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.

All photos © Institute For Figuring, by Margaret Wertheim

In 2022, Museum Frieder Burda in Germany presents Margaret and Christine Wertheim: Wert und Wandel der Korallen (Value and Transformation of Corals), a museum-wide retrospective of the Crochet Coral Reef that turns the entire building into an immersive wooly experience. 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 complete other world. Even the lifts are filled with corals to become a series of moving vertical aquariums. Curated by Udo Kittelmann in close association with the artists, the exhibition also introduces the Baden-Baden Satellite Reef created by 4000+ contributors. Exhibition design by Meyer Vogenreitter. A 240-page catalog book is published by Weinand Verlag. German edition on sale now at Museum Frieder Burda. English edition coming soon.

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 and swell 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.

Exhibited at the 58th Venice Biennale, the Crochet Coral Reef is now the subject of a museum-wide retrospective at Museum Frieder Burda. Throughout the galleries we encounter a grove of giant Coral Forests made of yarn, videotape and plastic, a Bleached Reef, a Toxic Reef, a collection of miniature coral Pod Worlds, and new sculptures created for this exhibition, including a large-scale embroidered Sampler paying homage to the Reef’s most committed contributors and to 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.

crochet coral installation in small glass vitrines

Pod Worlds at Museum Frieder Burda.

Photo © Institute For Figuring

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 4,000+ 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 and friezes installed inside the gallery and within the museum’s elevators, turning the latter into moving aquaria. With individual coral pieces generated by thousands of hands, then curated by a small team, these works challenge normative ideas about the artist as singular “genius” and add an important element to the field of collaborative fiber art in the tradition of pioneering collective creations such as the Gees Bend’s quilts.

The Baden-Baden curatorial team consists of Kathrin Dorfner, Martina Schulz, Christina Humpert, Charlotte Reiter, Susan Reiss and Silke Habich, with assistance from the entire team of the museum’s art workshop and installation crew, led by master carpenter Arnd Merkle, plus twenty local seamstresses.

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 Christine Wertheim, Margaret Wertheim, Donna Haraway, Kayleigh C. Perkov, Doug Harvey, Heather Davis, Amita Deshpande, Cord Reichelmann, Judith Irrgang, 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)

German books on sale now at Museum Frieder Burda. English edition coming soon.

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

very large sculpture of crochet coral island

Baden Baden Satellite Reef.

Photo courtesy Museum Frieder Burda, Nickolay Kazakov
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
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
crochet corals in vitrines at museum

Pod Worlds with vitrine reflections.

Photo © Institute For Figuring
Installation view of galley exhibition of crochet corals

Installation view of the Baden-Baden Midden, with Baden-Baden Satellite Reef  “coral paintings” installed in the museum lift wells; plus Branched Anemone Garden and large-scale embroidered sampler.

Photo © Institute For Figuring
large-scale sculpture of crochet coral reefs

Baden Baden Satellite Reef.

Photo courtesy Museum Frieder Burda, Nickolay Kazakov

Baden Baden Satellite Reef.

Photo courtesy Museum Frieder Burda, Nickolay Kazakov

Baden-Baden Satellite Reef with “wall of names” listing all 4000+ crochet contributors.

Photo courtesy Museum Frieder Burda, Nickolay Kazakov
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
6 women standing in front of a wall of crochet corals at museum

Curatorial team of the Baden-Baden Satellite Reef – Kathrin Dorfner, Martina Schulz, Christina Humpert, Charlotte Reiter, Susan Reiss and Silke Habich – with their coral “wall painting,” conceived and co-curated with Christine Wertheim.

Photo © Institute For Figuring
woman in a room with thousands of crochet coral pieces

Christina Humpert and Susan Reiss preparing panels for the Five Fathoms Deep coral “wall painting.”

woman preparing thousands of coral pieces for museum exhibition
Photos © Institute For Figuring
detail of crochet coral wall frieze

Detail of 40-foot long Coral Freize.

Photo © Institute For Figuring
crochet corals - detail of museum installation

Detail of Five Fathoms Deep coral wall-painting, by Baden-Baden Satellite Reef crafters, featuring crocheted sand dollars, cup corals. and fingerling corals.

Photo © Institute For Figuring
Detail of crochet coral installation

Detail of Baden-Baden Satellite Reef, Variegated island, featuring crocheted sea cucumber and anemones.

Photo © Institute For Figuring