This summer the print room of the Gemeentemuseum houses a display of ironic and provocative textile objects and design drawings by the pioneering Dutch textile artist Anna Verweij (1935 – 1980). It is partly thanks to her that the use of needle and thread is these days no longer taboo in the fine art field and that artists like Michael Raedecker and Berend Strik now work with these materials. This presentation is prompted by the recent acquisition of several major works by Anna Verweij and a donation consisting of thirty of her design drawings by her widower, artist Hans Verweij.
Anna Verweij started to experiment with materials and techniques in the late ’50s, immediately after dropping out of art school. In 1958 she decided to call herself simply ‘Anna’. She started using various scrap materials to make jewellery and small wall hangings but was soon devoting herself entirely to textiles, the material to which she was henceforth to remain true throughout her career. In the 1960s she threw herself into designing large, vividly coloured wall hangings. Over the next ten years, her textile work became ever more detailed and conceptual in character. The idea that work in textiles could be considered a form of fine art was under perpetual fire during this period. The material was still associated mainly with the decorative arts. Anna’s work served both to fan the flames of the debate and to cast doubt on the need for it. For her, at the end of the day, the dividing line between the two forms of art was blurred anyway.
My Place at Table
Anna first attracted public attention with a work called My Place at Table 2 (1972/73). It consists of a wooden table covered with a pristine white cotton tablecloth decorated with a delicate border of flowers embroidered in black. At one end of the cloth, the embroidery degenerates into a chaotic mass of stitches. In an earlier work entitled Alice Writes to Alice (1971), Anna showed how a wrinkled strip of fabric could mutate into a mysterious form of writing. In pieces like this, imbued with her light-hearted sense of humour, Anna comments on the inconsistencies in human behaviour and the conflict between the inner self and the public persona. The works are characterised by an experimental use of flannel, jute, cotton, silk and snap fasteners, in combination with plastic and foam rubber. Her love of nature is another recurring feature of her work, apparent for example in her design drawings for fields of flowers, based on compositions by Piet Mondrian.
In the summer of 1978 Anna fell seriously ill. From then on, her work was to revolve around the idea of physical change. She produced silhouettes of female figures modelled on her own body. A good example of these is The Vault (1979), a work showing a figure pole-vaulting: a clear reference to the transition between life and death. A large part of her oeuvre was produced in the remaining two years of her life, a period in which her most important exhibitions also took place. Her solo exhibition at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam opened in 1979 and in 1984 a posthumous show was held at the Boymans Van Beuningen Museum.
In honour of the present exhibition, the museum shop will stock Henriëtte Heezen’s Dutch-language book on the artist’s work, ‘Mijn plaats aan tafel: Anna’.