On November 22, 2019, the Whitney opens Making Knowing: Craft in Art, 1950–2019. The exhibition focuses on visual artists who have explored the materials, methods and strategies of craft.
Beginning in the 1950s—at a time when many artists embraced fiber arts and ceramics to challenge the dominance of traditional painting and sculpture—Making Knowing moves through the next seven decades.
Drawn primarily from the Whitney’s collection, the exhibition features more than 80 artworks in a variety of media. They include textiles, ceramics, painting, drawing, photography, video and large-scale sculptural installation. More than 60 artists are represented.
Making Knowing is organized chronologically and thematically, beginning with a gallery of works from the 1950s. Throughout this decade, artists experimented with wire, scavenged fabric and clay. Others explored weaving, both on and off the loom, and painting on found quilts.
By employing marginalized craft media, they challenged the power structures that determined artistic value. Presenting these artists together reveals the profound influence that craft had on abstraction during this period.
Other galleries show how artists working in the 1960s and 1970s frequently questioned why fine art was more accepted and valued than more vernacular or utilitarian traditions. Many experimented with unconventional materials such as rope, felt and string and, in doing so, influenced various art historical movements including Pop art, Minimalism and Process art.
Making Knowing also highlights modes of making from the 1970s and 1980s frequently categorized as “women’s work.” While this phrase denigrated certain materials and aesthetics associated with femininity, artists purposefully worked in these ways to question gender roles in both the art world and society at large. Artists used cloth, embroidery, sewing and ceramics to elevate the often-disparaged tradition of the “decorative” and to attest to the impossibility of tethering these techniques to a single use or means of expression.
The works on display from the 1980s and 1990s exemplify how artists during this period looked at art and its relationship to devotional practices. They used wide-ranging materials including quilts, found and sewn textiles, candles, artificial flowers, and beads in artworks that reveal the relationship between the spiritual and the worldly.
A gallery dedicated to artwork from the mid-1990s to the present broadly addresses issues of the body and place. Liza Lou’s monumental installation Kitchen, 1991–1996, is a handmade, life-size kitchen composed of sparkling beads. Through subject matter and materials, Lou combines the physical labor of domestic life and the painstaking making of an artwork. On view for the first time here are recent acquisitions by Shan Goshorn, Kahlil Robert Irving, Simone Leigh, Jordan Nassar, and Erin Jane Nelson.
Making Knowing offers a fresh look at a prominent, ever-present thread of the Whitney’s collection. The exhibition’s title reformulates the historical tension often separating craft and fine art by leveling the distinction between the world of the handmade, “making,” and the world of ideas, “knowing.”
Making Knowing: Craft in Art, 1950–2019 will be on view beginning November 22, 2019, in the Whitney’s sixth-floor collection galleries.