The New Materiality: Digital Dialogues at the Boundaries of Contemporary Craft

March 10–June 12, 2011
Decorative Arts Gallery

What is contemporary craft? Craft theory from the late nineteenth century and throughout the twentieth century valued the artisan’s hand over the work of the machine. Thus, historically, the artisan has represented an important social virtue. The New Materiality: Digital Dialogues at the Boundaries of Contemporary Craft presents the work of sixteen emerging and established American craft artists who blend traditional craft materials such as fabric, glass, wood, metal, and clay with digital technologies and, in turn, blur the boundaries between the traditionally established categories of craft, art, and design.

Works in the exhibition range from an eleven-foot portrait of Madam CJ Walker made out of combs to glass reliquaries containing videos of extinct objects such as encyclopedias and typewriters. One of the largest pieces, Donald Fortescue and Lawrence LaBianca’s Sounding (2008), explores the relationship between not only craft, art, and design, but also technology and nature. Inspired by Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, the artists lowered a cabriole-legged table into the ocean, together with a hydrophone to record the ambient sound, and kept it there for two months. The work is exhibited with an oversized hornlike funnel, tied together with zip ties, to amplify the recorded sound.

The New Materiality shows us that the lines between art, design, and craft are becoming more porous as each co-opts various theoretical, technical, and philosophical aspects of the other, asking us to scrutinize the distance between them in contemporary creative practice,” said Fo Wilson, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee professor and curator of The New Materiality.

Also represented in the exhibition are Brian Boldon, Shaun Bullens, Sonya Clark, Lia Cook, E.G. Crichton, Maaike Evers, Wendy Maruyama, Christy Matson, Cat Mazza, Nathalie Miebach, Mike Simonian, Tim Tate, Susan Working, and Mark Zirpel.

The New Materiality: Digital Dialogues at the Boundaries of Contemporary Craft is organized by the Fuller Craft Museum and is organized at the Milwaukee Art Museum by the Chipstone Foundation. It is curated by Fo Wilson, assistant professor in the Department of Art and Design at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
  • Donald Fortesque and Lawrence LaBianca, Sounding, 2008. Courtesy of the artist. Image Courtesy of the Fuller Craft Museum.