Alexandra Lange
Architecture & design critic

Transformed by Mexico, Six Women Broke Barriers Between Art and Design

Anni Albers, “Study for Camino Real,” 1967. Courtesy Albers Foundation/ARS, New York.

They lived or worked in Mexico from the 1930s through the 1970s. Some were friends, some mentors, some colleagues. But all of their work, ranging from photography to furniture to weaving to sculpture, was transformed by their time there.

The exhibition “In a Cloud, in a Wall, in a Chair: Six Modernists in Mexico at Midcentury,” simply but beautifully presented at the Art Institute of Chicago’s Modern Wing, highlights the work of six women: the Cuban-born Clara Porset, the Mexican Lola Álvarez Bravo, the German émigré Anni Albers, and the Americans Ruth Asawa, Cynthia Sargent and Sheila Hicks (who at 85 is still actively working with fibers).

Politics affected the geographic and artistic trajectories of all six, but they also influenced the curatorial decision to make the exhibition about many women rather than one.

“In the beginning people said, ‘Why don’t you do a show on Clara Porset?’” Zoe Ryan, the lead curator, said. Ms. Ryan, who worked with the consulting curator Ana Elena Mallet and the research assistant Valentina Sarmiento Cruz, added, “We have tried hard to move away from the singular heroic figures.”