Exhibition guest curated by Dr. Howard Risatti, critic and Chair, Department of Craft/Material Studies at Virginia Commonwealth University

Zone: Chelsea Center for the Arts will present the work of a group of established artists and their young, emerging counterparts, all of whom work primarily in traditional Craft materials, but without relying on function as their primary support. 


In an art world in which Craft materials are regularly used in the manner of Fine Art (e.g., Rosemarie Trockel’s knitting and Jeff Koons’ slip-cast ceramics), traditional distinctions based on material alone hardly seem significant.  Material Matters: A Poetics of Possibilities features a wide range of objects in typical Craft materials that challenge conventional notions of Craft and explore the sensibilities guiding Craft disciplines. 


Craft has always involved a dialogue between material, form, and technique resulting in beautifully made objects that allow material to co-exist in itself. While few works in the exhibition are functional in nature, they all tend to have features that express the special nature of Craft.  Works included in this exhibition demonstrate that cross-cultural, global affinities in form, material, technique, and concepts have long been a part of Craft. 


Moreover, Craft generally adheres to an idea of the object as personally scaled and suitable for the domestic realm; thus out-sized, museum-scaled objects tend to be avoided.  In place of the grand, public gesture common to Fine Art, Craft works tend to be more intimate and personal in scale and sentiment–more like chamber music than grand opera. Because Craft objects invite touch, interactive qualities of “feel,” weight, and balance are part of their intimate aesthetic appeal.

Material Matters: A Poetics of Possibilities

An Exhibition of Art in Craft Media

Exhibition guest curated by Dr. Howard Risatti, critic and Chair, Department of Craft/Material Studies at Virginia Commonwealth University


June 30 – July 23, 2005


Opening Reception

6-8pm, Thursday, June 30



 An Exhibition of objects in Craft Media

by Dr. Howard Risatti


        Most of the artists in this exhibition engage a wide range of materials traditionally associated with Craft–for example, among the more established artists, Jack Wax works in glass, Allan Rosenbaum in ceramic, Douglas Finkel in wood, James Meyer in metal, and John Hawthorne in fiber.  Because of this, they would be identified as “Craft artists.”  However, in an art world in which Craft materials are regularly being used in the manner of Fine Art, distinctions based on material alone hardly seem important any longer.  If they were, where would we place Rosemarie Trockel with her knitting, Mike Kelly with his stuffed animals, and Jeff Koons with his slip-cast ceramics?  What is important about material, as this exhibition demonstrates, is how it is ultimately used in the service of artistic expression. 

        When it comes to Craft, most people, whether consciously or not, still assume that Craft objects exhibit certain features, the most prominent of which is function.  This exhibition is decidedly not about function–in fact few works in it are actually functional, not even Bill Hammersley’s benches, Jason Hackett’s urns, or Adam Welch’s platters.  Rather, it is an exploration of the special meanings and sensibilities inherent in Craft.  For instance, embracing the global (currently so evident in the art world) is hardly new to Craft since Craft-disciplines have always had cross-cultural affinities in form, material, technique, and concepts. Artists in this exhibition such as Hyo-in Kim and Ji-Wan Joo exploit Korean and Western ceramics, similarly, Lydia Thompson’s work displays elements of African design, and Susan Iverson employs Peruvian weaving methods. 

        Craft objects tend to be relatively small and avoid the monumental scale implicitly invited by spacious contemporary museums. Ceramists Sergei Isupov and Suk-Jin Choi, fabric artists Nicole Haimbach and Maria Kovacs, and woodworkers Kate Hudnall and Travis Townsend, all create objects more closely scaled to the body than to monumental architecture. Their art works do not require large, formal exhibition spaces, but are quite at home in more personal and familial surroundings. 

        Craft objects tend to direct attention to the domestic realm rather than  public spaces, something evident in J. D. Garn’s ceramics and Cindy Myron’s metal work. They also tend to speak intimately and personally; more akin to chamber music than grand opera.  Moreover, in keeping with their sense of scale and setting, the concern with material in Craft includes fragility and interactive tactile sensations which, after all, are redolent with domestic life’s interpersonal and bodily relationships; such features are apparent in the glass works of Emilio Santini, Fumiaki Odajima, and Tim Wagner and the ceramics of Fiona Ross. 

        The Craft object speaks in another voice, one that compliments rather than contradicts Fine Art.  In doing so it suggests a cross-cultural understanding of personal space that is rich with poetic possibility.

Howard Risatti is Emeritus Professor of Contemporary Art and Critical Theory in the Department of Art History at Virginia Commonwealth University where he also was Chair of the Department of Craft/Material Studies from 2001-05.  Before receiving his PhD in art history, he earned BM and MM Degrees in music and is ABD in music theory and composition.  


His writings on art and craft have appeared in various journals including the Art Journal, Artforum, New Art Examiner, Artscribe, Latin American Art, The Chronicle of Higher Education, The Woman’s Art Journal, Art Criticism, The Studio Potter, Sculpture, and Ceramic Art & Perception.  Most recently he wrote on Jackie Matisse’s “Collaborations in Art and Science” for Sculpture Magazine, on “Contemporary American Ceramic Trends” for Korean Ceramics Monthly, and on the ceramic sculpture of Suk-Jin Choi for Ceramics Monthly. 


He has presented numerous papers on various subjects including functional crafts at the 2003 Cheongju Craft Biennial in Korea; Jackie Matisse’s virtual reality kites at the “Art and New Technologies” conference in Chalon sur Soane, France; Leo Steinberg’s “Contemporary Art and the Plight of its Public” at the 2005 College Art Conference in Atlanta; and Craft versus Design at the 2005 Society of North American Goldsmiths’ conference in Cleveland.


His first book was New Music Vocabulary and appeared in 1975 (University of Illinois Press); Postmodern Perspectives: Issues in Contemporary Art appeared in 1990 and the 2nd edition in 1998 (Prentice Hall).  The Mountain Lake Workshops: Artists in Locale (1996, Anderson Gallery & VA Tech Foundation) ) accompanied the exhibition that he curated of the same title.  In 1998 he co-authored with Kenneth Trapp Skilled Work: American Craft in the Renwick Gallery (Smithsonian Institution Press).  His latest book, A Theory of Craft: Function and Aesthetic Expression (UNC Press), is scheduled to appear in Fall 2007. 

Categories: exhibitions