Highlights from the ‘Crafting Modernism’ Show at MAD


The recently-opened Crafting Modernism exhibition at New York’s Museum of Arts and Design is the perfect antidote to the geometric-steel-and-plastic concept of modern style. With works ranging from the late ’40s through 1969, the show focuses on a range of objects made from humanizing “craft media” like clay, wood, and fiber. In spite of the “do not touch” signs and roped-off exhibits, the impression left by these works was distinctly tactile. And seriously, who doesn’t LOVE anything by Isamu Noguchi?

If you can’t make it to MAD before January 15, then check out more images after the jump.

Music Rack by Wendell Castle, 1964. Purchased by the American Craft Council, 1964

Wendell Castle’s Music Rack is a virtuosic riff on organic form. Made entirely of rosewood, the piece was created using a process known as stack lamination; Castle glued together layers of wood and then bent them to achieve the desired effect. A leading member of the American Craft genre of design, Castle is often credited as a founding father of the art furniture movement.

Neckpiece. Arthur Smith, 1948. Purchased by the American Craft Council, 1967

Want! Arthur Smith’s gorgeous jewelry was featured in Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, and The New Yorker in spite of the fact that he was a black, gay, bohemian jewelry designer in the less-than-accepting ’50s.

This brass Neckpiece, with its understated ostentation and interlocking forms, looks like something Lady Gaga might wear when she moves out of her Madonna/Blonde Ambition phase and into her Madonna/glamourous-but-still-unique phase, don’t you think?

My Mu (Watashi no mu) by Isamu Noguchi, 1950. Noguchi Museum

Isamu Noguchi is one of the luminaries of modern furniture design in America. He created that iconic sculpture-like coffee table for Herman Miller (yes, that one) in addition to everything from playgrounds to totemic basalt artworks. The central void in this ceramic construction is meant to evoke “mu,” the Zen concept of nothingness. A larger sandstone version of this work was created for display in the garden of the Shin-Banraisha at Keio University, the space that Noguchi designed in 1952 in memory of his father.

Here, as in Castle’s Music Stand, organic forms give the impression of life. The asymmetry of this piece exudes a personality that is at once grave and endearing.

Stool by Ray Eames & Charles Eames, 1960. Private Collection

THE EAMESES. Even if you know nothing about design and don’t give a fig for designers, you must MUST know about Ray and Charles Eames. This incredible power couple not only made some of the most beautiful furniture of the modern movement, but they were filmmakers and educators to boot. And totally in LOVE with each other. A fab-looking documentary about them is set to premier on November 18 at IFC in New York. Watch the trailerhere.

This simple walnut stool encapsulates the character-laden minimalism of the Eames oeuvre. Clean lines. Natural materials. Interesting to look at. And if the guard had let me sit on it, I’d be able to tell you that it was comfortable as well.

Bird Lounge Chair and Ottoman by Arieto (Harry) Bertoia, Knoll International, after 1952. Private Collection

Okay so there is some welded steel in this exhibition. But in this piece by the artist Harry Bertoia, the angularity of the legs is beautifully balanced by the upholstered curves of the seat creating a sense of lightness as well as comfort. Italian-born Bertoia was a sculptor, furniture designer, and jewelry maker (he made the Eameses’ wedding rings) and is probably best known for his collection of wire furniture for Knoll.

I never know if the chair back is meant to be the tail of the “bird” or the head. The bird could be either alert or pecking at something. And is the ottoman a part of the “bird?” If you have any insight, let me know.

Forms: Transcendental by Richard Pousette-Dart, 1950. The Simona and Jerome Chazen Collection

Again, the organic shapes in this painting by Abstract Expressionist Richard Pousette-Dart reflect the biomorphic undercurrent of Crafting Modernism. Don’t the legs at the bottom of the painting remind you of the Noguchi piece just a few pages back? The pieces in this exhibition aren’t the soulless and utilitarian type of modernism that places like Pottery Barn and Restoration Hardware want you to fear. These objects and artworks have personalities. And they definitely have style.

Wouldn’t you just love to have any of these works in your home?