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Wednesday, February 15, 2012

New Exhibit at KMAC Challenges Traditional Concepts of Craft

Into the Mix
at The Kentucky Museum of Art & Craft

By Mary Margaret Carlton Sparks
Entire contents are copyright © 2012 Mary Margaret Carlton Sparks. All rights reserved. 


My early morning visit to the Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft (KMAC) afforded me the opportunity not only to view the new exhibition, Into the Mix, but also to meet the new director, Aldy Milliken.  Into the Mix opened on February 3 and features ten Caribbean artists, including regional names Carlos Gamez de Francisco (Louisville) and Ebony Patterson (Lexington).

Aldy Milliken took over as director for KMAC in January 2012 after running the Milliken Gallery and spending 15 years in Sweden. His experience as a curator of contemporary art was immediately included into the process of creating Into the Mix. Although the exhibition had been planned well in advance of Milliken’s hire, he changed many of the artists and steered the exhibition more towards craft and slightly away from a focus on the Caribbean. His goal was to avoid generalizing cultures while simultaneously challenging the idea of craft in a way that would inspire the local community. With every exhibition, Milliken hopes to address the issue of how the public will interact with the space. He wants the museum to show quality work while fostering education and inspiration.  

Upon entering the gallery, I was pleased to walk in on a large school group viewing and actively engaged with the work. One of Milliken’s new initiatives is to include more educational opportunities within their shows. Two interactive art projects easily occupied the young minds, while a computer station (funded by an NEA grant) allowed the students to research the artists and learn more about Caribbean culture.   

Touch, video by Janine Antoni.
Photo by Mary Margaret Carlton Sparks.
Into the Mix is a diverse exhibition displaying everything from video to paper masks. Milliken arranged the show in a variety of vignettes, showcasing the relationships between artists and materials. Talking with Milliken, I learned that many of the works represent a theme of balance: realtiy vs. concept; craft vs. technology. Janine Antoni, one of the better-known artists in the exhibition, vividly demonstrates these themes in her video. The moving image gives the appearance that Antoni is walking on the horizon and demonstrates the idea of reality vs. concept.  At first, it may be hard to see how this work fits in the craft category.  However, the precise framing and careful execution of even this simple concept reminds the viewer that films must be crafted, just as a ceramic vessel or painting must be made. The artist develops a concept and gathers the materials needed to create the film. In this case, Antoni developed the composition for her film, then made the rope, then taught herself how to walk on the tightrope. 

Heino Schmid’s video piece also challenges the viewer in a similar fashion. In the film, a man’s hands tries to balance two empty glass bottles on one another. For a brief moment he succeeds, but the bottles quickly topple over onto the table.  The process repeats itself.  Here Schmid speaks to the relationship between craft and technology. The artist is taking a common cultural reference from the Bahamas (the balancing bottle act is a con often targeting tourists) and placing it in a minimal and non-traditional setting (using a white background with clear glass bottles).  It still has a strong connection to the traditional idea of craft (making the film, developing the concept, gathering materials) but introduces the viewer to a new method and further challenges them.



Detail of Untitled (Tyres) by Blue Curry.
Photo by Mary Margaret Carlton Sparks.
Not all of the work in Into the Mix is non-traditional. Many of the artists have pieces that are more familiar to the viewers but still slightly provocative. Blue Curry’s work uses shells and beads in interesting compositions. One of his installations is a set of tires covered in beads forming a unique snake skin design on each tire. Curry has taken a more common craft item (beads) and used it in an unusual setting, allowing the viewer a fresh take on the familiar material.

Marlon Griffith installation. Photo by
Mary Margaret Carlton Sparks.
Two other pieces work with a different sense of scale than the rest of the show. Marlon Griffith’s work reaches back to our childhood memories of craft in the sense that he has cut paper to create masks. In this case, Marlon Griffith created the series of paper masks onsite the week before the exhibition opened. Approaching the sculpture, viewers can see the paper scraps covering the floor beneath the masks, which are joined together and suspended from the ceiling. This time-sensitive piece was created just for this exhibition and will cease to exist after the show ends.  Viewers can walk underneath the piece and even try a mask on. Griffith has taken a traditional material but used it in a very nontraditional way and, like Curry, uses familiar materials to elevate the idea of craft as something that can be contemporary and unsure.

Little Gestures, Installation by Christopher Cozier.
Photo by Mary Margaret Carlton Sparks.
Christopher Cozier’s installation covers a large section of floor with images of identical benches on little paper stands. Cozier’s parents worked as civil servants for the government and their jobs consisted of stamping, cutting and clipping paper. The artist uses the same process in this piece by stamping the bench image, cutting the paper and clipping it to make a three-dimensional piece that can stand on the floor.  He also includes an activity where viewers can make their own bench to take home, thereby making conceptual art more accessible and further exploding the concept of craft.

Into the Mix helps to challenge the norm and elevate craft into the contemporary art scene. This exhibit is a must-see, providing an eye-opening and visually pleasing experience for viewers. 


Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft  
715 West Main Street
Louisville, KY 40202
Gallery Hours: Monday-Friday 10AM-5PM, Saturday 11AM-5PM.






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