Opening this evening, the Smithsonian’s “40 under 40: Craft Futures” exhibition, which features (shockingly) artists born after 1972. The year is significant, as it was the same year in which the museum established its contemporary craft and decorative arts program. It’s interesting that in lieu of some sort of retrospective of the program’s history, the museum is instead exhibiting contemporary work that explores the “evolving nature of craft.” Interesting, too, that all of the artworks on display–as eclectic as one can imagine a collection of forty artists’ works would be—were all created after September 11, 2001, and several artists work chiefly with glass.
With a focus on ceramics and metalwork, and the fields of sculpture, industrial design, installation art, fashion design, sustainable manufacturing, and mathematics, the exhibition offers solutions to the question of how one lives in, if not a post-9/11 world, then one that has changed quickly and considerably. Such a world requires rethinking how certain materials are rationed and used. The works in “40 under 40″ are diverse (as one would expect with a sampling from forty artists), and share in a respect for the craft traditions. Yet many works were crafted by means of modern technologies (3-D prototyping, laser cutting, and Google images, to name a few) and are united by design philosophies of sustainability and self-sufficiency. There is emphasis placed on crisp, attractive design, as well as cheapness, availability, and repurposing of material. Matthew Szösz, for instance, for his rough but shapely pillow forms primarily used salvaged window glass; Lara Knutson developed a technique that enhanced a microscopic glass-beaded fabric’s ability to reflect light. There are artists exploring design fields such as furniture design and embroidery that have been decades-dominated, if not by industry, then by the limits of tradition.
–Isabella WebbeIF YOU GO: “40 under 40: Craft Futures” July 20th, 2012 — February 3rd, 2013 Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum Pennsylvania Avenue at 17th Street N.W. Washington, D.C. 20006 tel: 202.633.7970 website: http://americanart.si.edu/renwick/