopolitical commentary
- Enjoy the lovely ambience too
- Runs Dec 13, 2023 – May 20, 2024
- Book MAK tickets* online
- See also:
Textiles & Ceramics
(MAK Exhibition View, 2023 HARD/SOFT: Textiles and Ceramics in Contemporary Art; MAK Exhibition Hall, Ground Floor; press photo © MAK/Kristina Wissik)
Wool rarely makes efficient mugs and few people wear porcelain gloves. Yet textiles and ceramics have more in common than you might assume at first glance, particularly from an artistic perspective.
Both offer extra dimensions for expression, notably through shape and texture. Both straddle the interface between art and design. And both have strong connections to cultural tradition, communities and collaborative production processes.
As such, textiles and ceramics prove versatile instruments in the contemporary artist’s toolbox.
Which brings us to the HARD/SOFT exhibition at the MAK, where almost 40 artists from Austria and around the world use these materials to explore social, political and economic themes, reexamine the past, create aesthetic experiences, or simply craft beauty out of clay and cloth.
(Another view of the exhibition with Goshka Macuga’s 3D tapestry in the background; press photo © MAK/Georg Mayer)
When visiting, you can just enjoy the forms, colours and designs based on both time-honoured classic materials and experimental alternatives (such as metallic bottle labels). Or take a deeper dive into the meaning and implicit commentary behind many of the pieces.
Around 80 works vary from giant figurative pieces to delicate pottery bowls. And the interplay between materials and artistic concepts also takes place in the wider exhibition architecture.
Subdued lighting, an other-worldly ambience, and the patient handiwork implicit in the displayed art offer a nice counterpoint to the light-filled rush of modern life outside.
The result: an oasis of calm, particularly during Advent. Though underlying messages within some works have a sharper touch to them; the HARD/SOFT title has a double meaning in this context.
(Gelatin, Alle für Alle (Ferdinandeum) [All for All (Ferdinandeum)], 2021–2023; press photo © MAK/Georg Mayer)
So what especially caught my eye?
- Put on the specs provided for an unexpected 3D experience: Goshka Macuga’s remarkable 2022 tapestry Who Gave us a Sponge to Erase the Horizon? depicts an underwater landscape with surrealist and scifi undertones.
- Ranti Bam’s 2023 Ifa, where giant clay vessels take on a form created through the artist physically embracing them during the production process. The result is rather lovely and layered in meaning.
- Photorealism in thread? Hildegard Absalon’s 1982 Self-portrait as Penelope tapestry achieves exactly that effect. And draws on classical mythology to enhance the projected artistry, patience and subversion of the patriarchy. Keep the suitors waiting…
- One section hosts a collage of ceramic faces sculpted by the Gelitin collective in 2021 as performance art. A place to let your eye wander across a wall of creativity.
And a special nod to an artist who grew up in my home county of Wiltshire, England (a region I never expected to see in a major Viennese contemporary art exhibition):
- Laurence Sturla’s bound ceramic fragments surrounded by salt deposits feel like something you might find on a post-apocalypse architectural dig. Or the beginning of a rather fine science fiction novel.
Dates, tickets & tips
Enjoy the interplay between ceramics and textiles from December 13th, 2023 to May 20th, 2024. An entrance ticket for or from the MAK includes the HARD/SOFT exhibition.
(Booking service provided by Tiqets.com*, who I am an affiliate of)
The MAK addresses another aspect of textiles in the concurrent Critical Consumption exhibition, which casts a social and ecological eye over how we consume and produce fashion.
And, if you enjoy the Gelitin ceramics, catch their alternative three-dimensional version of the Mona Lisa until January at the Albertina Modern’s Germany – Austria exhibition.
How to get there
Check the main MAK museum article for travel tips for this central museum.
Address: Stubenring 5, 1010 Vienna