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Exhibition at the MAD: Crafting Modernism: Mid-Century American Art and Design Print E-mail
Wednesday, 30 March 2011 12:47

MAD-Header2My Mu (Watashi No Mu) Isamu Naguchi 1950, Courtesy of Naguchi Museum

Focusing on the dynamic relationship between craft and design, Crafting Modernism: Mid-Century American Art and Design showcases the bold new directions taken in media and aesthetics during the postwar years.

Organized by the Museum of Arts and Design, and on view from October 11, 2011 through January 15, 2012, this historic exhibition is the fourth part of an ongoing series of shows for the The Centenary Project—the first in-depth examination of American craft in the 20th century. The first three exhibitions were presented at the Museum between 1993 and 1995.

Co-curated by Jeannine Falino and Jennifer Scanlan, Crafting Modernism underscores the growth and transformation of American life during the turbulent 1960s through art, craft, and design. Featuring the work of more than 160 artists and designers, including iconic figures such as Wendell Castle, Sheila Hicks, and Jack Lenor Larsen, and lesser-known, though highly influential artists and designers such as Katherine Choy, and Hui Ka Kwong, Crafting Modernism will demonstrate through furniture, textiles, tableware, ceramics, glass, jewelry, sculpture and painting, how the period between 1945 and 1969 proved a key transitional era for American craft and design. A scholarly 360-page catalogue, published by Harry N. Abrams, will accompany the exhibition.

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"Crafting Modernism is an exhibition with special significance for us—not only is it part of the groundbreaking Centenary Project, charting the history of modern American craft, but it also charts our own history. The Museum was originally founded in 1956 by the visionary philanthropist Aileen Osborn Webb as the Museum of Contemporary Crafts. At the time, it was the first museum of modern craft in the world," says Holly Hotchner, MAD's Nanette L. Laitman Director.

The exhibition is organized into two broad sections, each of which will receive treatment on its own floor in the museum, enhanced by domestic vignettes that will evoke the cool and countercultural posture of the era. The first will address the early postwar years from 1945 to the late 1950s during which time the independent craftsmen lifestyle became a compelling alternative to the anonymity of the corporate world. The rise of the craftsman-designer in industry and the influence of craft on modern design will be explored in this section with examples in all media drawn from Reed & Barton, Knoll, and Blenko Glass, among others. The second half of the exhibition focuses on the emergence of the crafted object as a work of art that is informed by Abstract Expressionism, Pop Art, funk, and social commentary. It concludes with a nod to the countercultural strains of rock 'n' roll, controlled substances, and the American flag in a "groovy" celebration of the crafted object.

While youthful men and women from all walks of life, cultures, and continents rediscovered and reinvigorated traditional craft media to express cultural identity, artistic innovation, and social views, young designers introduced more informal domestic interiors, which were often adorned with crafted objects, and so gave a more human face to modernism. This interplay between craft and design will be discovered through works of textile designer Dorothy Liebes, furniture maker George Nakashima, silversmith Jack Prip, sculptor and designer Isamu Noguchi, and others. Works by designers who incorporated craft techniques or aesthetics into more wide-scale production, such as Edith Heath, Russell Wright, and Charles and Ray Eames, will also be displayed.

"Crafting Modernism and its accompanying catalogue provide a gateway to the movers and shakers of the modern studio craft movement," says Jeannine Falino, the co-curator. "The exhibition is a must-see for anyone interested in the aesthetics and philosophy of the era. We have combed the country to find exciting and influential works, many of which have rarely been seen since midcentury."

As craft programs developed and expanded in university art departments across the United States, artists such as Peter Voulkos and Lenore Tawney increasingly began to consider the sculptural and aesthetic qualities of materials previously reserved for functional objects. Their pioneering achievements bridged the traditional art-craft divide, enabling the crafted object to assert itself as an aspect of modern art. This development paralleled an increasing openness in the art world to new expressions and alternative media demonstrated in the works of artists like Alexander Calder. As craft entered the public realm through museum exhibitions and publications, it added to the ongoing political and social dialogue in American art and life, serving as a representative of a counter-culture lifestyle.


A scholarly 360-page catalogue to be published by Harry N. Abrams, containing essays, biographies, and extended reference materials, follows the standard of the previous exhibitions.

Crafting Modernism: Mid-Century American Art and Design is made possible in part through the generosity of the National Endowment for the Arts, the Henry Luce Foundation, and the Center for Craft, Creativity and Design. Major support for the exhibition catalogue has been provided by the Windgate Charitable Foundation.


The Museum of Arts and Design explores the blur zone between art, design, and craft today. It focuses on contemporary creativity and the ways in which artists and designers from around the world transform materials through processes ranging from the artisanal to the digital. The Museum's exhibition program examines and illuminates issues and ideas, highlights invention and craftsmanship, and celebrates the limitless potential of materials and techniques when used by gifted and innovative artists. MAD's permanent collection is global in scope and focuses on art, craft, and design from 1950 to the present day. Central to the Museum's mission is education. The Museum's dynamic new facility features classrooms and studios for master classes, seminars, and workshops for students, families, and adults. Its Open Studios enable visitors to engage artists at work and further enhance exhibition programs. Lectures, films, performances, and symposia related to the Museum's collection and topical subjects affecting the world of contemporary creation are held in the building's historic 144-seat auditorium. Location of the museum: 2 Columbus Circle, New York, NY 10019

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Last Updated on Wednesday, 30 March 2011 13:02
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