Crafted: Objects in Flux Debuts Works by 41 International, Cutting-Edge Artists

BOSTON, MA (July 28, 2015)—Dramatic shifts have taken place recently across the landscape of contemporary craft. Crafted: Objects in Flux at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFA), focuses on contemporary craft-based artists whose work embraces the increasingly blurred boundaries between art, craft and design. From a suite of vases that create human silhouettes in their negative spaces to a bracelet that anchors its wearer, each artwork in the exhibition incorporates materials, forms or ideas traditionally connected to the notion of “craft,” including furniture, jewelry, ceramics, wood, metals, fiber and glass. Historically, the term has been defined simply: the skillful making of objects by hand. But in the generations since World War II, artists have challenged what it means to “craft” an object, creating artworks that push—or ignore—the assumed boundaries of the discipline. On view in the Henry and Lois Foster Gallery from August 25, 2015–January 10, 2016, the exhibition features more than 50 works created by 41 emerging and established international artists since 2003, working individually or collaboratively. Crafted: Objects in Flux is one of the first major exhibitions in an encyclopedic museum to explore the broad possibilities of contemporary artistic engagement with craft. After seeing the exhibition, visitors can seek out historic examples of craft throughout MFA’s collection and in the exhibition Made in the Americas: The New World Discovers Asia (August 18, 2015 – February 15, 2015)—exploring contemporary works alongside changing craft traditions across millennia. An illustrated MFA publication accompanies the exhibition. Crafted: Objects in Flux is presented with generous support from The Wornick Fund for Contemporary Craft. This project is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts. Additional support provided by The John and Bette Cohen Fund for Contemporary Decorative Arts, the Center for Craft, Creativity & Design, and the Art Alliance for Contemporary Glass. Generous support for this publication was provided by the Andrew W. Mellon Publications Fund.

“I hope that this exhibition will encourage visitors to expand their perception of what craft can look like and say,” said Emily Zilber, Ronald C. and Anita L. Wornick Curator of Contemporary Decorative Art. “I am thrilled to be able to present the works of so many talented artists who have made exciting new artworks through an embrace of shifting boundaries integrated with skillful making.”

Crafted: Objects in Flux is organized into three themes, “The Re-Tooled Object,” “The Performative Object” and “The Immersive Object.” All of the objects have been made since 2003, and some have never before been on view in a museum exhibition, including works by Anton Alvarez (Chilean and Swedish, born in 1980), Chung-Im Kim (Korean, born in 1955, works in Canada), Andy Paiko (American, born in 1977) and Rowland Ricketts (American, born in 1971).

The Re-Tooled Object

How do new modes of fabrication, whether digital or analog, expand artistic possibilities?

A conventional definition of craft emphasizes artistic mastery of complicated material practices, typically tied to work done by hand. Yet as much as craft is centered on the hand, it is also centered on the tool. The long history of innovation in craft shows artists continually expanding the physical and conceptual possibilities of a given material through the tools they use and how they use them—including entirely new modes of fabrication. Today, “re-tooling” can be a rich source of inspiration, providing a way to use tools and techniques—both old and new—to shift notions of making and materiality. Greg Payce (Canadian, born in 1956) reconsiders ceramic vessels through photography to create shifting illusory experiences. The photographs Adam and Eve (2014) depict a set of vessels called The Transit of Venus. The change in title suggests a subject that is not immediately apparent in the original objects—a “masculine” blue vessel provides the curvature of Adam’s back, while a “feminine” pink defines Eve. Also in this section, Ikat II (2011) by textile artist Astrid Krogh (Danish, born in 1968) refers to the ikat technique of dyeing, which is traditionally associated with Indonesia, India, East and Central Asia and South America. However, in this work Krogh “re-tools” this traditional technique by using optical fibers—transparent threads of glass that transmit light—to weave a surface with patterns composed from light.

The impact of new tools can be seen in works such as the necklace Trans-Hematopoietic/Black (2011/2014) by Doug Bucci (American, born in 1970), which was virtually designed and 3D printed as a single interlocked piece of resin, then hand-dyed. Working with digital rendering and printing technologies alongside skillful glass casting, Norwood Viviano (American, born in 1972) takes the abstraction of data as his subject, focusing primarily on maps that measure urban life relative to demographics and industry. Four new works from his ongoing Mining Industries series (begun in 2014) tell the stories of Boston—focusing on the city’s downtown and port—and Lawrence Manufacturing Company in Lowell, Massachusetts—a textile mill incorporated in 1831. Perched atop tall pedestals, the transparent glass constructions show how the physical landscape of each city has changed in relationship to the expansion and dissolution of commerce.

The Immersive Object

How can shifting the physical encounter in the gallery change our perception and understanding of the crafted object?

Much of modern life is spent in “made” environments. Crafted items populate homes, while craft-intensive modes of making—bricklaying and tile work, for example—build the structures in which people live, eat, work and play. Using diverse strategies, craft-based artists work to define space and to redefine people’s relationship to materials. Shifts of scale can amplify or alter inherent qualities and cultural meanings of materials like clay, wood, fiber, metal and glass. Sitting objects in unconventional spaces can adjust or overturn expectations. These works ask viewers to reconsider their bodies in relation to craft: how to become immersed—literally or figuratively—in an object. Alison Elizabeth Taylor (American, born in 1973) often places her art within overlooked architectural spaces. Works like Tap Left On (2009–10) feature an unconventional use of wood marquetry—a decorative arts technique typically associated with wealth and luxury. However, in Tap Left On, her iconography references water damage caused by a frustrated ex-homeowner, who flooded his foreclosed home in an act of contempt for greater economic powers. The installation becomes a disorienting part of its architectural space, a crumbling infrastructure meticulously created in various wood veneers. Taylor complicates notions of perception, space, and place and asks us to find new social meaning in a longstanding craft tradition.

Beth Lipman (American, born in 1971) is known for creating glass works that fluctuate between two and three dimensionality, the floor and the wall. Cut Table (2014) centers on a traditional console table—flush against the wall, one leg lost—that serves as a pedestal for an overflowing setting of glass vessels, framed by patterned clear glass wallpaper. The overall effect leaves the viewer uncertain as to whether the table is emerging from within the decoration that surrounds it, or is captured within its encroaching embrace. Likewise, Maria Nepomuceno (Brazilian, born in 1976) creates biomorphic forms that appear to grow in and out of the wall and floor. In the recently acquired work, Untitled (2013), stacked ceramic bricks act as a switchboard through which beaded cords link with one another. A central vessel, into which some of these strands feed, is adorned with fluted, open mouths whose shapes are echoed in beaded and plaited textile constructions.

Site-specific works in the exhibition that represent “The Immersive Object” include installations by Nathan Craven (American, born in 1977). Craven will create a work for the gallery’s oversized square window, using natural light to illuminate thousands of hollow ceramic elements that reference flora, sunbursts, amoebas and comic books. Poros (2015) draws attention to the window not only as a portal for looking outward, but also for its ability to define connections between exterior and interior spaces.

The Performative Object

How might an object be made through performance, perform in the world, or perform its own making?

Craft is inherently “performative,” and the physical theater of making an object can be seen in wheel-throwing a ceramic vessel or blowing glass. Likewise, the functional nature of many crafted works—cups, vases, chairs, jewelry—ties to a variety of human rituals and behaviors, transforming the crafted object into a tool used in the performance of everyday life. The 11-foot-long Drag (2013) by Susie Ganch (American, born in 1970) exists somewhere between a bracelet and a burden. Disposable spoons, Styrofoam cups, buttons, segments of plastic toys and all other manner of detritus decorate a bracelet that literally drags on the ground behind the wearer. In the exhibition, Drag is shown alongside a photograph of the object being worn—placing it on the boundary between a wearable and sculptural work of art. By creating Drag (which is as much performed as it is worn) and employing photography to emphasize the object’s physicality, Ganch engages with materials and methods that depart from traditional values associated with the field of jewelry and metalsmithing.

Sonya Clark (American, born in 1967) often filters political and aesthetic questions through the lens of African-American experience and hairdressing. For The Hair Craft Project (2013–14), Clark visited 11 hairdressers and invited them to demonstrate twisting, braiding and beading both on Clark’s own head, and on a canvas primed with thread to echo strands of hair. Each stylist was able to showcase the extent of her talents in both a permanent way (on canvas) and an ephemeral way, with Clark’s head serving as an ever-changing, living gallery space. By confusing the boundaries between hand skills that lead to an object (fiber art) and hand skills that lead to something temporary (hair work), Clark envisions the two practices as equal, with unique values that are influenced, but not defined, by preexisting social and cultural understandings. On Monday October 12, as part of the MFA’s free Fall Open House, Clark will create a work of performance art with a stylist, who will arrange Clark’s hair in the Museum’s gallery dedicated to the art of Africa.

Also in the “Performative Object” section of the exhibition, Etsuko Ichikawa (Japanese, works in the United States, born in 1963) uses a blowpipe as a de facto paintbrush, trailing molten glass over dampened paper to create calligraphic lines. These pyrographs—literally, “firewritings”—capture the fluidity and fleeting nature of the artist’s chosen material. Ichikawa’s entire body must move in concert with her tools and materials, translating the typical choreographic movements that facilitate work in a glass hot shop into a different kind of physical performance. To be sufficiently pliable for use in her dance-like process, Ichikawa’s glass often exceeds 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit. Her practice depends on a deep understanding of—and commitment to—the many aspects of glass: its physical properties; the complex technical processes that are used to handle it; and the specialized equipment and production spaces needed to facilitate working with this material.

Today more than ever before, the distinctions between art, design, and craft are shifting and porous. The works on view in Crafted straddle those hazy boundaries—they are objects in flux.  

Publication

Crafted: Objects in Flux (MFA Publications, 2015) is a pioneering publication bringing together work by international artists whose varied approaches are not only pushing but redefining the boundaries of what we consider craft today. Author and Museum curator Emily Zilber investigates the role of new tools and materials, the connection between craft and performance, and the power of craft’s interactions with space as seen in these stunning and surprising objects in flux. .

Performance Art at the MFA is supported by Lorraine Bressler.

The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFA), is recognized for the quality and scope of its collection, which includes an estimated 500,000 objects. The Museum has more than 140 galleries displaying its encyclopedic collection, which includes Art of the Americas; Art of Europe; Contemporary Art; Art of Asia, Oceania, and Africa; Art of the Ancient World; Prints, Drawings, and Photographs; Textile and Fashion Arts; and Musical Instruments. Open seven days a week, the MFA’s hours are Saturday through Tuesday, 10 am–4:45 pm; and Wednesday through Friday, 10 am–9:45 pm Admission (which includes one repeat visit within 10 days) is $25 for adults and $23 for seniors and students age 18 and older, and includes entry to all galleries and special exhibitions. Admission is free for University Members and youths age 17 and younger on weekdays after 3 pm, weekends, and Boston Public Schools holidays; otherwise $10. Wednesday nights after 4 pm admission is by voluntary contribution (suggested donation $25). MFA Members are always admitted for free. The Museum’s mobile MFA Guide is available at ticket desks and the Sharf Visitor Center for $5, members; $6, non-members; and $4, youths. The Museum is closed on New Year’s Day, Patriots’ Day, Independence Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. For more information, visit mfa.org or call 617.267.9300. The MFA is located on the Avenue of the Arts at 465 Huntington Avenue, Boston, MA 02115.

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