There's agony in "The Scandinavian Touch" at the Textile Museum: You can look at these rich products of the weaver's art, but you can't touch, no matter how your fingers ache to feel the textures.
The show of some 80 works by 20 artists ranges from the decorative-and-practical to fabric sculpture and, in the case of Sweden's Sandra Ikse, tapestries of great depth and terrible power.
Chosen to showcase the most innovative current workers in Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden, the exhibition is almost too much of a good thing. Most of the pieces are of such quality as to deserve -- even require -- more individual wall space than it was possible to provide; when standing at a reasonable viewing distance, it is difficult to consider one work without being distracted by another.
In some cases, however, the juxtapositions strongly reinforce each other, as when the subtle and painterly landscapes of Elisabet Hasselberg-Olsson somehow assert themselves alongside the bold abstractions in wool and horsehair of Asgerdur Buadottir.
According to the exhibition catalogue, the works are all by women because in the old days weaving was always women's work and in these brave new days, public policies of equality notwithstanding, textile art still is the medium in which Scandinavian women can "most freely express and shape their designs and their ideas."
Free expression it certainly is, and while the works are not grouped by the artists' nationalities, it's clear that cultural tradition heavily influences most of them. It's not apparent from the styles, for instance, that Norway and Sweden share a peninsula, or that Iceland is on the same planet as Denmark. And yet, as the exhibition was designed to show, there is a Nordic style.
Most visitors will find themselves turning to Ikse's tapestries again and again, drawn first by their arresting and straightforward themes of birth and death and sorrow and fear, and then by the intricate symbolism, suggestive of national as well as personal tragedy, hope and courage. This is not "women's art" but a woman artist's testimony about the human condition. THE SCANDINAVIAN TOUCH -- Through August 21 at the Textile Museum, 2320 S Street NW. Open 10 to 5 Tuesday through Saturday, 1 to 5 Sunday. Closed Mondays.