Margaret and Christine Wertheim: Value and Transformation of Corals

January 29 - June 26, 2022
Museum Frieder Burda, Baden-Baden, Germany
Wall of crochet corals at museum frieder burda.

Five Fathoms Deep “crochet painting” consisting of 5000 coral pieces, created by Baden-Baden Satellite Reef crafters with Christine Wertheim.

Photos © Institute For Figuring, by Margaret Wertheim

In 2022, Museum Frieder Burda in Germany presents Margaret and Christine Wertheim: Value and Transformation of Corals, a museum-wide retrospective of the Crochet Coral Reef that turns the building into an immersive wooly environment. With a towering Coral Forest made from yarns, plastics and videotape; a wall-sized ‘painting’ and ‘frieze’ each comprising 5000 coral pieces (think abstract expressionism meets female craft); and a vast-in-scale community reef composed of 40,000 corals, visitors are enfolded in a surreal alien world. Even the lifts are filled with corals, transforming them into a moving vertical aquarium. Curated by Udo Kittelmann in close association with the artists, the exhibition also introduces the Baden-Baden Satellite Reef created by 4000+ contributors across the German speaking world. An accompanying 240-page catalog book is published in German and English editions by Weinand Verlag.

frieze of crochet corals at Museum frieder burda

40ft long Coral Frieze by Baden-Baden Satellite Reef crafters; with Coral Forest sculpture featuring plastic-bag corals by Siew Chu Kerk.

Photo © Institute For Figuring.

About the Exhibition:

Cnidarians are dying. Corals everywhere are being killed by global warming. Refusing to capitulate in the face of loss, sister-artists Margaret Wertheim and Christine Wertheim have fabulated a response using traditional handicraft techniques – their crochet reefs shimmer in colors and shapes inspired by the Great Barrier Reef. Here, art, science, mathematics and community practice are synthesized in work that reflects the possibilities of stitchery and the hidden history of using craft techniques for scientific representation.

Shown at the 58th Venice Biennale, the Crochet Coral Reef is now the subject of a museum-wide retrospective at Museum Frieder Burda that includes new works created specifically for this exhibition, including a large-scale embroidered Sampler paying homage to the Reef’s most committed contributors and to history of domestic female labor.

At once a meditation on climate change and mathematical formations in nature, the project also demonstrates parallels between biological and social evolution. In the process of crocheting corals, each maker becomes part of a comprehensive whole analogous to the individual polyps of living reefs that together grow collective forms, blurring the boundaries between the ‘individual’ and the ‘communal.’ Collaborative, figurative, material, conceptual, artistic, scientific, feminist and playful, the Crochet Coral Reef alerts us to the reality that life on Earth is nothing if not entangled.

Exhibition design by Meyer Vogenreitter.

crochet and beaded corals in vitrines in a gallery

Pod Worlds displaying some of the Reef projects most fine and delicate pieces, at Museum Frieder Burda.

Photo by Richard Nielsen

About the Community Reef

Alongside the Wertheim’s reefs, the exhibition debuts the monumental Baden-Baden Satellite Reef transforming the upper gallery into an oceanic paradise. With 40,000 coral pieces by 4000+ participants across Germany and beyond, this is by far the largest Satellite Reef to date. For the exhibition Margaret and Christine collaborated with a dedicated team of local crafters to synthesize this wooly outpouring into a collection of three-dimensional, topographical coral islands, and a series vast wall-mounted ‘coral paintings’ installed within the gallery and inside the museum’s elevators, turning the latter into an immersive moving aquarium. With individual coral pieces generated by thousands of hands and as many imaginations, these works challenge normative ideas about the artist as singular ‘genius’ adding a new dimension to the field of collaborative fiber art in the tradition of pioneering collective creations such as the Gees Bend’s quilts.

See here for more information, plus a photo gallery of the Baden Baden Satellite Reef. The BBSR curatorial team consisted of Kathrin Dorfner, Martina Schulz, Christina Humpert, Charlotte Reiter, Susan Reiss and Silke Habich, with assistance from the entire team of Museum Frieder Burda’s art workshop and installation crew led by master carpenter Arnd Merkle.

very large sculpture of a crochet coral island

Baden-Baden Satellite Reef at Museum Frieder Burda.

Photo courtesy Museum Frieder Burda, Nickolay Kazakov

Accompanying the show is a 240 page full-color book, published in German and English editions with commissioned essays about the scientific, social, environmental, mathematical, feminist, and community dimensions of the project. Essays by Donna Haraway, Kayleigh C. Perkov, Doug Harvey, Heather Davis, Amita Deshpande, Cord Reichelmann, Judith Irrgang,  Christine Wertheim, Margaret Wertheim, and Forward by curator Udo Kittelman. Plus commissioned photos by Rebecca Rickman and Nickolay Kazakov. Book design by Margarethe Hausstatter.

Editors: Udo Kittelman for the Frieder Burda Foundation, and Christine Wertheim and Margaret Wertheim. Published by Weinand Verlag.

ISBN 978-3-86832-688-8 (English edition)
ISBN 978-3-86832-676-5 (German edition)


Cover blurb:  “The crochet coral reef is sym-chthonic. It is for and with the multispecies critters, including human people, of the deep and ongoing earth.  The crochet coral reef is palpable, polymorphous, terrifying, and inspiring stitchery done with every sort of fiber and strand, looped by tens of thousands of people in dozens of nations, who come together to stitch care, beauty, and response-ability in play tanks. This SF worlding is enabled by Margaret and Christine Wertheim’s outrageous, chthonic symbiosis of science, mathematics, art, activism, women’s fiber arts, environmentalism, fabulation, and sheer love of the critters of terra.” – Donna Haraway

Press Coverage:

Kunstforum International – Pdf
ART magazine – Pdf
German TV Science program, feature story with Ingolf Bauer – Video
Evolve magazine – Pdf
Monopole – Pdf

Exterior of Museum Frieder Burda

Exterior Museum Frieder Burda with coral display on LED screen.

Photo © Institute For Figuring
Crochet coral installation at Museum Frieder Burda

Plastic Coral Forests and 40ft long “wall frieze” made from 5000 crochet corals by Baden-Baden Satellite Reefers.

Photo © Institute For Figuring
large-scale crochet coral sculptures

Coral Forest sculptures made from plastics, videotape, saran wrap, tinsel, and other detritus.

Photo © Institute For Figuring
giant coral wall painting

Five Fathoms Deep, coral wall painting – 20ft x 11ft, made from 5000 crochet corals by the Baden Baden Satellite Reefers – curated by Christine Wertheim with the BBSR team.

Photo by Richard Nielsen
Series of vitrines with small coral installations at Museum Frieder Burda

Pod Worlds and wall text.

Photo © Institute For Figuring
Long coiled crocheted sea snake in gallery

Hyperbolic Sea Snake by Helen Bernasconi.

Photo © Institute For Figuring
sculptures of crochet and beaded corals in vitrines

Pod Worlds at Museum Frieder Burda

Photo by Richard Neilsen
display of vintage coral doilies and prints of Ernst Haeckel sea creature drawings

“Cabinet Room” installation of vintage crochet doilies and 1960’s plastic doilies from the artist’s collection, plus vintage crochet magazines and books; with series of 19th century prints of Ernst Haeckel sea creature drawings.

Photo © Institute For Figuring
Plastic hyperbolic doilie, vintage 1960s

Vintage plastic doillie from 1960s with hyperbolic frills at the edge.

Photo © Institute For Figuring

19th century tatted doillie that can be ironed into hyperbolic waves.

Photo © Institute For Figuring
kargescale embroidery sampler with tatted names

Detail of embroidered sampler with 27 names of the Crochet Reef’s most dedicated contributors in tatting. The piece is titled Evelyn Hardin and Friends, after our beloved Texas contributor Evelyn, who made so many innovations and passed away too suddenly in 2014. Dimensions: 33 inches and 65 inches. Conceived and designed by Christine Wertheim and Margaret Wertheim. Letters commissioned from Anna Blinohvatova and sewn on by Laura Im and Eileen Von Schaik (pictured).

Woman standing in front of large-scale embroidered sampler
Photos © Institute For Figuring
Long coiled crochet sea snake sculpture with framed documents from Crochet Reef constrbutors

Hyperbolic Sea Snake by Helen Bernasconi with wall of “Holy Documents” – a selection of letters, diagrams, labels, and momentos sent to the artists by Crochet Coral Reef contributors.

Photo © Institute For Figuring