“40 under 40: Craft Futures” to Spotlight Next Generation in Craft

Exhibition Exploring New Trends Opens at the Renwick Gallery July 20
June 7, 2012
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Renwick Gallery

“40 under 40: Craft Futures” features the innovative work of 40 artists born since 1972, the year the Renwick Gallery was established as the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s branch for craft and decorative arts. “40 under 40” investigates evolving notions of craft within traditional media such as ceramics and metalwork, as well as in fields as varied as sculpture, industrial design, installation art, fashion design, sustainable manufacturing and mathematics. The exhibition opens July 20 at the Renwick Gallery and closes Feb. 3, 2013.

All of the artworks selected for display in the exhibition were created since Sept. 11, 2001. This new work reflects the changed world that exists today, which poses new challenges and considerations for artists. 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. Nicholas R. Bell, The Fleur and Charles Bresler Curator of American Craft and Decorative Art at the Renwick Gallery, organized the exhibition.

“When the Renwick Gallery opened in 1972, it introduced a new generation of artists to the American public,” said Elizabeth Broun, The Margaret and Terry Stent Director of the Smithsonian American Art Museum. “I am excited that we are poised now to introduce to the museum’s community these 40 young artists who will inspire a new generation.”

The 40 artists featured in the exhibition are: Vivian Beer, Melanie Bilenker, Jeffrey Clancy, Dave Cole, Cristina Córdova, Gabriel Craig, Jennifer Crupi, Erik Demaine, Joshua DeMonte, Brian Dettmer, Nick Dong, Joseph Foster Ellis, Jeff Garner, Theaster Gates, Sabrina Gschwandtner, Jenny Hart, Sergey Jivetin, Lauren Kalman, Lara Knutson, Stephanie Liner, Marc Maiorana, Sebastian Martorana, Christy Matson, Cat Mazza, Daniel Michalik, Matt Moulthrop, Christy Oates, Olek, Andy Paiko, Mia Pearlman, L.J. Roberts, Laurel Roth, Shawn Smith, Jen Stark, Matthew Szösz, Uhuru (Jason Horvath and William Hilgendorf), Jamin Uticone, Anna Von Mertens, Stacey Lee Webber and Bohyun Yoon.

“We are seeing the beginning of a new cycle in contemporary craft, one in which the urgency of the idea is paramount,” said Bell. “The blurring of disciplinary lines within craft is a trademark of 21st-century artists; these 40 were selected to show the most engaging work of their generation and to highlight newly prevalent trends in the field.”

In 2010, Bell reviewed work by 2,000 artists from across the United States. Scouring galleries, master’s of fine arts programs, fairs, blogs and colleague recommendations, he chose artists whose work represents a new direction in craft. None of the artists selected has ever shown work at the Smithsonian Institution, and for most, Washington, D.C., is a new stage. The museum hopes to acquire works by every artist featured in the exhibition to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Renwick Gallery and strengthen its collection for the future. Acquisitions will be partially funded by donations from the public, who will be credited in the exhibition and on the museum’s website. More information is available at americanart.si.edu/support/renwick40.

Two works in the exhibition can be engaged directly by a visitor—Matson’s “Sonic Structure II” and Dong’s “Enlightenment Room.” Other works by Craig, Liner, Olek and Paiko encourage interacting with the artist or someone affiliated with the artwork on occasion.

Multimedia Features

Short videos produced by, and introducing, the artists will be released in the 40 days leading up to the exhibition, June 10 through July 19. The public may follow this effort on Facebook at facebook.com/americanart or on Twitter by following @americanart and using #renwick40. Photographs documenting the progress of the exhibition, including the installation of works by artists Dong, Ellis, Olek, Paiko and Pearlman, will be posted to the museum’s photo stream at flickr.com/photos/americanartmuseum. Behind-the-scenes insights about the exhibition will be published on the museum’s award-winning blog, Eye Level (eyelevel.si.edu). An interactive touch-screen in the galleries will provide dynamic content about each artist, which will also be available on the museum’s website.

Public Programs

Bell will present an opening lecture Friday, July 20, at noon, followed by an open house with artists featured in the exhibition. A family day with hands-on craft projects inspired by exhibition works will take place in the Renwick Gallery’s Grand Salon Saturday, Aug. 4. A program celebrating the 50th anniversary of the American Studio Glass Movement Sept. 7 will feature Szösz, and a fashion show of Garner’s work will be presented Sept. 22. “Nation Building: Craft and Contemporary American Culture,” a symposium addressing issues pertinent to the future of the craft movement, will be held Nov. 8 and 9 in the McEvoy Auditorium (Eighth and G streets N.W.). Additional programs, including exhibition-related Handi-hour events, American Craft Masterpieces talks and a holiday festival, will be listed online at americanart.si.edu/renwick40 as they are confirmed.


The exhibition catalog is written by Bell, with contributions from Julia Bryan-Wilson, associate professor of art history at the University of California, Berkeley; Douglas Coupland, Canadian novelist, visual artist and designer; Bernard L. Herman, the George B. Tindall Distinguished Professor of American Studies and Folklore at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill; and Michael J. Prokopow, associate professor at OCAD University, Toronto. The book is distributed by Yale University Press and will be available in hardcover in the Renwick Gallery store and on the museum’s website for $50.


“40 under 40: Craft Futures” celebrates the 40th anniversary of the Renwick Gallery and is an expanded presentation in the biennial series called the Renwick Craft Invitational, which celebrates artists deserving of wider recognition. The series is supported by the Ryna and Melvin Cohen Family Foundation Endowment. The James Renwick Alliance provided essential support for this expanded presentation, as well as funding for the catalog through its Dale Chihuly Publication Fund. The museum also gratefully acknowledges major contributions to the exhibition from Fleur Bresler and from the Windgate Charitable Foundation.

About the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum

The Smithsonian American Art Museum celebrates the vision and creativity of Americans with artworks in all media spanning more than three centuries. The museum’s branch for craft and decorative arts, the Renwick Gallery, is located on Pennsylvania Avenue at 17th Street N.W. It is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., except Dec. 25. Admission is free. Metrorail station: Farragut North (Red line) and Farragut West (Blue and Orange lines). Follow the museum on Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, ArtBabble, iTunes and YouTube. Museum information (recorded): (202) 633-7970. Smithsonian information: (202) 633-1000. Website: americanart.si.edu.

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Laura Baptiste