How Did a Visionary Female Entrepreneur Make Modern Art Mainstream?
March 4, 2020
By Cindy Kang
Exhibition Curator, The Barnes Foundation
Fernand Léger (1881–1955). Composition with Three Figures—Fragment, 1932. Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. J. Heinz
Photograph © 2020 Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh © 2020 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris
With International Women’s Day approaching, it’s an opportune time to shine a spotlight on a modern art entrepreneur, Marie Cuttoli (1879-1973), whose career spanned across France, Algeria and the U.S. Cuttoli founded a groundbreaking gallery, launched her own fashion and interior decoration label, and revived the French tapestry industry, yet she has been largely overlooked in art history.
She introduced artists like Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, Fernand Léger, Man Ray and Joan Miró to textiles. By convincing the leading contemporary artists of her time to design tapestries, she made modern artists take decoration seriously. Her venture allowed many of these artists to work on an unprecedented scale in a new medium. Their impressive, large-scale paintings are reunited with the finished tapestries at the Barnes Foundation in the current exhibition, Marie Cuttoli: The Modern Thread from Miró to Man Ray.
Cuttoli started her career in fashion and interior decoration, establishing her own label, Myrbor, in 1920s Paris. She essentially created a “lifestyle brand” before the term was invented, selling a worldly, cosmopolitan image that integrated modern art into mainstream life through textiles. Her tapestries became part of fashionable homes, including those of cosmetics tycoon Helena Rubinstein and architect Philip Johnson, as well as sleek corporate offices like the Seagram Building in midtown Manhattan. The Barnes exhibition traces the development of her businesses from the Roaring Twenties through the postwar era.
Cuttoli’s achievements are often dismissed in the history of modernism. In the postwar period, some of the artists she helped launch and who continued to design tapestry, like Jean Lurçat and Le Corbusier, became the heroes of 20th-century art and design and diminished her role in the process. Cuttoli’s erasure speaks not only to traditional hierarchies that value fine art over the decorative arts, but also to the issue of who gets to write history. When a diversity of voices is encouraged to write history, more and more of these fascinating figures will come to light.
The Barnes exhibition and accompanying catalogue present a new and more expanded view of modern art that includes decoration as a serious endeavor of modernism; for it is through the design and ornamentation of interior spaces that art can intimately affect people’s experience of daily life. It’s a long overdue recognition of a female force who reconceived the function and purpose of modern art in the 20th century.
Marie Cuttoli: The Modern Thread from Miró to Man Ray is now on view through May 10. Learn more at barnesoundation.org/mariecuttoli.
Exhibition curator Cindy Kang welcomes guests to Marie Cuttoli: The Modern Thread from Miró to Man Ray at the Barnes. Photo courtesy of the Barnes Foundation.