July 8, 2021

Quilt museum marking 50th anniversary of influential exhibition

Quilts from the Whitney exhibition

Quilts from the Whitney exhibition are displayed at the International Quilt Museum.

The International Quilt Museum is celebrating the 50th anniversary of a seminal exhibition, “Abstract Design in American Quilts,” with four connected exhibits, including a reinstallation of the original.

The exhibition displayed historical quilts from the Jonathan Holstein and Gail van der Hoof Collection with a focus on design and artistry at the Whitney Museum of Art in New York City in 1971, before traveling across the United States and to Europe and Japan.

In addition to showing pieces from the original exhibition — now part of the permanent collection at the International Quilt Museum — the installation also features three supporting exhibits inspired by it.

“In the whole series, we wanted to bring the exhibition forward and show how it made an impact on the last half century,” said Marin Hanson, curator of international collections. “We’re really helping to talk about the influence of abstract design in American quilts over time and across the globe.”

In 2003, the International Quilt Museum was gifted the renowned Jonathan Holstein and Gail van der Hoof Collection, including the quilts exhibited at the Whitney. Since then, the museum’s curators have looked forward to 2021, when they would celebrate the 50th anniversary of the exhibition.

“As an academic museum, we felt compelled to both honor and re-examine abstract design in American quilts, not only installing the original Whitney Quilts, but also producing parallel exhibitions that would explore other areas of significance to the evolution of the quilt revival of the last half-century plus,” Hanson said.

The first exhibition, running through Sept. 4, is a reinstallation of the majority of the 1971 Whitney quilts, curated by Ardis B. James, curator, and Carolyn Ducey, curator of collections, with input from the original collector and curator, Jonathan Holstein.

The second exhibit, “New York Nexus,” running through Aug. 7, is guest curated by independent scholar Sandra Sider. It examines the impact of the Whitney show on the larger worlds of studio craft, fine art and design.

The third related exhibit, “Raising the Profile, showing through Aug. 7, features quilts that reflect the Whitney show’s influence on the United States’ DIY movement and quilt revival of the 1970s and beyond, curated by Jonathan Gregory, assistant curator of exhibitions.

The fourth and final exhibition, “Journey to Japan, showing through Aug. 7, focuses on the influence the Holstein/van der Hoof quilts had on Japan. Curated by Hanson and Nao Nomura, a professor at Saitama University, this exhibit displays works commissioned from some of Japan’s premiere artists. Each quilt has been made in the artist’s signature style in response to a quilt from the original show.

“We wanted to include an exhibition about the Holstein/van der Hoof quilts in Japan because it shows the global impact the exhibition had,” Hanson said. “It’s also exciting because it’s our first time commissioning a body of work.”

These works also illustrate the museum’s multi-year commitment to build a robust collection of Japanese quilts.