Craft, art meet in new Minnesota Museum of American Art exhibit

The Minnesota Museum of American Art has brought some brightly colored gems out of its permanent collection, with an eye toward exploring the often blurry line that divides art from craft.

Director Kristin Makholm says the exhibition, titled “Objects,” is in part a reaffirmation of the museum’s commitment to craft.

“We got away from it for many decades but we’re getting back to it, because there’s an amazingly strong craft community that should be represented in the museum scene,” said Makholm.

Susan B. Goldberg, Kaleidoscope, 1959, paint on rayon, Collection Minnesota Museum of American Art, Endowment Fund Purchase
Photo courtesy MMA

In 1969 a Smithsonian show titled “Objects USA” toured the country, stopping at the MMAA along the way. The show was an expose on the return to craft in the response to a surge in consumerism. The exhibition coincided with a dialogue among artists about what is and isn’t considered a work of art.

Curator Christina Chang said she didn’t want to do just a ‘craft show,’ instead she chose to mix it up with other media that are pushing at those boundaries.

“Some craftsmen could choose to call themselves artists, and vice versa, but both terms carried baggage,” said Chang. That’s why both the Smithsonian show and this exhibition simply use the term ‘Objects;’ it’s a more neutral permissive term than ‘art’ or ‘craft.’

Peter Voulkos, Bull Bottle, 1952, glazed stoneware, Collection Minnesota Museum of American Art, Acquisition Fund Purchase
Photo courtesy MMAA

Items in the show range from an oversized brooch that would be almost impossible to wear, to a bolt of fabric by textile designer Susan Goldberg that’s been mounted and presented as an abstract painting.

“Should we call it a painting?” asks Chang. “If so, is it because there’s actual paint involved in the making of the fabric? The artist probably considered herself a textile designer; we’re just challenging the definitions with what an art object is.”

Thomas Lynn, Chair with Back, 1968, aluminum, Collection Minnesota Museum of American Art, Gift of the Johnson Wax Company OBJECTS: USA
Photo courtesy MMAA

Other objects include a very traditional piece of pottery by Peter Voulkos, a ceramicist known for his abstract work. This raises its own questions, e.g. does the way we view the artist change the way we see the art?

Chang hopes the exhibition serves as a reminder of the vast collection the museum has, and also sparks a more nuanced debate about the intersection of craft and art, both representational and abstract.