Installation view of Projects 28: Kyoko Kumai at The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Photo: Mali Olatunji

A monumental fabric made from thousands of feet of stainless-steel fiber by Japanese fiber artist Kyoko Kumai is on view as part of The Museum of Modern Art’s Projects series. Titled Air (1991), the installation demonstrates how the artist, by piling and manipulating industrial wire, transforms metal filament into an unexpectedly sensuous sculptural form. Projects 28: Kyoko Kumai is the artist’s first exhibition in the United States.

Air alludes to Kumai’s interest in the forces of nature, specifically air movement and light, through her use of highly reflective and lightweight materials. In the brochure accompanying the exhibition, Matilda McQuaid writes, “Most indicative of the Japanese sense of beauty in Kumai’s work is the importance of light, both in its presence and calculated absence. In the Japanese sensibility, beauty resides not always in the thing itself but in the patterns of shadows, the light and the darkness. Shadows become calligraphic lines in Air, and their movement captures the spirit of turbulent wind.”

Measuring approximately 6 × 4 × 32′, Air was constructed by a technique invented by the artist. Kumai and her assistants pull stainless-steel wire from dozens of spools, curling and coiling the metallic fiber and stretching it outward from the center. Once the overall size has been established, Kumai goes back over the work with a shuttle, loosely looping the thousands of feet of curled wire. She binds it further from a hanging position, giving it more form and volume.

One of the most distinctive textile designers practicing in Japan today, Kumai has been working exclusively with stainless-steel fiber for the past seven years to create immense fabrics that evoke the Japanese landscape. Her pieces recall the work of Polish artist Magdalena Abakanowicz, whose sculptural forms led fiber out of the confines of traditional weaving. In referring to her materials, Kumai has written, “There is something mysterious, erotic, even fluid about the texture of stainless steel fiber when it meets the weaver’s hand. Its hard, cool, directionless character becomes flexible and warm. In the final stage it stands seeming to draw a breath—wavering and blowing in the wind.”

Organized by Matilda McQuaid, assistant curator, Department of Architecture and Design.

The Projects series is made possible by generous grants from The Bohen Foundation, the Lannan Foundation, The Contemporary Arts Council of The Museum of Modern Art, and the National Endowment for the Arts. Additional support for this exhibition has been provided by The British Council.

Installation views

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