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Craft Front & Center

May 22, 2021–Feb 13, 2022

Craft was once at the margins of the art world, but no longer. Today it is front and center in art galleries, museums, and fairs, widely recognized for its expressive potential and cultural significance. Assembled from the eclectic richness of MAD’s permanent collection, Craft Front & Center brings together more than 70 iconic and lesser-known works to highlight key thematic touchpoints in craft’s history that have brought us to this moment. Challenging traditional thinking of craft as separate from fine art, the exhibition reveals the field's deep engagement in art’s major movements, such as Abstract Expressionism, Pop Art, and Postmodernism, while also launching its own revolutions, particularly the elevation of women and people of color as significant artists.

The Museum of Arts and Design collection comprises over 3,000 artworks in clay, fiber, glass, metal, and wood, dating from the post-war studio craft movement through to contemporary art and design. With an aim to subvert traditional hierarchies in the arts, the collection advocates for the central role of craft in art and society. Toward that end, Craft Front & Center is organized into eight themes exploring craft’s impact. Each section is punctuated with pivotal and rarely seen works from iconic makers, such as Betty Woodman, Marvin Lipofsky, and Magdalena Abakanowicz. The exhibition also casts a fresh eye on craft’s pioneers; celebrating Olga de Amaral, Charles Loloma, Patti Warashina, and others who pushed the boundaries of materials and sought more inclusive sources of inspiration. Showcasing the diversity and expressive power of the handmade as only MAD can, the exhibition affirms craft as one of the most exciting spaces for experimentation and wonder in art today.

Exhibition themes

In the Formation of Identity
From the personal to the political, craft stimulates important conversations around race, gender, and sexuality.

In the Gallery
Beginning in the 1950s, artists engaged with traditional craft materials created powerful assertions of materiality and process that attracted museums and collectors alike.

In the Home
Handmade objects are potent receptacles of emotions and memories, infused with human warmth that enliven and enrich the home.

What Can You Do with an Object?
A look back at the seminal exhibition Objects: USA, and the works displayed whose innovations still resonate. 

What Can You Do with a Thread?
Fiber artists past and present have generated works of amazing complexity and conceptual ingenuity. 

What Can You Do with Clay?
The funny and eccentric “Funk” movement was embraced by California ceramicists in the 1960s and remains a major influence on younger makers today.

What Can You Do with Glass?
A focused retrospective of the career of studio-glass pioneer Marvin Lipofsky.

What Can You Do with Craft?
A look at the modern and contemporary artists who have absorbed studio craft’s legacy and expanded its boundaries.

Image—Indonesian Napkin Holder, 1984, Betty Woodman. Glazed earthenware; wheel-thrown, slab-built, altered, Museum of Arts and Design, New York; gift of Caren and Walter Forbes, 1997

Craft Front and Center is organized by MAD’s entire curatorial team: Elissa Auther, Deputy Director of Curatorial Affairs and the William and Mildred Lasdon Chief Curator; Barbara Paris Gifford, Associate Curator; Samantha De Tillio, Collections Curator; Angelik Vizcarrondo-Laboy, Assistant Curator; and Christian Larsen, Windgate Research Curator, with assistance from Alida Jekabson, Curatorial Assistant.

This exhibition is supported, in part, by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, in partnership with the City Council.

The National Endowment for the Humanities and the Museum of Arts and Design together: democracy demands wisdom.

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