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Bellevue Arts Museum exhibit an exploration of art in the craft movement
The Bellevue Arts Museum is highlighting the work of artist craftsmen in a new exhibit imported from the Arizona State University Art Museum and its Ceramics Research Center.
“Crafting a Continuum: Rethinking Contemporary Craft” is a comprehensive display of 60 installations in the field of craft. The exhibit’s breadth — both in terms of time periods covered, media and aesthetic sensibility — is a testament to the challenge of how to concisely define craft as an artistic movement.
As patrons enter the exhibit, they are confronted by “MM 342 (Tank Chair),” a 1979 Tom Eckert wood sculpture of a rocking chair supported by tank treads. The installation is illustrative of craft’s place in the world of art, straddling the line between utility and fantasy.
The museum’s second floor has been transformed into a microcosm of the movement’s progression. It’s a progression from practical-yet-decorative woodturned and ceramic vessels or furniture — what might be considered traditional craft — to items “very fully transformed from any kind of usefulness,” as local curator Nora Atkinson described one untitled David A. Rowe sculpture, a ship pieced together from found scraps of wood.
Atkinson said she was excited to have the opportunity to display the ASU exhibit, culled in part from the vast collection of craft pieces taken in by that museum’s late and former director Rudy Turk.
“He had the foresight to realize the craft movement was really an art movement,” Atkinson said. “This show takes a look at where craft is going and where it has come from.”
The earliest pieces — craft works from the 1950s and later, produced by artists such as ceramicist Peter Voulkos and woodturner Ed Moulthrop — are notable for their smooth and pristine perfection. Slightly later innovators embraced the beauty of imperfection through conscious bumps and breaks, while others began to explore craft materials’ sculptural limits. A Marilyn Levine piece, for example, initially appears to be an unremarkable pair of well-worn boots — unremarkable, that is, until the viewer realizes all but the shoelaces are ceramic.
As the exhibit progresses, the pieces become more contemporary and delve further into fine art territory.
Some highlights of the exhibit include the eerie fantasy realism of Yoshimasa Tsuchiya’s wood carved animal sculptures, and Mark Newport’s knitwork exploring the gender connotations and anonymity of superheroism.
“Craft has really become a language for talking about socioeconomic problems,” Atkinson said.
“Crafting a Continuum” runs through April 27.