Curator Glenn Adamson reflects on 50 years of American craft

Object Interest

When Objects: USA opened at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in 1969, it immediately put craft on the map. True to its name, Objects was a loose collection of compelling things, the exhibition space a “free-form territory” that commingled sculpture, ceramics, fabrics, and sundry other items, notes curator Glenn Adamson. Moreover, the landmark show set the terms of craft discourse—an insistence on “impartial” designations like “objects” and “makers”—that have obtained to this day.

Adamson was the brains behind Objects: USA 2020, a commemorative exhibition staged by the New York art gallery R & Company. Attempting to bridge the historical gap between the two productions, he and collaborators Evan Snyderman and Zesty Meyers invited 50 participants from the original Objects as well as 50 new ones. The result defies naming, though Adamson offers the label “craftivism” in his catalogue essay for the democratizing impact digital media have exerted on traditional media. With the launch of the show, Adamson highlights a few of its key pieces for AN Interior.

Header image: Frozen by Liz Collins (2020). Textiles formed one of the most active craft areas in the 1960s. Some weavers collaborated with industry; others sought new expressive languages for fiber art. Liz Collins combines aspects of both of these directions in her vivid deconstructivist textile work. (Joe Kramm, courtesy Liz Collins and R & Company)

Getting in My Own Way, Self-Imposed Blockades by Woody De Othello (2019) (John Wilson White, courtesy Jessica Silverman Gallery and Woody De Othello): California-based sculptor Woody De Othello draws on many sources, among them the African American face-jug tradition and the emotive figuration of Funk ceramics, as can be seen in this allegorical and psychologically intense self-portrait.

Linenfold Armoire (Perpendicular Style) by Christopher Kurtz (2020) (Andy Wainwright, Courtesy Christopher Kurtz): This hand-carved cabinet draws on a surprising source: medieval linenfold carving, with vertical lines elongating toward the heavens. Noting the historical connection between this motif and times of plague, Kurtz renewed this gesture of transcendence as an intuitive response to the ongoing pandemic.

Sanbon Ashi by Jun Kaneko (c. 1970) (Courtesy Jun Kaneko): When Jun Kaneko arrived in America from Japan in 1963, he hardly spoke any English. But he rapidly assimilated the ideas of cutting-edge ceramics and painting. This quasi-figural, quasi-abstract work is a quintessential example of his early Pop idiom.

Serpent Table by Wendell Castle (1967) (Joe Kramm, Courtesy R & Company): Without Wendell Castle, there would have been no Objects: USA. His sculptural furniture reshaped the possibilities for craft and helped inspire the historic exhibition. Active right up until his death in 2018, Castle remains a model for many younger makers.

Sikhote-Alin Meteorite Vessel by Monique Péan (2019) (Brittany Meyer, Courtesy Monique Péan): A traveler in time, space, and materials, Monique Péan makes jewelry that incorporates extraordinary mineral specimens, including meteorites. Her compositions recall the constructivist rigor of some postwar studio jewelers, such as the great Margaret De Patta.