40 Under 40: Renwick Showcases Future of Handmade Craft

WASHINGTON, DC—”Mississippi Pavillion” features four blue and white plates resting on ledges. Chicago-based artist Theaster Gates traveled to China to collaborate with Zheng Ning, the artisan who made the porcelain plates on display in his replica of a shotgun house. The rim of one of the plates honors Arlene Hen (1893-1982) a “Chinese Negro” from Storyville, Mississippi. The installation pays tribute to Gates’s Mississippi heritage and acknowledges the history and presence of Chinese immigrants in the southern United States.

Gates’s vernacular wood structure is a part of “40 Under 40: Craft Futures” at the Smithsonian’s Renwick Gallery. The exhibit showcases the work of 40 craft artisans born since 1972, the year the Renwick was founded. In addition to Gates, the artists include Sabrina Gschwandtner, who contributed a pair of works that replicate quilt patterns but rather than fabric are composed of 16 mm film from documentaries about fiber decommissioned from the Fashion Institute of Technology; extreme crocheter Olek, who has covered the contents of entire room with her yarn creations; Sergey Jivetin, who made a couple of elegant brooches using hundreds of tiny black watch hands and an on-trend necklace composed of various-hued eggs; Brian Dettmer, who contributed two amazing “altered book” installations; and Nick Dong whose “Enlightenment Room” is an enclosed handmade porcelain-tiled space that offers visitors a solitary room where they can sit and contemplate.

The innovative projects are not what generally comes to mind when you think of handmade crafts. “The range of disciplines represented illustrates new avenues for the handmade in contemporary culture,” as the museum notes. “These 40 artists are united by philosophies for living differently in modern society with an emphasis on sustainability, a return to valuing the hand-made and what it means to live in a state of persistent conflict and unease.”

“40 Under 40” is on view at the Renwick Gallery from July 20 to Feb. 20, 2013.

All photos © Arts Observer

There is a child’s bike crocheted by artist Olek parked in front of the Renwhick Gallery. View a slideshow of works by all 40 artists in the exhibit and photos of the artists with their works at the opening here.

Installation of intricately cut paper with India ink by Mia Pearlman, born in New York in 1974.

“Enlightenment Room,” 2008 (handmade porcelain tiles, acrylic mirror tiles, LED lamp) by Nick Dong, born in Taipei, Taiwan in 1973.

“China Tree,” 2012 (porcelain sauce pots, string, LED lights, mirror) by Joey Foster Ellis, born in Auburn, N.Y., in 1984.

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