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Inspired! Young Ohio Artists 2013

Jeff Regensburger Jeff Regensburger Inspired! Young Ohio Artists 2013
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If you’ve been following the visual arts even a little, you’ll have noticed that the old walls between fine art, design, and craft have have been eroding. Oh it’s true these categories still function as descriptors when necessary, but their prescriptive power and hierarchical connotations are all but gone. The age-old pecking order; the one that put fine arts above craft and design, is finished.

In this way, contemporary art has become a great melting pot; a visual utopia where all disciplines live side by side in egalitarian harmony. The illustrator is now the peer of the painter. The designer stands equal to the sculptor; brothers and sisters all, serving the twin pillars of beauty and enlightenment. Weaving, glass blowing, and jewelry making are endeavors now on par with oil painting, marble sculpting, and bronze casting. The arc of art history is long indeed, but it too bends toward justice.

And so it is with great reluctance that I inject the ugly element of competition into this harmonious balance. Why? Because Inspired! Young Ohio Artists 2013 rules! It’s a craft exhibition that manages to highlight the best of the craft tradition while pushing the boundaries of what craft can be. It also sparks conversations about larger cultural connections, material culture, and even fine arts. It’s an exhibition that demonstrates sensitivity, wit, intelligence, and mastery. It offers transformative work that provides viewers with new ways to see the world. It challenges and informs. In short, it does exactly what fine art is supposed to do, and in many respects, does it better.

While everything in Inspired! is ultimately worthy of consideration, a number of artists stood out. The works from Nicholas Althoff’s Correlation series are particularly evocative. In these pieces the artist melds the pliant materials of wax and rubber with the hard edges of steel and brass. The result is a set of sculptures that appear tantalizingly functional. Like some primitive piece of medical equipment they hint at purpose but ultimately leave their function to the imagination of the audience. The effect is halting; trapping the viewer perfectly between the attraction of utility and the resistance of the unknown.

Yumiko Goto is a ceramist who focuses on organic forms while drawing inspiration from her upbringing in Japan. Her works featured in Inspired! illustrate these interests while also presenting the opportunity to reflect on the relationship between East and West in art. Mossy Teapot fairly begs us to consider the organic simplicity of of Russel Wright’s work, while Secret Lidded Vessel presents in delicate three dimensions what Georgia O’Keefe often rendered in two.

Similarly, Zack Weinberg uses the craft of blown glass to engage viewers in a dialog about form, materials and the nature of beauty. His Plungerware series presents a variety of glass forms mounted atop mass-produced plunger heads. Part Duchamp readymade and part Koonz kitsch, these works require that we look past our preconceptions and consider objects outside of their usual context.

And the list goes on, from Lauren Elizabeth Mullen’s Tingueuly-channeling cranky brooches to Lisa Arenstein’s plausibly functional lanterns and wheels, this is an exhibition that pushes craft well beyond its boundaries. It’s a refreshing exercise and one that doubtlessly benefits both the creators and the audience. Given all these themes, references, and connections it’s perhaps a bit too easy to lose sight of the fact that this is an exhibition that’s rooted very much in the traditions of design and craft. Don’t, because it is.

One of the key strengths of this show is – well – how well-crafted everything is. This is work by artists who have mastered their respective mediums and understand the value of presentation. That’s important, and something I think many artists could benefit from. Expressive is fine. Rough-hewn, distressed, cobbled-together, and rickety are all acceptable aesthetic choices. Likewise, a strong concept can often carry weak execution. On the other hand, if your work is supposed to look good, then you should really take the time and care to make sure it does. Not to sound like every parent, but if you don’t care what your work looks like, why should anyone else?

Which leads us back to to the whole art versus craft debate. Artists, I hate to be the one to break it to you, but the crafters are in ur base, and they’re killing ur d00dz.

Let it be known that I, for one, welcome our new crafting overlords!

Inspired! Young Ohio Artists 2013 showcases works in clay, glass, metal and mixed media by artists under the age of 35 who got their start on college campuses throughout Ohio. The exhibition runs through August 18, 2013. For more information, visit the Ohio Craft Museum website at www.ohiocraft.org.

Artwork credits for photos:

Yamiko Goto
Mossy Teapot

Nicholas Althoff
Correlation No. 2
Copper, waxed components, silicone rubber, plexiglas

Zack Weinberg
Blown and sculpted glass, rubber plunger bottoms

Lisa Arenstein
Reinventing the Wheel
Metal, rubber tubing, cotton yarn

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