Kay Wells gave a Brown Bag Lunch presentation on Wednesday, August 24, 2016 at 12 pm. Her talk was entitled “Weaving Modernism: Postwar Tapestry between Paris and New York.”

In this talk, Wells will explore how the revival of French tapestry as a medium for modern art furthered the promotion of modernism in both France and the United States in the decades following World War II. Dozens of canonical modern artists and architects, prestigious dealers and curators, and significant collectors participated in this modern tapestry revival. One dealer estimated that in the forty years following World War II there were over three thousand exhibitions of modern tapestries organized internationally. Marshaling this largely unexplored history reveals how tapestries facilitated the metaphorical weaving of modernism into the dominant paradigm of the postwar period. Tapestry repeatedly served as a model for modernists trying to articulate the originality and value of modern art in their postwar society. Tapestry was a tool that enabled modernists to expand the audience, critical importance, function, and marketability of modern art. But although tapestry helped modern art reach new heights, the medium contests many of our assumptions about “high” modernism in postwar New York. While many scholars continue to invoke stereotypes about postwar art as a period of “high modernism” that was allegedly anti-French, anti-decorative, and obsessed with originality and media purity, tapestry challenges those conventional narratives of the postwar period by showing how Americans engaged with the French identity, decorative function, and reproductive abilities of modern art.

Kay Wells is Assistant Professor of Art History at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and is currently a research fellow at Bard Graduate Center. She received her PhD in art history from the University of Southern California. Her research focuses on the interconnections between fine and applied arts, and her book manuscript in progress, Weaving Modernism: Postwar Tapestry between Paris and New York, explores the close relationship between modernist painting and French tapestry in the decades following World War II. Wells was a member of the Textile Project at the University of Zurich and the first postdoctoral fellow in the history of craft at Virginia Commonwealth University. Her publications include “The ‘merely imitative mood’: British Japonisme and Imperial Mimesis,” forthcoming in Nineteenth Century Studies; “Rockefeller’s Guernica and the Collection of Modern Copies,” in Journal of the History of Collections (2014); “Serpentine Sideboards, Hogarth’s Analysis, and the Beautiful Self,” in Eighteenth Century Studies (Spring 2013); and “Artistes contre Liciers: La Renaissance de la Tapisserie Française,” in Decorum (Paris: Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris and Skira Flammarion, 2013).