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“This Present Moment: Crafting a Better World” showcases the dynamic landscape of American craft with 171 artworks from the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s extensive holdings of modern and contemporary craft, including 135 recently acquired works made by a broadly representative and diverse group of American artists. These objects deepen the history of the studio craft movement while also introducing contemporary artworks that push the boundaries of what is considered to be handmade in the 21st century.
The exhibition marks the 50th anniversary of the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s Renwick Gallery as the nation’s premier museum dedicated to American craft. The Renwick Gallery opened its doors Jan. 28, 1972, to showcase the ingenuity and relevance of craft and design in American culture. For the past 50 years, the museum has featured many expressions and definitions of craft. Today, through exhibitions and the collection galleries at the Renwick, the museum continues to celebrate the creativity of American craft artists, and the vital role craft plays in modern life.
“This Present Moment: Crafting a Better World” is on view at the Renwick Gallery from May 13 to April 2, 2023. The exhibition, which activates both floors of gallery space, explores how artists have crafted spaces for daydreaming, stories of persistence, models of resilience, and methods of activism that resonate today. To craft a better world, it must first be imagined.
The exhibition is organized by Mary Savig, the Lloyd Herman Curator of Craft; with Nora Atkinson, the Fleur and Charles Bresler Curator-in-Charge for the Renwick Gallery; Anya Montiel, curator at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian; and Elana Hain, collections manager. “This Present Moment” is the latest in a series of exhibitions presented at the Renwick Gallery that reassess what craft is in a modern world.
“We are thrilled to celebrate 50 years of the museum’s contemporary craft program at the Renwick Gallery, the flagship museum of American craft,” said Stephanie Stebich, the Margaret and Terry Stent Director of the Smithsonian American Art Museum. “Building on its innovative legacy and embracing the tremendous change encompassing the present, I believe the museum’s next 50 years will also astonish. The artwork being crafted and collected now is shaping an even bolder future, one that will help us better understand ourselves, each other and the world around us. The Renwick Gallery will continue to be a driving force in this conversation.”
The Renwick Gallery 50th Anniversary Acquisition Campaign, which began in 2020, increased the number of Black, Latinx, Asian American, LGBTQ+, Indigenous and women artists, among others, represented in the nation’s collection. The artworks acquired—more than 200 objects to date—both through gifts and museum purchase, represent a range of craft mediums, including fiber, ceramics, glass, metal and wood. Judith Chernoff and Jeffrey Bernstein have given 43 works from their collection of sculptural wood art, all of which are featured in the exhibition in a dedicated gallery.
“Craft has always been a measure of the present moment,” Savig said. “This is because craft is inherently a measure of who we are—our labor and our memory. With this ambitious exhibition and acquisition campaign, we embraced the opportunity to document the contours of the present moment, including the global pandemic with acquisitions like face masks. The success of this endeavor relies on the collective efforts of many, many people. Together, our efforts measure our hopes for a better world.”
The exhibition display includes verbal descriptions for 16 key artworks. The descriptions will be available for public use online via personal screen readers, through Aira, a visual interpretation service, and on paper in large print at the Renwick Gallery. The verbal descriptions are part of the museum’s initiative to increase accessibility of artworks for blind and low-vision visitors.
The 148 artists featured in the exhibition are:
Valerie Pourier (Oglala Lakota)
An accompanying catalog features essays by Atkinson, Montiel and Savig as well as commentary by artists David Chatt, Kelly Church, Sonya Clark, Alicia Eggert, Steven Young Lee, Wendy Maruyama, Myra Mimlitsch-Gray, Connie Mississippi and Judith Schaechter. Co-published by the Smithsonian American Art Museum in association with D Giles Limited, London, it is available for pre-order in the online bookstore. The cover of this volume is printed in 50 color variations ($54.95, hardcover).
Ticketed Opening Party
The museum is hosting a ticketed opening party Friday, May 13, from 7:30 to 11:30 p.m. Tickets are $125 for general admission and $200 for VIP admission. The general admission ticket includes a preview of the exhibition, savory and sweet treats, open bar, valet parking and music from Caroline Polachek (DJ Set); the VIP ticket also includes early access to the party at 6:30 p.m. and 20% off at the museum store during the event. Tickets and additional information are available online; advance purchase is required.
Virtual and In-Person Public Programs
Museum staff have organized a series of free and ticketed public programs in conjunction with the exhibition. A free open house will be held Friday, May 13, from 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., featuring gallery talks with Savig at 11 a.m. and Atkinson at 1:30 p.m. Several artists will be in the galleries to talk with visitors about their work. Confirmed participants include Guillermo Bert, Bisa Butler, Einar de la Torre, Jamex de la Torre, Tom Loeser, Lauren Mabry, Jiha Moon, Ché Rhodes, Curt Theobald, Consuelo Jiménez Underwood and Wanxin Zhang.
The museum’s popular crafting happy hour, Handi-hour, will take place at the Renwick Gallery Thursday May 19, from 5:30 to 8 p.m. Tickets ($20) are required and include two drinks, crafting supply kits and light snacks. Participants will create a mini macramé piece while sipping craft cider from ANXO Cidery. Space is limited. Registrants must be 21 years or older to attend and must present a valid ID and proof of vaccination against COVID-19.
Throughout the run of the exhibition, the public will be invited to go behind the scenes into the studios of artists featured in “This Present Moment” and learn about their work and creative process. These virtual tours are free, but registration will be required:
- Thursday, June 9; 7 p.m. ET: Preston Singletary
- Thursday, Sept. 22; 7 p.m. ET: Chawne Kimber
- Thursday, Dec. 8; 7 p.m. ET: Katie Hudnall
- Thursday, Feb. 16, 2023; 7 p.m. ET: David Harper Clemons
Artist Roberto Lugo will give a talk Wednesday, Sept. 14, at 6:30 p.m. ET as part of the museum’s annual Clarice Smith Distinguished Lecture series. This program will take place in the museum’s McEvoy Auditorium and will be webcast live through YouTube. Details will be available on the museum’s website this summer.
A symposium is scheduled for Friday, March 3, 2023. Additional information about speakers and a schedule will be available on the museum’s website as details are confirmed.
Exhibition-Related Products for Sale
A series of products created exclusively in connection with the exhibition, including apparel, home décor, jewelry, ceramics and more, are available in the Renwick Gallery store and in the museum’s online shop. Custom products include glass plates and t-shirts featuring the Renwick 50th Anniversary book cover image. Additional items for sale include a limited-edition silkscreen print from award-winning artists JW and Melissa Buchanan of Little Friends of Printmaking, upcycled totes made from Renwick Gallery exhibition banners and an array of handmade items by artists.
“This Present Moment: Crafting a Better World” is organized by the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Generous support is provided by Carl and Jan Fisher, Shelby and Fred Gans, the James Renwick Alliance for Craft, and Ann Kaplan and Robert Fippinger.
The catalog is made possible by Cindy Miscikowski.
Additional support is provided by Alturas Foundation, Elizabeth Broun Curatorial Endowment, Sharon and Bob Buchanan, Sheila Burke, Billings and John Cay, DLR Group, Elizabeth and James Eisenstein, Mary Anne Fray, Cary J. Frieze, The Galena-Yorktown Foundation, Michael and Heather Greenbaum, Chris G. Harris, Cecily and Bannus Hudson, Maureen and Gene Kim, Colleen and John Kotelly, Joseph P. Logan, Nion McEvoy and Leslie Berriman, Eleanor T. Rosenfeld, Dorothy Saxe in memory of George Saxe, Maggie and Dick Scarlett, Barbara Tober, Judith S. Weisman, Myra and Harold Weiss, Kelly Williams and Andrew Forsyth, and Todd Wingate and Steven Cason.
About the Smithsonian American Art Museum and its Renwick Gallery
The Smithsonian American Art Museum is home to one of the most significant and inclusive collections of American art in the world. Its artworks reveal America’s rich artistic and cultural history from the colonial period to today. The museum’s Renwick Gallery, a branch museum dedicated to contemporary craft and decorative arts, is located on Pennsylvania Avenue at 17th Street N.W. The museums are open on a modified schedule due to the COVID-19 pandemic; check for current hours and admission information. Admission is free. Follow the museum on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube. Smithsonian information: (202) 633-1000. Museum information (recorded): (202) 633-7970. Website: americanart.si.edu.
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