Jürgen Adam
Florian Hufnagl Editor
ARNOLDSCHE Art Publishers, Stuttgart, 2013, English and German
Nonfiction, Product/Industrial Design; Nonfiction, Art and Cultural History
12 x 9.8 inches, half-linen cover, embossed, 440 pages, 700 color illustrations
ISBN: 9783897903999
Suggested Retail Price: $115.00

From the Publisher. Tribal carpets from Morocco and Western avant-garde art in the 20th century—this publication represents more than the search for the exotic and oriental, it is an exploration of the origins of modern art and its intriguing similarities to textiles from the Maghreb.

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Norman Weinstein

Few interior furnishings have so caught the imagination of artists as carpets of Oriental pedigree. Artistic imagination makes carpets fly. From the ancient folktale Arabian Nights to the Disney film Aladdin in which an animated flying carpet has its own human personality, the carpet possesses a potent symbolic and aesthetic power. Ironic since carpets in our everyday lives can be so easily taken for granted, intended for the un-lofty fate of being trod upon, thoroughly grounded, often created by anonymous workers in high-tech factories in developing nations. Or we can consider faux-Eastern themed carpets as inexpensive domestic wall decoration, originally inspired by artisans in some Middle Eastern or Maghreb encampment, even if commercially and cheaply plentiful because of simplistic mass-produced copies of original folk styles. Or we can see exceptional folk carpets as art fit for major global exhibition, lifting them out of their usual utilitarian context. German architect and scholar Jürgen Adam has done just that—and what a gift he has given by putting them on exhibition in Munich at the International Design Museum.

Adam has collected an magnificent range of nomadic Moroccan folk carpets over the years that are significant artworks, and has noted strong crosscurrents between their designs and those of modern Western artists, including Eileen Gray, Ellsworth Kelly, Barnett Newman, and Mark Rothko. The International Design Museum’s exhibition offers a ravishing counterpoint of North African vernacular textile design and Euro-American modernism culled from Adam’s collection. If the carpets don’t seem to fly in tandem with Rothko’s canvases, you may have only your earthbound perception to blame.

For those unable to attend the Munich exhibition that opened in September 2013 and closes in May 2014, Adam, with the help of the International Design Museum, Munich, has created an exceptional exhibition catalogue, Moroccan Carpets and Modern Art. With over 700 gloriously printed color illustrations, this hefty oversized tome sports an embossed linen cover, and a consistently insightful commentary by Adam available in German, English, and French.

For anyone unfamiliar with the evolving folk tradition of Moroccan carpets, Adam offers a clear and comprehensive overview of their design features and history. Created traditionally in wool by various tribes of nomadic rug makers to serve as mats, blankets, or shawls, these pile, knotted, or flat-woven carpets share highly abstract and freely colored designs. Their creative uses of color and abstraction attracted Le Corbusier and brought these carpets to the attention of other Western designers in the early 20th century. The Moroccan rug-making tradition continues to undergo dramatic changes in the present, substituting industrial for natural dyes, and cotton (new and recycled clothing scraps) and synthetic fabrics for wool. but the inventive abstract patterns and subtle shimmering shadings prevail as their stylistic signature.

By juxtaposing these Moroccan carpets with Western art by Rothko, Newman, and others, Adam is doing considerably more than showing the pre-modern roots of Abstract Expressionism, valuable as that is as an exercise in neglected art history. In thoroughly analyzing the ties between Maghreb textile design and abstract Color Field art in the West, he is offering a challenge to all current Western designers to consider the following lessons to be learned or reconsidered:

• the play of gradually modulated, boldly colored abstract patterns conveys both spiritual and musical associations, simultaneously communicating the antiquity of modern style and the modernity of ancient folk style. The spiritual associations are realized in esoteric symbols found in Islamic and Jewish mysticism, and could be inspiringly appropriated in secular contexts.

• Free-form and geometric patterns exist engagingly in isolation on various planes that seem to “cross talk.” This resulted in the transformation of a practical textile integral to a nomadic lifestyle into a multi-layered visual “book” of pan-Islamic, folk-flavored cultural conversations over centuries.

• Moroccan carpet designs communicate material and spiritual energies in constant motion. Like a Kandinsky or Klee painting, these Moroccan carpets offer no final “resting place” or clear focal center among viewers in their ever-dancing patterns. This kinetic sense implicit in their designs might explain the globally prevalent archetype of the flying carpet since the carpets’ dynamic designs transcend a purely passive decorative and practical earthbound role in favor of a jumpy, visually busy, eye-catching, oscillating display.

• Unlike digitally created designs that factor out tactic sense during the design process, hand-crafted Moroccan carpets entail constant fingertip sensitivity on the part of their artisans to fabric textures including small irregularities. Colorful abstract patterns grow out of this tactile encounter with material itself in hand for their creators.

• Adam quotes art critic Gottfried Boehm: “Carpets thus expand our understanding of imagery in an unusual way. They are pictures to look at and touch; they subvert the distinction between visible painting, tactile sculpture, and built space…” Note how the carpet’s “subversive qualities” are in synchronization with current genre-blurring and cross-disciplinary mixes happening today in industrial design, fashion, and architecture.

Whether you head to Munich or to a bookstore stocking this catalogue to catch a glimpse of this fruitful collision of ancient Maghreb carpets and modern Western art, your inner eye will be opened to hitherto bypassed design possibilities. Or you may simply savor and meditate upon flights of imagination catalyzed by abstract textile patterns. Or ponder what artists sans formal arts training can continue to teach those formally schooled.

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