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Beginning Sunday, October 20, Racine Art Museum (RAM) visitors will experience two new contemporary craft exhibitions: OBJECTS REDUX: Studio Craft in Context, 1960-1985 and OBJECTS REDUX: Small-Scale Studio Craft of the 1950s and 1960s. These shows—both on display through February 2, 2020—are the last of the four concurrent exhibitions to open in RAM’s fall exhibition series, OBJECTS REDUX. Drawn primarily from the museum’s collection, this series showcases work made between approximately 1960 and 1985 by artists located in the United States and offers a look at how the craft was developing in the last part of the twentieth century.
In the late 1960s, as society was undergoing social upheaval, studio craft—especially as it was being practiced in the United States—slowly began to undergo changes in content and form. Particularly in the 1960s and 1970s, many artists who used craft materials were pushing the boundaries of function and practical use—investigating materials and artistic concepts while beginning to overtly question social, political, environmental, and cultural issues. The public face of studio craft—as the focus of exhibitions, theoretical contemplation, and public appreciation—got a boost when SC Johnson endorsed a project to build a collection that would “promote the American object maker.”
Assembled by art dealer Lee Nordness and then Museum of Contemporary Crafts (now Museum of Arts and Design) director Paul Smith, this collection traveled the country as OBJECTS: USA before being distributed—by the way of gifts—to several participating institutions. Accompanied by a substantial book with images and artist biographies, as well as a sales catalog titled arts/objects: USA and an hour-long movie, this combination of over 300 works made of so-called craft materials traveled to 20 US and 14 international venues on its multi-year tour. The exhibition introduced a broader public to the possibilities of media most often associated with function, not intellectual, aesthetic, or material investigations. OBJECTS: USA also offered a new way of understanding those works and their makers.
OBJECTS REDUX: Studio Craft in Context, 1960-1985 showcases craft within the larger spectrum of work being created at the time. For example, Helen Bitar, whose work is featured in the original OBJECTS: USA with brightly colored, stitched pillows is represented in RAM’s Studio Craft in Context exhibition with a large quilt from the late 1960s in bold—almost neon—colors and intense pattern. Contrasted with the graphic, cartoony, psychedelic imagery in a Karl Wirsum print from five years later, a complex picture of American art and society at the time begins to form.
Rounding out the four-exhibition series, OBJECTS REDUX: Small-Scale Studio Craft of the 1950s and 1960s, showcases primarily functional work made in the decades just prior to OBJECTS: USA. While there were artists already challenging ideas about function, the public most likely thought about craft—if they did at all—in terms similar to the vessels, bowls, and “useful” items represented in this exhibition.
More information regarding the OBJECTS REDUX series and other current exhibitions can be found on the museum’s website, ramart.org.