Renwick Gallery: “40 under 40: Craft Futures”

Craft has been a historically devalued art form. Not only is craft viewed as being somehow less valid than fine art (Painting, drawing, and sculpture sitting at the cool kids table while quilting and pottery huddle in the nerdier corner of the caf), it is often simply misunderstood. “What is craft?” is a question you hear among both the artistically and mathematically inclined.

The Renwick Gallery is home to the Smithsonian’s American Art Museum’s craft and decorative arts program. In absolute honesty, I was not expecting to love the Renwick’s collection. Although I find craft to often be interesting, as someone who works mostly with painting and drawing those are the fields I gravitate towards. But this past weekend at the Renwick’s 40 under 40 show?


“Knitting Is for Pus****” by Olek. Photograph by the artist.

“Knitting Is for Pus****” by Olek. Photograph by the artist.

Craft is cool, my friends, and this show is the proof. A collection of work by forty artists born since 1972, this exhibition challenges our preconceptions of craft and explores the evolving nature of the field. Featuring work created post September 11, 40 under 40 captures the zeitgeist of the contemporary craft world. Craft is no longer free from concept, no longer necessarily soft and beautiful. It is often aggressive and cutting edge, funny and poignant. Craft is clearly an art form with a message, which it delivers with a punch.

The artist featured above, Olek, is arguably the main draw for the exhibit. Certainly the most well known; I’ll admit that I walked into this show expecting to love Olek and feel a certain level of eh about everything else. Straight off the bat, however, 40 under 40 brought strong and innovative work.

For instance, the first room contained a piece by Stephanie Liner, Mementos of a Doomed Construct. This is one of the pieces that did an incredible job playing with the idea of craft as being a woman’s domain (Which I recently wrote a paper about! Once this summer-induced bout of laziness is ended I’ll edit and post it). Liner’s Orbs are beautifully upholstered, elegant pieces of furniture, containing equally elegant women dressed to match. Her work explores the connection between the human body and architecture as well as the implications of a live, female model as a silent object within the piece.

Further rooms contained work with universal appeal–not just to those of us who already love art. Pieces that make music when you touch them, photographs of skin pierced with jewels, mechanical contraptions that walk the line between toy-like marvels and works of art. 40 under 40 has it all (Also: FREE BUTTONS!)


FREE BUTTONS. Part of a piece by L.J. Roberts titled “The Queer Houses of Brooklyn in the Three Towns of Breukelen, Boswyck, and Midwout during the 41st Year of the Stonewall Era”. I picked up the “trilobite” button first (fossil nerd here, y’all) and went back later with a friend and picked up “mouse house doll house”. Did I mention free buttons?

One of the most popular pieces was Englightenment Room by Nick Dong. I don’t want to ruin the experience for anyone going to the exhibit, so let me just say, the line is well worth it. Enter. You might not be enlightened but you will feel more relaxed (or terrified?).

40 under 40: Craft Futures  does its job well, assuming that the intent is to exhibit craft’s relevance to the 21st century. If you’re in the DC area (Across from the White House. And stop by the Corcoran to say hello while you’re nearby!) I would recommend visiting. If that’s impossible, take a look at the show’s collection here and learn more about the exhibition here.

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One thought on “Renwick Gallery: “40 under 40: Craft Futures”

  1. plhoover says:

    Reblogged this on Paula Hoover Art and commented:
    I absolutely LOVE this! I use a lot of craft elements in my Dia De Los Muertos Paintings and Matchboxes. I appreciate the tremendous amount of work that went into this.

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