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"Crafting a Continuum: Rethinking Contemporary Craft" at ASU Art Museum Lets the Artwork Speak for Itself

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When we hear the word "craft," our minds usually jump to images of crocheted woolen baby booties and reclaimed driftwood bed frames. In recent years, Pinterest and Etsy have co-opted the term in the name of the D.I.Y. revolution. But in the art world, craft has an entirely different connotation.

A new exhibition at ASU Art Museum seeks to examine this connotation and explore craft as a contemporary artform. "Crafting a Continuum: Rethinking Contemporary Craft" includes 63 pieces from the museum's extensive collection, centering on three primary media: ceramic, wood, and fiber.

See also: ASU's Ceramics Research Center to Relocate in 2014

Curated by associate director and senior curator Heather Sealy Lineberry and curator of ceramics Peter Held, the exhibition reveals the truly impressive scope of the museum's crafting collection, which was started in the 1960s. While the exhibit does include earlier work from some of the luminaries in the field like Peter Voulkos, Ed Moulthrop, and Dorothy Gill Barnes, a large majority of the pieces are from the 21st century, revealing the state of crafting today.

For years crafting was looked down upon because the crafting tradition is strongly rooted in functional objects, and this functionality was thought to preclude any other meaning. But with the work in this show, the centuries-old debate over crafting's placement in the art world is completely blown out of the water. None of the work in the show leaves you wondering, "Is this art?" The pieces speak for themselves, and they're too busy espousing their own individual meanings to worry too much about their placement in the turbulent history of craft as art.

In this way, the art itself is the star of "Crafting a Continuum," and it's damn impressive. Margarita Cabrera's Space in Between - Nopal #3(2012) is a fabric cactus made from Border Patrol uniforms and embroidered with images of immigration. The artist works in collaboration with Latin American immigrants across the U.S. to share stories of border crossing. Paul Scott's Scott's Cumbrian Blue(s)- A Willow for Ai Weiwei, Wen Tao, Lu Zhenggang, Zhang Jinsong, Hu Mingfun(2011) is a reimagining of mass-produced tableware that pays homage to the history of Chinese porcelain, while introducing modern graphic subversions. Mi-Kyoung Lee's Untitled(2013) is a large circle of woven thread that brings into question the human preoccupation with the material itself.

These pieces (and others in the show) rely on medium as an integral part of creating meaning. It's a perfect assertion of why craft exists today and why it deserves a prominent place in contemporary art. The objects in the show boldly occupy their own space, making us completely forget that there was ever a time when craft was considered a lesser art form.

If we have one complaint about the exhibition, it's that it lacks some cohesive direction as a whole. The artwork spans two galleries, with a few choice pieces like Jarbas Lopes's Cicloviaéra(2006) spilling into the main lobby. But the organization of the incredibly large show is difficult to follow. It's hard to tell where the exhibition begins and ends.

For a show with the word "continuum" in the name, this makes a lot of sense conceptually. But in practice, it can be hard to find your bearings with so many disjointed pieces. It may be easy to pick out a few works that resonate with you, personally. But it's not necessarily easy to figure out how the art works relate to one another apart from their three-dimensionality.

Still, the work in "Crafting a Continuum" is incredibly impressive. We highly recommend you give it a visit before the show leaves ASU to travel to museums across the country.

"Crafting a Continuum: Rethinking Contemporary Craft" runs through Saturday, December 7, at ASU Art Museum. The museum is open Wednesday through Saturday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Tuesday 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.. Admission is free of charge.

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