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“The ultimate goal of the grant is to assess the current and extensive holdings in ceramics, fiber and woods,” Peter Held, curator of ceramics, said. “We want to move it forward by including younger, emerging artists working in new ways.”
The comprehensive $330,000 Windgate Charitable Foundation grant will be used to accomplish a two-year multifaceted project that focuses on acquisition and artist residencies, invigorating the museum’s position in the field of craft. Along with community outreach, the museum has hired Elizabeth Kozlowski, a curatorial fellow focused on contemporary craft, and will also publish a catalogue to go along with the exhibition.
“With these residencies, for instance, the artists are playing an active role,” Peter Held said. “They’re working with our students, (and) they’re working with our community. I think that’s a really powerful aspect of the initiative.”
So far, the Windgate support has helped commission a piece from Matthias Pleissnig, a visiting artist who combines furniture making and sculpture, that is part of its collection and is on display in the museum lobby.
“With the trend of contemporary artists using traditional craft materials to make fine art, disciplines are a lot more fluid than they were. The need to define the two as separate seems to have dissipated,” Held said.
Artists today are more concerned with using the appropriate materials to execute ideas rather than drawing hard lines between art and craft, and in support of this, the ASU Art Museum has an extensive history in presenting and working with artists in the craft field.
“We’re one of the few fine art museums in the country that started collecting mid-20th-century studio craft. Now it’s becoming a more prevalent trend,” Held said.
The permanent collection of ceramics at The ASU Art Museum originated in 1955, and since then, the museum has consciously built a collection of contemporary studio ceramics at a time when craft based media was considered a lesser art form. The collection of works extends over six decades and contains more than 3,500 objects.
In 1990, the museum co-sponsored the exhibition, Meeting Ground: Basketry Traditions and Sculptural Forms, which studied the relationship between traditional baskets and sculptural forms and also highlighted artists’ interests in hand processes and natural materials. More recently, the museum showcased Intertwined: Contemporary Baskets from the Sara and David Lieberman Collection in 2006, which charted the blend of ancient and modern basket making and baskets as sculptural forms. The exhibition traveled to five venues nationally.
Given one of the best turned wood collections in the late 80s/early 90s, the Jacobson Collection, the ASU Art Museum displayed the pieces internationally, and with the influential traveling exhibition and media response, turning became more established as an art form.
“We have a venerable past in contemporary craft,” Senior Curator and Associate Director Heather Lineberry said. “One of the things that is pretty unusual is that we have always shown contemporary craft within the broader contemporary art context.”
The museum is currently evaluating the purpose and quality of its collections, giving the museum the opportunity to rethink the recent history, the present and the future of contemporary craft as well as encourage interactions and connections with rising voices within the field.
The initiative’s exhibition will debut in the fall of 2013 at the ASU Art Museum and will then travel nationally to about five venues.
“As an institution, we are guided by the fact that we focus on contemporary art and that we are a university museum, and as a university art museum, we should be focusing on transdisciplinary issues,” Lineberry said.
“We should be focusing on education… We should be experimenting. We should be exploring new ideas, new art forms, new approaches in the museum, and we should be as much about the process as the final product. With the Rethinking Contemporary Craft initiative, we have a real opportunity to reassess the field.”
Written by Mary Richardson