About the exhibition
Without craftsmanship, inspiration is a mere reed shaken in the wind.
This exhibition celebrates the artisanship, skill, and dexterity involved in creating works of art and unique objects through long, labor-intensive
processes. Throughout history and all around the world, a great variety
of stimuli have impelled artists of different cultures to push their creative
abilities to the limit. Talent and experience, combined with persistence and
patience, guided their hands in making objects so exquisite as to inspire
amazement and even disbelief.
At the start of the twentieth century, Marcel Duchamps readymades one of
the most influential developments of modern art challenged the definition
of art. Duchamp opened up a debate about the nature of authorship and
what should be considered an original work of art, not only as a physical
object, but also as an idea. This philosophical act took art away from what
he called the retinal and turned it towards the cerebral; it also seemed
to negate the traditional importance of an artworks uniqueness and the
individual touch of the artists hand.
Steve Wolfe plays with Duchamps redefinition of art when he recreates
existing mass-produced articles (books and cardboard boxes) through a
process that takes months and sometimes years to accomplish. He employs
very complex techniques of simulation to transform objects that are found
in enormous quantities into unique works of art what Edmund White
calls hand-made readymades (p. 1 of his essay in Steve Wolfe, exh. cat.,
Luhring Augustine Gallery, New York, 2003). In Susan Colliss work, everyday
objects, stained with the marks of wear and tear, are inlayed with precious
and semiprecious stones cut to the shapes of the drips and splashes. Her
painstaking, time-consuming endeavor turns the cheap and temporary into
the highly precious and unique.
In this exhibition, the question of time and its value in relation to the
work process has great significance. When we consider the time that has
been invested in the objects, as well as the time it takes us to contemplate
them as they deserve, this only increases our wonder, amazement, and
even awe. Liza Lous Kitchen is a case in point: she spent five years of her
life to complete it, using millions of beads. The repetitive and meditative
nature of beadcraft is essential to the works meaning. By blurring the
distinction between the high and the low, Lou probes and challenges
traditional ideas of what constitutes fine art. Her work epitomizes the
interdisciplinary and cross-cultural concept of the exhibition. It evokes
the beading tradition of North American Indians, but also that of African
peoples, and it reminds us of the link between a Maori carver and Yoshihiro
Sudas sculpting technique, between the Chinese artist who depicted 53
tiny children on a piece of ivory and Roxy Paines 2,200 mushrooms.
In some cases our eyes are deceived by the extraordinary realism of a
work, tricked into believing that the depiction is the real thing. Ron Mueck
faithfully reproduces the minute details of the human body but he plays
with the scale to produce uncanny images that challenge us to reconcile two
contradictory realities. Yet the real wonder, the magical appeal, of Muecks
sculptures lies in the meticulous process through which they were made.
In our electronic age, when every day brings new time-saving technologies
and innovative materials, many artists continue to paint, sculpt, or draw and
to demonstrate their skill and knowledge by creating technically remarkable
works of art. Now, more than ever, there is something incredible about the
artists quest for perfection: can individually crafted objects survive in a
world of cloning and mass production?
Perhaps our constant fascination with and appreciation of handmade activity
is in part a response to the loss of originality that characterizes todays
technology. And perhaps it has to do with a profound need and longing for
tangible things that are awesome and enduring, for acts of creativity that
echo the divine.
Landeau Foundation Curator of Contemporary Art
Yulla and Jacques Lipchitz Chief Curator of the Arts