Renwick Gallery: 40 Under 40 Craft Futures Exhibit Showcases Indie Craft Culture Redefined


Nestled on the corner of Pennsylvania Avenue and 17th Street, mere blocks from the White House, sits Washington’s beloved Renwick Gallery. Among many brilliant pieces of art and design currently on display at this city landmark is featured the 40 Under 40: Craft Futures exhibit. 

As the name implies, 40 artists under the age of 40 have been chosen to showcase their artwork at the Renwick from now until February 3, 2013. The common theme among the artists’ work is twofold. For starters, all of the pieces featured were created after 9/11. This alone brought new challenges and concepts for the young artists to work with as they attempt to make art in a world that is constantly on edge. The other thread that weaves all of the work in 40 under 40 together, some quite literally, is that each piece seems to be a commentary on how each artist presently combines his or her craft with technology and manufacturing.

Using devices such as 3D printers, laser cuts, LEDs, tattoos, photography, and videography, artists were able to show the relationship technology plays in the creation of art today. Many of the artists chose to use repurposed materials such as quilts, books, pennies, recycled sterling silver, salvaged wood, and more to create pieces that are as purposeful or thought provoking as they are beautiful.

Through the use of old, often reused materials and ideas, the artists were able to create art with modern implications. Jennifer Crupi (born 1973), used a medium of sterling silver to create “Ornamental Hands: Figure One.”

Jennifer Crupi, "Ornamental Hands: Figure One", 2010, sterling silver, acrylic, inkjet print on vellum, courtesy of the artist, photo by Christian Luis.

What looks like a futuristic hand contraption made of silver is Crupi’s recreation of the delicate hand positioning often seen in historical art throughout the centuries. Using her knowledge of metalwork and design, Crupi was able to construct a decorative and functional piece of jewelry that holds fingers in such a way as to mimic the angelic-looking hands found in paintings of yore.

Artists such as Erik Demaine (born 1981) – with the help of his father Martin Demaine – use mathematics and technology to create purposeful art. Demaine is a computer scientist who studies the properties of folding paper, or Curved Crease Sculptures, to further understand how proteins in the body self-fold. Demaine has found that his craft not only propels his understanding of how irregular protein folding can cause disease, but also how creased paper can, with minor manipulation, turn into a form that is beautiful, precise, and varied in shape, size, and color.

Erik Demaine and Martin Demaine, "Green Balance", 2011, Mi-Teintes watercolor paper, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of the artists in honor of the 40th anniversary of the Renwick Gallery.

While all of the pieces seem to speak to the future of craft with regard to the relationship between art and the artist, many of the pieces also speak to the past. Artist Sabrina Gschwandtner (born 1977) constructed two quilts – “Fibers and Civilization” and “Hula Hoop” — that were sewn together using fiber dating from the 50s and 80s. The pieces are meant to be a commentary on the history of feminist labor during various periods, fusing old mediums with modern concepts.

Sabrina Gschwandtner, "Hula Hoop", 2010, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of Chris Rifkin in honor of the 40th anniversary of the Renwick Gallery, photo by Sabrina Gschwandtner.

The exhibit as a whole sheds light on how the current economic climate has created a new appreciation for work. Financial hardship has seemingly encouraged people to seek a stronger, more intimate relationship with their job or craft.

This is exemplified in the attempt of many to move away from a culture of outsourcing and non-intimacy with materials, to becoming a DIY “indie-craft culture” that uses sustainable, United States-made products. This DIY culture is found most obviously and recently within the art community, but also in a greater community of people looking to create meaningful pieces to complement their homes and lives. Websites like Pinterest are no longer just for looking; people are becoming inspired to create using technology. 40 under 40: Craft Futures was an exemplary display of where the future of individual craft is headed.

Main Image: Olek, "Knitting is for Pus****", 2005-2011, mixed media and 100% acrylic yarn, Courtesy of the artist, photo by Jeffrey Kilmer