'This Present Moment: Crafting a Better World' Examines the State of Contemporary Craft in America Today

  • May 16, 2022 11:56

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Alicia Eggert, This Present Moment, 2019–20, neon, custom controller, and steel, 144 x 180 x 48 in., neon produced by Amy Enlow, fabrication assistance by Teresa Larrabee, Paolo TamezBuccino, Jaelyn Kotzur, and James Akers, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Museum purchase through the Renwick General Acquisitions Fund. © Alicia Eggert. Photo by Calen Barnum.
Sharon Kerry-Harlan, Portrait of Resilience, from the Flag Series, 2020, dye discharge fabric, antique quilt fabric, vinyl, flag fabric, and African print fabric, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Museum purchase through the Kenneth R. Trapp Acquisition Fund, 2021.35. © 2021, Sharon Kerry-Harlan. Photo by Lee Stalsworth – Fine Art through Photography
Bisa Butler, Don’t Tread On Me, God Damn, Let’s Go!— The Harlem Hellfighters, 2021, pieced, appliquéd, and quilted cottons, silk, wool, and velvet, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of David Bonderman. Photo by Lee Stalsworth
Jeremy Frey (Passamaquoddy), Large Turquoise Urchin Basket, 2019, brown ash and sweetgrass, overall: 5 1⁄4 x diam. 11 1/2 in., Smithsonian American Art Museum, Museum purchase through the Kenneth R. Trapp Acquisition Fund. © 2019, Jeremy Frey, courtesy of Home and Away Gallery.
Carla Hemlock (Kanienkeháka [Mohawk]), Our Destruction, 2019, wool stroud cloth with wool, glass beads, Swarovski crystals, and sequins, 34 1/8 x 30 5/8 x 7/8 in., Smithsonian American Art Museum, Museum purchase through the Kenneth R. Trapp Acquisition Fund. © 2020, Carla Goodleaf Hemlock. Photo by Lee Stalsworth ̶ Fine Art Through Photography.
Arthur Espenet Carpenter, Staircase, 1969, hyedua and oak, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of David L. Davies and Jack Weeden, 1998.15A-S

“This Present Moment: Crafting a Better World” showcases the dynamic landscape of American craft with 171 artworks from the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s extensive holdings of modern and contemporary craft, including 135 recently acquired works made by a broadly representative and diverse group of American artists. These objects deepen the history of the studio craft movement while also introducing contemporary artworks that push the boundaries of what is considered to be handmade in the 21st century.  

The exhibition, on view now through April 2, 2023, marks the 50th anniversary of the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s Renwick Gallery as the nation’s premier museum dedicated to American craft. The Renwick Gallery opened its doors Jan. 28, 1972, to showcase the ingenuity and relevance of craft and design in American culture. For the past 50 years, the museum has featured many expressions and definitions of craft. Today, through exhibitions and the collection galleries at the Renwick, the museum continues to celebrate the creativity of American craft artists, and the vital role craft plays in modern life. 

“This Present Moment: Crafting a Better World” is on view at the Renwick Gallery from May 13 to April 2, 2023. The exhibition, which activates both floors of gallery space, explores how artists have crafted spaces for daydreaming, stories of persistence, models of resilience, and methods of activism that resonate today. To craft a better world, it must first be imagined.  

The exhibition is organized by Mary Savig, the Lloyd Herman Curator of Craft; with Nora Atkinson, the Fleur and Charles Bresler Curator-in-Charge for the Renwick Gallery; Anya Montiel, curator at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian; and Elana Hain, collections manager. “This Present Moment” is the latest in a series of exhibitions presented at the Renwick Gallery that reassess what craft is in a modern world. 

“We are thrilled to celebrate 50 years of the museum’s contemporary craft program at the Renwick Gallery, the flagship museum of American craft,” said Stephanie Stebich, the Margaret and Terry Stent Director of the Smithsonian American Art Museum. “Building on its innovative legacy and embracing the tremendous change encompassing the present, I believe the museum’s next 50 years will also astonish. The artwork being crafted and collected now is shaping an even bolder future, one that will help us better understand ourselves, each other and the world around us. The Renwick Gallery will continue to be a driving force in this conversation.”  

The Renwick Gallery 50th Anniversary Acquisition Campaign, which began in 2020, increased the number of Black, Latinx, Asian American, LGBTQ+, Indigenous and women artists, among others, represented in the nation’s collection. The artworks acquired—more than 200 objects to date—both through gifts and museum purchase, represent a range of craft mediums, including fiber, ceramics, glass, metal and wood. Judith Chernoff and Jeffrey Bernstein have given 43 works from their collection of sculptural wood art, all of which are featured in the exhibition in a dedicated gallery. 

“Craft has always been a measure of the present moment,” Savig said. “This is because craft is inherently a measure of who we are—our labor and our memory. With this ambitious exhibition and acquisition campaign, we embraced the opportunity to document the contours of the present moment, including the global pandemic with acquisitions like face masks. The success of this endeavor relies on the collective efforts of many, many people. Together, our efforts measure our hopes for a better world.” 

The exhibition display includes verbal descriptions for 16 key artworks. The descriptions will be available for public use online via personal screen readers, through Aira, a visual interpretation service, and on paper in large print at the Renwick Gallery. The verbal descriptions are part of the museum's initiative to increase accessibility of artworks for blind and low-vision visitors. 

Polly Adams Sutton, Facing the Unexpected, 2013, western red cedar bark, ash, spruce root, and coated copper wire, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of Mary Anne Fray and museum purchase through the Decorative Arts and Crafts Endowment, 2021.52A-I, © Polly Adams Sutton. Photo by Tom Grotta, courtesy of browngrotta arts

An accompanying catalog features essays by Atkinson, Montiel and Savig as well as commentary by artists David Chatt, Kelly Church, Sonya Clark, Alicia Eggert, Steven Young Lee, Wendy Maruyama, Myra Mimlitsch-Gray, Connie Mississippi and Judith Schaechter. Co-published by the Smithsonian American Art Museum in association with D Giles Limited, London, it is available for pre-order in the online bookstore. The cover of this volume is printed in 50 color variations ($54.95, hardcover). 

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