Consider the Curtain

Consider the Curtain: Lessons From the Art of Everyday Textiles

by Syd Abady

Course Objective
Meditate on your personal relationship with curtains as a tool to investigate your own preferences and agency. Curtains exist to guide, not to prescribe. Consider, without rigidly defining, the way that you are.

Suggested Reading
A Room of One’s Own—Virginia Woolf
Belonging: A Culture of Place—bell hooks
Inside Outside—Petra Blaisse
Mothers and Fathers of the Modern Curtain—Meggie Kelley
The Poetics of Space—Gaston Bachelard

Close your eyes. Imagine a curtain. Draw a picture or write a detailed description of it. Here is a rod for you to use:

To download the curtain rod, click here.

I have always been drawn to curtains. They are the most romantic part of a space to me. I find them mysterious. Are they hiding something? Are they divulging something? Are they doing their job? Should I close them? Should I open them? When was the last time I washed them? Are they here primarily for my private space or for public passersby? 

This provocation of questions I find in the curtains I stare at daily, as well as when looking at the monumental work of Christo and Jeanne-Claude entitled Valley Curtain. This piece was 1,250 feet wide, 365 feet tall at its peak, took 28 months to finish, was entirely self-funded to the tune of $400,000, and only hung up for 28 hours in 1972. “That the curtain no longer exists only makes it more interesting,” Christo stated. While many curtains remain up for longer than 28 hours, they are inherent reminders of ephemeral states. They can be moved, manipulated, and impacted by their surroundings.

A gigantic orange curtain spans a green valley in front of a blue mountain  with a highway running through.
Christo & Jeanne-Claude Signed Valley Curtain Postcard, 1972, photo via University Archives website

What qualities do you search for in a curtain? Which do you avoid?

When I think of my childhood bedroom, the first element that comes to my mind are my curtains. I spent hours on my windowsill reading wrapped in my canvas curtains that featured oversized cherries and bright green leaves, frequently opening or closing them to my heart’s content. They gave me a sense of agency that can often be hard to come by in adolescence. During the day, the greens and reds of the predominant print gave my room an almost tropical glow. At night, they sheltered me, but did not obstruct, the eerie streets of Los Angeles. I have always liked this duality; a curtain that exists in an in-between space. It does not fully divulge or mask what is on the other side.

A woven curtain covers a window, a mountain visible beyond.
A curtain I wove for my room in Morongo Valley, California.

Write down your initial reactions to the following two artworks where curtains act as the focal point:

An elaborately draped white curtain hangs in a vast hall.
The Event of a Thread, Ann Hamilton, 2012 (photo credit: Thibault Jeanson, Al Foote III, Will Chafkin, Woo-Ram Jung, James Ewing, Lana Z. Caplan, Philip Greenberg/New York Times, The Wånas Foundation, Ann Hamilton Studio
Orange curtains hang high above a colorfully tiled floor.
Curtain, Jorge Pardo, 2001 (Photo credit: Orien Sior, courtesy of Dia center for the Arts via the Fabric Workshop Museum website)

I am drawn to both works because they ask more questions than provide answers without being totally intangible. They anchor the spaces they exist in without being didactic about how to interact within them. Yet again, I find my personal tastes leading me to examples of curtains acting as intermediaries rather than dividers.

Do you believe a curtain’s primary purpose is to reveal or conceal?

Think about your response while looking at this series by Felix Gonzalez-Torres.

Blue translucent curtains are draped over three big windows.
Untitled (Loverboy), Felix Gonzalez-Torres, 1989 (image via on Felix Gonzalez-Torres Foundation website)
A person walks through a beaded curtain in a white room.
Untitled (Chemo), Felix Gonzalez-Torres, 1991 (image via on Felix Gonzalez-Torres Foundation website)
A red curtain hangs from wooden rafters in a large hall.
Untitled (Blood), Felix Gonzalez-Torres, 1992 (image via on Felix Gonzalez-Torres Foundation website)
A person stands between to panels of a green curtain, separating them with their arms.
Untitled (Beginning), Felix Gonzalez-Torres, 1994 (image via on Felix Gonzalez-Torres Foundation website)
A large tan curtain sections off a gallery, where statues and paintings are on display.
Untitled (Golden), Felix Gonzalez-Torres, 1995 (image via on Felix Gonzalez-Torres Foundation website)
Blue curtains hang in two narrow doorways.
Untitled (Water), Felix Gonzalez-Torres, 1995 (image via on Felix Gonzalez-Torres Foundation website)

I won’t provide my personal answer for this question as I don’t have one. My mind goes straight to the middle. Maybe so does yours. These artworks define the state of transition, but do not illustrate the specifics of the action. They, like other curtains, allow the viewer to contemplate disparate parts while never forgetting the whole.