A new exhibit at the de Young Museum is both easy on the eyes and helpful in expanding vocabularies.
“To Dye For: A World Saturated in Color” deals with the newly resurgent art and commercial use of tie-dye, the application of dye after knotting fabric to produce an irregular pattern.
When textile curator Jill D’Alessandro talks about the show she put together, you’re itching to get into a word game to use newly acquired items from the terminology describing various methods.
“Batik,” a fairly well-known word, is definitely legal in Scrabble: it’s tie-dye created with the application of hot wax. “Mordant-resist” has to do with chemicals such as acids and salts that set dyes on fabrics.
Likely to be a new one to most average vocabularies is “ikat.” Of Malay-Indonesian origin, just as batik, ikat describes the process of yarn being bound and dyed before weaving. Just one more: “Weft” yarns are woven across the warp yarn in weaving.
There are splendid examples of these and other techniques in the exhibit, from the museum’s collection of textiles from Africa, Asia, North and South America.
D’Alessandro says the presentation “shows how cultures across the world have used similar techniques for centuries,” with the end result of “a stunning array of textures, patterns and color.”
Objects range in era from a millennium-old tie-dyed tunic from pre-Hispanic Peru to 20th-century kerchiefs from the Dida people of the Ivory Coast.
The show includes works by contemporary Bay Area artists Judith Content, Ana Lisa Hedstrom, Angelina DeAntonis and Yoshiko Wada.
In the fashion department, there is a tie-dye evening gown from Rodarte, and an ikat trench coat from Oscar de La Renta. They point the way to this season’s current tribal trend, exemplified by Dries Van Noten’s and Gucci’s ikats and Proenza Schouler’s and Calvin Klein’s tie-dyes.
More than half of the museum’s own objects on exhibit are on view for the first time, including a ceremonial cloth from Mindanao, Philippines. It’s the public debut for this cloth, made from abaca and dyed with a warp-resist, which is part of a collection gifted to the museum in 1938 by Mrs. Gustave Brenner.
IF YOU GO
To Dye For: A World Saturated in Color
Where: de Young Museum, Golden Gate Park, 50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive, San Francisco
When: 9:30 a.m. to 5:15 p.m. Tuesdays-Thursdays, Saturdays-Sundays; 9:30 a.m. to 8:45 p.m. Fridays; closes Jan. 9
Tickets: $6 to $10 (free first Tuesday of every month)
Contact: (415) 750-3600, www.deyoungmuseum.org