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At The Whitney, The Greatest Artists Of Our Time Delve into Crafts

  • Liza Lou - Kitchen
November 25, 2019
Balasz Takac is alias of Vladimir Bjelicic who is actively engaged in art criticism, curatorial and artistic practice.

Since the late 19th century, there has been a growing artistic interest in the appropriation of various crafts such as pottery, metalwork, glasswork, etc., culminating with the Art and Crafts movement and later developing with the Bauhaus during the interwar period. However, after the end of WW II, there was another wave of artists willing to explore different methods and materials drawn from the crafts.

A substantial number of individuals, and especially women, embraced the legacy of crafts from the 1950s until the present day. To unravel how the crafts infused the experimental practices of American artists exploring domesticity, decorative and vernacular traditions, as well as feminist and queer aesthetics, The Whitney Museum decided to organize an exhibition called Making Knowing: Craft in Art, 1950–2019.

Left Harmony Hammond - Hug Right Robert Rauschenberg - Yoicks
Left: Harmony Hammond – Hug, 1978. Acrylic on fabric and wood, 64 × 30 1/4 × 14 in. (162.6 × 76.8 × 35.6 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; gift of Rosemary McNamara 2017.208a-b. © 2019 Harmony Hammond/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / Right: Robert Rauschenberg – Yoicks, 1954. Enamel on collaged polyester, found paper, and cotton on canvas, 96 1/8 × 72 1/16 in. (244.2 × 183 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; gift of the artist 71.210. © 2019 Robert Rauschenberg Foundation / Licensed by VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Artists As Skillful Craftsmen

The artists’ decision to embrace long-forgotten crafts was a kind of a socially charged gesture aimed to subvert the conservative and often elitist canons of the art system. That is how they proposed new visual languages that were often considered radical and, in some cases, even controversial.

This exhibition will not only unravel innovative artistic transformations in the technical/technological sense, but it will also show that these enabled artists to express their positions and agendas spanning from abstraction, feminism and popular culture, to the topics concerning belonging and identity.

Alan Shields - J + K
Alan Shields – J + K, 1972. Acrylic, thread, beads on canvas, 107 × 252 7/8 × 2 3/4 in. (271.8 × 642.3 × 7 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; gift of Paula Cooper 2017.165a-l. © Estate of Alan Shields

The Installment

The works in a variety of media by over sixty artists such as Anni Albers, Robert Rauschenberg, Eva Hesse, Robert Morris, Harmony Hammond, Mike Kelley, Sheila Hicks, to name just a few, are gathered for the exhibition, the majority of coming from the museum’s collection.

The show is organized chronologically and thematically, starting with works from the 1950s that illustrate nicely how craft influenced abstraction. The next group covers various tendencies exploring craft making from the 1960s and 1970s expressed through Pop art, Minimalism, and Process art. A special focus will be on the emergence of women’s work aimed to question gender roles in both the art world and society. The works from the 1980s and 1990s will show how artists handled different spiritual practices and cultural legacies, as well as the AIDS crisis. The final group will gather works made from the mid-1990s that address issues concerning body politics and the notion of migrations and belonging.

Left Betty Woodman - Still Life Right Rosie Lee Tompkins - Three Sixes
Left: Betty Woodman – Still Life #11, 1990. Glazed and polychromed ceramic, 35 × 10 1/4 × 7 5/8 in. (88.9 × 26 × 19.4 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; gift of Julia Childs Augur 92.25. © Betty Woodman / Right: Rosie Lee Tompkins – Three Sixes, 1986. Quilted polyester double-knit, wool jersey and cotton, 89 3/4 × 71 1/2 in. (228 × 181.6 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase with funds from the Contemporary Painting and Sculpture Committee 2003.70. © Estate of Rosie Lee Tompkins

Making Knowing at Whitney Museum

The current Whitney exhibition jointly organized by Jennie Goldstein, assistant curator, and Elisabeth Sherman, assistant curator, with Ambika Trasi, curatorial assistant, will broaden the perception of the crafts by showing the relevance of the same for various artistic practices which developed through the last six decades.

Making Knowing: Craft in Art, 1950 – 2019 will be on display at The Whitney Museum of American art in New York until January 2021.

Featured image: Liza Lou – Kitchen, 1991-96. Beads, plaster, wood, and found objects, 96 x 132 x 168 in. (243.8 x 335.3 x 426.7 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; gift of Peter Norton 2008.339a-x. Photograph by Tom Powel. © Liza Lou. All images courtesy of The Whitney.