In Chicago, Illinois on June 2, 2011, a spectacular golden textile, conceived and created by Simon Peers and Nicholas Godley in Madagascar from silk thread collected from over one million Golden Orb spiders (Nephila madagascariensis), was the breathtaking highlight of a special preview and dinner party at the Art Institute of Chicago last night, to celebrate the opening of the new galleries of African art and Indian art of the Americas.
Hosted by the Art Institute’s President and Director James Cuno, Simon Peers and Nicholas Godley, the inaugural celebration was attended by museum trustees, curators, notable Chicagoans and other luminaries of extraordinary achievement including philanthropist Marjorie Benton, powerhouse couple Eric and Cheryl McKissack, Chicagoans of the Year Ernest Wong and Gunny Harboe, pre-eminent architect Ronald Krueck, marketing guru Denise Gardner, Dr. Anita Blanchard (who delivered President Obama’s children), art dealer Douglas Dawson and notable art historian and film maker Susan Vogel, who produced a series of two-minute, three-channel projections to complement the African art collection in the new galleries. New Yorkers Lady Liliana Cavendish, Geraldine Paz,Maya Stendhal and Susan Shin rounded out the exclusive guest list.
Guests enjoyed Gossamer Dream champagne cocktails and delectables by Bon Appétit, against the backdrop of the Morton staircase as they previewed the spectacular Spider Silk textile before the new galleries open to the public and before a seated dinner. Event designers Morgan & Heffernan transformed the Trustees Room in the Modern Wing, by suspending webbed scrims bathed in gold light which cast patterned shadows on the amber lit walls and configuring diagonally, the long dinner tables which were adorned with bespoke light boxes covered in gilt filigree and Gloriosa lilies in slanted mini-vases, interspersed with tendrils of burnished gold painted ferns and fronds — all evocative of spiders and their webs. Philippe Starck ghost chairs completed the sleek and yet rich atmosphere, an apt metaphor for the interdisciplinary nature and universal appeal of the unique Spider Silk textile.
Nicholas Godley, co-creator of this remarkable work of art mused that “it is art, fashion, culture, anthropology and science. What one object can encompass all those things?” Co-creator Simon Peers added, ” … imbued with metaphor and poetry, with nightmare and phobia, with tales and myths that resonate within us all, the Spider Silk textile encompasses an extraordinary history with contemporary resonance, embodying diverse meanings and associations that inspire and fire the imagination.” On that front, a wonderful surprise awaited the guests, as the artists unveiled a stunning satin Spider Silk opera scarf created specifically for the opening celebration – providing a visceral experience that thrilled everyone who touched the delicate and yet incredibly strong cloth, with tassels that were slightly sticky to the touch, evincing more than a frisson of awe. The only other existing piece made of spider silk is the shawl which was made for the debut of the Spider Silk textile at the American Museum of Natural Historyand which now is part of an exhibition organized by Fondazione Giorgio Cini on San Giorgio Maggiore during theVenice Biennale.
Drawing upon an eccentric and little known history of attempts to use the silk of spiders in weaving that began in early eighteenth-century France and then evolved in places as distant as Paraguay and Madagascar, Mssrs. Peers and Godley have revived and reinvented the process of collecting and carefully extracting by hand the lustrous, golden- colored silk from living spiders, which are then released into the wild. It took almost 5 years and thread from more than a million spiders for the artists to create this dazzling brocaded textile that is hand woven with the beautiful motifs and patterns of historic royal weaves from highland Madagascar. To imagine a cloth made from the gossamer threads of spiders has long been the stuff of dreams and fairy tales. Mssrs. Peers and Godley have taken the impossible from the realm of myth and turned it into the warp and weft of a unique and fabulous cloth. This extraordinary work of art casts its own spell and fascination on the viewer, leaving no one indifferent.
Having completed a very successful showing at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, where it was regarded as one of the most popular stand-alone exhibitions in recent years, the Spider Silk textile is on special loan to the Art Institute and will be displayed in Gallery 137 from June 3 through October. It will be the last opportunity to behold this extraordinary textile before it leaves the United States. Often referred to as the “8th Wonder of World” the Spider Silk textile will be exhibited next at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London beginning January 2012.