Monday, May 9, 2011

Renwick's Craft Invitational

Last weekend I went to the Renwick's Craft Invitational, "History in the Making" which will be on the first floor of the museum until July 31st. The four artists in this year's invitational are silversmith Ubaldo Vitali, ceramicist Cliff Lee, stained-glass artist Judith Schaechter and furniture maker Matthias Pliessnig. The work by all four of these artists is astounding, beautiful, and full of detail and craftsmanship.

When you enter the gallery, you are confronted with the highly refined, reflective surfaces of Vitali's silver work. Often, not one who loves silver, I really liked his quality of craftsmanship, attention to detail and clear knowledge of historicism. Even before reading his biography, where I learned he's from a long line of amazing silversmiths, I was taken by his awareness of history and how he made it modern, without making it postmodern. I really enjoyed the sketches for his work that were included in several of the cases, helping me to understand how he arrives at his designs.

Cliff Lee's porcelain work shows his background as a neurosurgeon with small details that I think would drive any other person blind or crazy. Or both. His work is sensual and his colors are rich and deep. He's spent a lot of time working on researching, developing and creating his glazes. One of his glazes has a long history, one better told by the wall text at the exhibit. (This is my passive-aggressive way of telling you to go see this!) His work is so refined and delicate, yet sturdy. His celadon glaze is one of the most beautiful I've ever seen. And it highlights his intricate carving in a way I'm pretty sure the Chinese originally intended.

The stained glass by Judith Schaechter is some of the most beautiful contemporary stained glass I've seen. I've been in a lot of churches (where else do you see stained glass?), researched Tiffany, but her work is thoroughly of today and takes stained glass to a level of storytelling and deeper emotions than what I've seen in other works. Rather than stick to one color in a pane, she uses several techniques to achieve patterns and create multiple colors to tell her stories. With a leaning toward the macabre, her work is delightful and disturbing. But the way she truly won me over was with her Judith and Holofernes window. One of my favorite apocryphal stories (that I only learned in art history classes), she turned it to an almost whimsical, playful image of a young girl merrily going about her way. I loved it.

If I'd seen the furniture of Matthias Pliessnig earlier on in my life, I might not have the feelings about furniture that I do. However, his use of boat-making techniques to make organic, flowing furniture captivated me. I wanted to sit on it, I wanted to touch it, but instead, I just spent a long time staring at the bench in the room, moving around it, seeing it from different angles, and being astounded by his ability to manipulate wood in beautiful way. Fortunately, the Renwick has a "touch" gallery, and I was able to touch a sample piece of his work, finally, tactile enjoyment of the smooth, bent wood. If only I could sit on it. Or take a nap.

Go now before the invitational closes! The works are absolutely gorgeous and it is so heartening to see such beautiful craft on display. It gives the potter in me hope.

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