Neo-Craftivism, a group show at the Parlour Bushwick, brings together works by nine artists that dynamite the tired old boundaries separating craft and art. As a precedent, co-curators Rachael Gorchov, Roxanne Jackson, and Robin Kang cite Betsy Greer, the artist who in 2003 coined the term “craftivism” — which she defined as “the practice of engaged creativity, especially regarding political or social causes” — but their show has a more specific mission.
Neo-Craftivism primarily engages with aesthetic causes — albeit ones that have very poignant political implications, namely: undermining the gendered associations that have long been attached to certain art materials and challenging the prevailing norms of taste that deem some imagery and subjects fit for visual art and others not. The show features video game iconography and computer circuitry rendered in handwoven cotton (by Kang); mystical, cartoonish, and science-fiction characters crafted in ceramic (by Jackson and Rebecca Morgan); botanical sculptures made of glass, fabric, and beads (by Katerina Lanfranco); and a range of other works that treat modernist forms with craft materials. The resulting installations and juxtapositions make a very convincing case for a promiscuous approach to materials and subject matter, even if the exhibition occasionally falls victim to its eclecticism.
The works are installed inventively in the living room and kitchen that make up Parlour’s home gallery space. Contemporary caricatured takes on 19th-century ceramic face jugs by Morgan and vase-, creature-, and crystal-shaped clay works by Heidi Lau occupy the many-tiered mantel over the fireplace. Jackson’s terracotta rendering of the monster from John Carpenter’s The Thing commands the kitchen counter, while two of her sculptures of Fiji mermaids — fixtures of 19th-century sideshows — sprawl outrageously on a makeshift beach installed atop the living room coffee table. A large wooden, geometric sculpture by Sarah Bednarek, “Sphenomegacorona” (2014), mimics the proportions of a table while evoking a prismatic take on Richard Artschwager’s Formica sculptures, while another, the wood and canvas piece “Three Poles” (2014), stands leaning in the corner looking like rolled-up Venetian blinds. These works’ integration into Parlour’s domestic setting makes them even more compelling, in large part because they’re made of the types of material one would expect to see in such a space but don’t conform to any of the norms for such objects: instead of being beautiful, they’re ugly; instead of being practical, they’re unwieldy.
Still, not all the works in Neo-Craftivism benefit from the gallery’s distinctive architecture. The show’s installation does disservice to certain pieces, an issue that becomes especially clear when looking at the wall works. For instance, Courtney Puckett‘s “Happy Sad Shield” (2014) — whose enormous gridded assemblage of found materials sheathed in yellow thread calls to mind the work of Judith Scott, and from a certain angle coalesces into the titular happy and sad faces — commands the main wall in the kitchen. But it leaves three deliciously textured and brilliantly glazed ceramic pieces by Gorchov, tucked onto adjacent walls, looking tiny and flat. In the living room, the trio of colorful abstract paintings by Nichole Van Beek hung above the couch looks out of place in the craft-centric show. Displayed differently, so that viewers could get right up to them and appreciate their juxtapositions of acrylic paint and dyed canvas, they would fit in more seamlessly. On the opposite wall, Lanfranco’s intricate floral constructions are a delight, but the inclusion of just two of them is frustrating. A more plentiful assortment of the precious plants would have compounded their effect.
Curatorial quibbles aside, Neo-Crafitvism succeeds thanks to its engagement with the Parlour Bushwick’s distinctive architecture and the range of media and styles included. The abstract geometric sculptures by Bednarek and patterned fabric pieces by Kang complement especially nicely the monstrous ceramics of Jackson, Lau, and Morgan. The “engaged creativity” these neo-craftivists practice is irresistible, even if their causes are more art historical than political or social.
Neo-Craftivism continues at the Parlour Bushwick (791 Bushwick Avenue, Bushwick, Brooklyn) through June 28.