Thursday, August 2, 2012

40 Under 40 : Craft Futures - Record Opening

The 40 Under 40 : Craft Futures exhibition at the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum opened on July 20th to the largest attendance ever for the museum. Over 600 members and patrons turned out for the private viewing on Thursday night, and on Friday, over 1,200 came for the public opening at noon. 

Who could imagine so many people in the middle of a weekday coming out to hear a curatorial lecture?

The artists (39 of us were in attendance) and the museum were collectively stunned, thrilled and overwhelmed.

There are too many incredible works to post. There is a beautiful, hardcover catalog available. 

These are the questions I've been asked most often about the exhibition:

Which piece do I have in the show? This work, La Llorona (above, from 2005), is in the exhibition and is now in the permanent collection of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Did I apply to be in this show? No. All of the artists were selected by the curator, Nicolas R. Bell. We were contacted almost two years ago requesting portfolios of our work but we were not told why. It was not until his lecture at the museum that he explained his selection process and we learned that over 2,000 artists were reviewed before he selected the final forty.

Why 40 Under 40? From Bell's statement:

40 Under 40: Craft Futures examines the expanding role of the handmade in contemporary culture through the work of the next generation of artists. Organized in celebration of the fortieth anniversary of the Renwick Gallery, the project gathers forty makers born since 1972, the year the Renwick opened to the public. 

How is this "craft"? The work in this show has little-to-nothing to do with 20th century studio craft, which gives presidence to master craftsmanship over artistic concerns. The work in 40 Under 40 is made up of contemporary, fine artists who work in (or even simply reference in their work) craft media in a much broader and less traditional fashion. While there are artists in this exhibition who are technically masterful, some are deliberately sloppy, or not even made with craft materials at all. But craft media have clearly become of interest to artists in the last ten years in a way not previously explored. 

What about artists not within this age group who were left out? It was obvious that tough decisions were made by the museum, but that having these historic parameters was not arbitrary. The Renwick collection turns 40 this year and a generation of artists keenly invested in craft are coming of age at the same time. It should be noted that the Renwick plans an ongoing bienniale series called the Renwick Craft Invitational, "celebrating artists deserving of wider recognition". The series is supported by the Ryna and Melvin Cohen Family Foundation Endowment.

Many, heartfelt thanks to all of those who've written me and expressed such kind congratulations about being a part of this show. I was thrilled that my mother was able to attend with me, and only wish that my father could have been there.