Art = craft



Before considering the largely satisfying Art in Craft Media exhibition, now at the Burchfield Penney Art Center (BPAC), a little background is in order. Up to the Middle Ages, the words art and craft were more or less interchangeable. Painters, mosaic artists, printmakers, potters, and metal forgers—all were considered skilled craftspeople. During the Renaissance, painting, sculpture, and architecture gained a higher status. By the eighteenth century, these disciplines became collectively known as fine art, and other skilled object-making was consigned to the term craft. The debate over where the line between art and craft should be drawn—if there is a line at all—has raged ever since. In my mind, art and craft exist on a level cultural playing field, representing a continuum. At one end is craft, focusing on materials, form, and function. At the extreme other end is concept-based art, with artists like Lawrence Weiner, who eschew physical form altogether. In the middle is work that balances concept with form.


Through the ongoing financial generosity of Sylvia L. Rosen, the BPAC presents a biennial juried exhibition called Art in Craft Media—a title that attempts to cover all bets. And the work selected by guest juror Monica Moses does span the playing field. At the pure craft end are works like Main Street Desk & Chair, by Mahlon Huston, and Winged Bowl, by Mario Santilli. Both are elegantly designed utilitarian items, skillfully crafted from wood, which do not presume to convey meaning beyond style and function. At the extreme other end, you have Karen Donnellan’s Crescent: Wax and Wane and Mizin Shin’s How Things Are Made. Shin’s work is an installation in which an entire room—ceiling to floor—is covered with white on black graphic design wallpaper hand-printed with whimsical farm machinery. This is a head-scratcher, because neither installation art, nor printmaking, nor graphic design are generally thought of as craft. And any justification that printmaking involves paper, a craft medium, sounds, well, paper thin. It is an impressive work though, a bit intentionally disconcerting in its visual density. Crescent: Wax and Wane is a two-channel video installation on wall-mounted monitors, each of which displays an amber-colored circular disk, that might be wax, or glass, if only we knew. I watched for about seven minutes with two other visitors, and we could not discern any change in the image. In any case, this may be the first video installation in a craft show anywhere.


Much of the work falls somewhere between the two extremes. Taeyoul Ryu’s BeReady F-103 is a sleek silver-gilded chair with a mounted rear propeller, evocative of WWII-era military design. It’s functional, but better appreciated as furniture-based art. Hillary Fayle continues to dazzle with her exquisite hand-cut leaves, like impossibly delicate stencils. Maude White does something similar on a larger scale with cut paper that casts shadows on backing board, mimicking line drawings. Chenyang Mu’s Evoke is a quirky assemblage that incorporates an old steamer trunk, copper tubing, various glass items that suggest lab equipment, and music emanating from the trunk. Its connection to craft is the use of glass, but this work lies downfield in fun-art territory.


Ani Hoover’s Blush employs cereal bag liners, stitched into an ethereal wall-hanging, like layers of pink cellular membrane. The work conveys a quiet lesson about reuse and the unappreciated qualities of disposable industrial materials. Barbara Hart invokes the spirit of folk art with a carved wood Adolescent Boy (Matt). In something of a Dada-like anti-utility action, David Schnuckel melts crystal glassware into a loosely fused cube, which makes for a visually delightful sculpture.


In Bethany Krull’s Entangled, the artist constructs a display table covered in grassy sand. A pile of porcelain newborn mice cluster at one end amidst the grass. The effect is somewhere between cute and macabre. Elsewhere, Krull teams with Jesse Walp on a spectacular wall installation comprising over a hundred clear cast rubber spheres with ceramic black tadpoles inside—like eggs attached to an aquarium wall. There’s a touch of sci-fi creepiness to this. Anne Currier makes smallish sixties-style abstract sculptures that could pass for welded steel, except they’re ceramic. David Derner creates an overtly sexual cast bronze chess set, complete with stone pedestal table.


There is much more noteworthy work, too much to mention everything. One note: many of these works are variations on ones exhibited in the last Art in Craft Media exhibition and other area shows. It would be nice to see some of these artists expand their repertoire before the next exhibition. Otherwise, it’s a pleasing display.


ART IN CRAFT MEDIA runs through January 28, 2018.    


Artist and educator Bruce Adams is a longtime contributor of Spree.

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