Today we bring you an article from our archives in celebration of The Brooklyn Rail’s most recent issue, which includes essays by contemporary craft luminaries Namita Wiggers and Glenn Adamson. As Lowery Stokes Sims notes in her excellent editorial essay, “If the notion of ‘diversity’ suggests the fostering of a variety of expressions on an equal footing, then in the visual arts our scrutiny would have to be directed toward the situation of craft. Despite a more pervasive adoption of craft techniques and materials into the so-called fine arts in contemporary practice, there is a divide between craft/art that is still stubborn. Sometimes cast as ‘heart’ versus ‘intellect,’ or ‘hand’ versus ‘mind,’ or ‘skill’ versus ‘concept,’ these dichotomous oppositions all serve to segregate the different aspects of physical functioning in the creation of art objects that should be considered together. Given the often loaded nuances of these words, and considering how vocabularies are enlisted by various professions, we also have to read issues of class, and at times ethnic culture and gender, into the dialogue around craft.” The article below, Hayley Plack‘s review of the 40 Under 40: Craft Futures exhibition at the Smithsonian’s Renwick Gallery, was originally published on December 13, 2012.
What defines the art of craft? What is the difference between art and craft? 40 Under 40: Craft Futures at Smithsonian’s Renwick Gallery blurred the lines for me, while at the same time helping me to appreciate craft in a new light. There is something about the word “craft” that connotes antiquated techniques that don’t necessarily relate to our contemporary world. This exhibition breathes new life into the art of craft and highlights the contemporary relevance of craftsmanship.
In celebration of the fortieth anniversary of the Renwick Gallery, the exhibition features the work of forty artists born since 1972—the year the Smithsonian Art Museum established its contemporary craft and decorative-arts program. All of the works were created since September 11, 2011, drawing particular attention to the state of contemporary craft and the way it relates to our society. Although we often associate craft with functionality or pure aesthetics, the pieces in this exhibition have more profound stories to tell in much the same way as contemporary art. The show explores issues of technology, technique, relevance, and even the current economic climate as it relates to craft. Christy Oates fuses traditional woodworking techniques with CAD software technology to make furniture, while Joshua DeMonte creates jewelry using digital fabrication, both examples of how new technologies are changing the nature of craft. Several artists highlight the importance of sustainability, exemplified by Jeff Garner’s sustainable clothing designs and Uhuru’s furniture made from reclaimed materials.