The Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum pays tribute to the work of four contemporary artists in "The Renwick Invitational: Four Discoveries in Craft." On view from June 14 through Oct. 14, the exhibition is the second in a biennial exhibition series inaugurated in 2000, committed to introducing the public to the work of accomplished craft artists deemed deserving of museum exposure.
The exhibition highlights 50 objects in various craft media. James Koehler of Santa Fe, N.M., weaves bold, colorful tapestries. Gyöngy Laky of San Francisco interlaces twigs, electrical wire and other found objects into nestlike baskets. Kristina Logan of Portsmouth, N.H., creates intricate glass beads, as well as other glass objects such as candlesticks, boxes and teapots. Kim Rawdin of Scottsdale, Ariz., crafts gold and silver bracelets and brooches adorned with vibrantly colored stones.
"We are giving the public a glimpse of talented, contemporary artists at work today," said Kenneth Trapp, curator-in-charge of the Renwick Gallery. "Despite the disparities between the work of these four artists, they share common creative development from well-established craft traditions, immersion in the unique properties of their chosen materials, and a desire to infuse their art with content beyond formal components."
Koehler, an ex-monk, began to weave at a Benedictine monastery in New Mexico. Drawing inspiration from the simplicity of life at the monastery and the Southwestern landscape, Koehler produces tapestries with bold color and ordered geometric forms.
"Summer Dances III" (2002), a recent gift from Carol and Charles Rademaker, displays Koehler's emphasis on structure and austerity. A series of black and white zigzag lines assert a striking presence against a stark red background with muted, repeating horizontal stripes.
Following tree sweepers and visiting construction sites, Laky gathers twigs, electrical wire, plastics and other materials that she weaves into sculptural baskets. The artist, a professor at the University of California, Davis, makes a statement about how we relate to our environment by transforming what was once discarded material into works of art.
In "Los Equis" (1985), Laky intertwines twigs in a crisscrossing fashion. Whereas many of her sculptures are colorless, incorporating unaltered pieces of twigs, wire and nails, portions of the twigs in "Los Equis" are wrapped in red and orange pieces of plastic to produce an eye-catching effect.
Logan creates unique glass beads with intricate dotted and striped surface patterns ranging in shape from circles to long ovals. She uses a lampworking technique in which she fuses glass by melting it with a torch and then layers the molten glass to create a bead. Unlike other artists who generally craft beads to decorate larger works, Logan produces beads that can stand alone as finished works or that can be integrated into the design element of other glass pieces.
"Olive Cactus Bead" (1997) is a round bead created from lampworked soda lime glass. The small bead—less than 2 inches in diameter—is green and covered with microscopic, elevated drops of glass, alluding to a cactus. With content, color and surface texture, the bead is a finished work of art on its own. In contrast to "Olive Cactus Bead," is "Red Teapot #5" (2002) in which the artist enhances a glass teapot by fashioning its curved handle, stand and feet from a series of individual, intricately decorated beads.
A silversmith inspired by Navajo jewelry, Rawdin embellishes silver and gold bracelets, brooches and rings with semi-precious, multi-colored stones. Rawdin's works possess a three-dimensional sculptural quality, with large, irregular-shaped stones protruding from thick metal forms.
Rawdin's "Bracelet" (2001) is crafted from 18- and 22-karat gold. Large stones of chrysoprase, lapis lazuli, red coral, blue chalcedony, black jade and petrified palm are arranged as inlaid stones or rising above the surface of the piece, giving the bracelet an organic quality. The artist finishes the bracelet by inscribing a verse of his poetry inside, as he does with all of his bracelets.
Shelby M. and Frederick M. Gans and the James Renwick Alliance made this exhibition possible through their generous support.
A free, illustrated brochure will be available in the exhibition gallery.
Summer Dances III, 2002
hand-dyed and hand-woven wool and cotton
36 x 60 in.
photo by Jeff Crespi