Museum  November 28, 2018  Chandra Noyes

Making the Traditional Contemporary in "Disrupting Craft"

Courtesy SAAM

Dustin Farnsworth and Timothy Maddox, WAKE II, 2017. Aquaresin, hydrost one, various polychrome, canvas and vinyl acrylic paint. Collection of the artist.

The Smithsonian American Art Museum’s Renwick Gallery follows two popular exhibitions with the ninth installment of their invitational biennial. Disrupting Craft: Renwick Invitational 2018 continues the work of WONDER (their debut exhibit after a years-long renovation, which filled the museum with large-scale installations) and No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man (on view through January 21, 2019) by continuing to redefine craft. Like these two exhibitions, Disrupting Craft shows that the art form is no longer confined to the handheld, homey, functional objects it was once associated with. Instead, it is an expansive genre that can both rely on tradition and push the boundaries of contemporary art.

Courtesy SAAM

Sharif Bey, Ceremonial Vessel I, 2016. Earthenware and china shards. Collection of the artist.

The four artists chosen for Disrupting Craft—Tanya Aguiñiga, Sharif Bey, Dustin Farnsworth, and Stephanie Syjuco—place their emphasis on social justice work, activism, community and identity. They each use traditional craft media or skills and take them in new directions. The fruits of their labor are often more focused on the conversation surrounding the work than a physical object. While their works may be beautiful and well-made, it is often the message that is more carefully crafted.

Working in clay and on a large and small scale, Sharif Bey uses his daily art practice to assert and explore his own identity as an artist, father, and teacher. Sampling from African artistic traditions, Bey contextualizes his craft and identity in history and the larger world.

Courtesy SAAM

Tanya Aguiñiga, Untitled (Driftless), 2013. Raw and hand-dyed canvas, industrial felt, merino wool, cotton rope, sisal, wool yarn, linen and Chiapas wool. Collection of the artist.

For Tanya Aguiñiga, her identity as a binational American is central to her work, as well. Growing up in Tijuana and crossing the border daily to San Diego for her education is a unique experience that continues to shape her work. Using a range of textile and natural media, Aguiñiga engineers community-based projects to enrich and honor this distinct group of people and give voice to their experiences.

Libby Weiler

Stephanie Syjuco, Neutral Calibration Studies (Ornament + Crime), 2016. Wooden platform, neutral grey seamless backdrop paper, digital adhesive prints on laser -cut wooden props, dye-sublimation digital prints on fabric, items purchased on eBay and craigsli st, photographic prints, artificial and live plants and neutral calibrated gray paint. Collection of the artist and Nion​ ​​​​​​McEvoy.

Stephanie Syjuco creates large-scale installations and communal workspaces that foster interactions intended to make us question our assumptions about other people. Blending the digital and the handmade, Syjuco brings our attention to what identities are seen as visually and culturally “neutral,” and how this is reflected in our lives and the technology we use everyday.

Courtesy SAAM

Dustin Farnsworth, Promontory, 2013. Pine, brasswood, poplar, plywood, veneer bendable plywood, steel, luan, human hair and various polychrome. Collection of the artist.

Using wood to create intimate portraits, Dustin Farnsworth evokes the injustices and daily struggles of American life through his figurative and abstract works. Farnsworth seeks to tell these stories, translating the lives of people in the communities he works in into visual narratives that connect personal experiences to larger themes.

Once seen as a field focusing on materials and mastering the techniques to shape them, Disrupting Craft shifts the emphasis to using these parameters as a language rather than an end product. The works of Bey, Aguiñiga, Syjuco, and Farnsworth show a field with its finger on the pulse of cultural and artistic developments, using craft to delicately shape these dialogues into visual form.

Disrupting Craft: Renwick Invitational 2018 in on view through May 5, 2019, at the Renwick Gallery in Washington, DC.

About the Author

Chandra Noyes

Chandra is managing editor for Art & Object.