Renwick Gallery Showcases Contemporary Artists Steven Young Lee, Kristen Morgin, Jennifer Trask and Norwood Viviano
“Visions and Revisions: Renwick Invitational 2016“ presents the work of Steven Young Lee, Kristen Morgin, Jennifer Trask and Norwood Viviano, four artists who take innovative approaches to their chosen mediums and who share a fascination with themes of transformation, ruin and rebirth. Their visual sensibilities draw upon sources ranging from traditional Asian pottery to vintage Americana, and from the romance of the Victorian Era to the algorhythmic precision of the computer. “Visions and Revisions” is the seventh installment of the biennial Renwick Invitational.
(The Renwick Gallery is the Smithsonian American Art Museum‘s branch for contemporary craft and decorative arts. The Renwick is located on Pennsylvania Avenue at 17th Street N.W. and is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. (closed Dec. 25). Admission is free.)
“The Renwick Invitational is an opportunity to celebrate emerging and mid-career artists, honoring the next generation of makers and taking the pulse of what’s happening in the field today,” said Betsy Broun, The Margaret and Terry Stent Director of the Smithsonian American Art Museum. “We are delighted to showcase these four exceptional artists and to bring their works onto the national stage of the Renwick Gallery.”
“These artists are united by a love of physical materials in a time when many objects are disappearing in favor of a virtual world,” Atkinson said. “In their own way, they each engage in an ongoing dialogue with an idyllic past and how to make sense of it for the present moment, examining what we choose to carry with us and what we leave behind as we remake ourselves time and again.”
The exhibition includes more than 70 objects showcasing a range of early and new works by each artist and will be on view Sept. 9 through Jan. 8, 2017. Nora Atkinson, the museum’s Lloyd Herman Curator of Craft, organized the exhibition. The artists were selected by Atkinson; Suzanne Ramljak, curator of exhibitions at the American Federation of Arts and editor at Metalsmith; and Anna Walker, the Windgate Foundation Curatorial Fellow for Contemporary Craft at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.
Lee’s porcelain works combine traditional Asian forms, inlay techniques and glazes with Western motifs and pop-culture references. His process often allows the clay forms to sink under their own weight in the kiln, creating dramatic “broken” silhouettes that can never be replicated. The resulting vessels embody equal parts mastery and chance, and reflect Lee’s own inquiries into the nature of perfection, the construction of identity and balancing tradition with personal expression.
Morgin’s unconventional trompe l’oeil ceramic sculptures and assemblages explore nostalgia, obsolescence and the American dream. Her works, ranging in scale from recreations of full-size cars and orchestral instruments to tiny knick-knacks and toys, appear as found objects but are in fact raw, unfired clay. Substituting paint and collage for the gloss of traditional ceramic glazes, Morgin achieves a garage-sale aesthetic in which thrift-store heroes like Popeye and Mighty Mouse preside and vintage playthings find new meaning. The sculptures represent a poignant investigation of the value of the old in a world intent on the new, invoking a sense of bygone innocence, loss and isolation.
Trask combines unexpected materials such as bone, butterfly wings, resin, metal and antique frame fragments to create jewelry and large-scale sculptures. Her lifelong fascination with biology, archaeology and anthropology inform lavish works celebrating the splendor of the natural world and exploring the ongoing tension between its wild and domesticated spheres, while visually recalling 17th-century Dutch vanitas paintings and Victorian wonder cabinets. Animal remains–antler, horn, teeth, tusk and bone–feature prominently in Trask’s work, evoking cycles of death, transformation and rebirth.
Viviano explores the rise and fall of American cities and industry through glass and metal sculptures. He combines data from LiDAR scan technology, antique maps and historical census data, and employs techniques as varied as bronze casting, kiln-fusing, glass blowing and 3-D printing to map fluctuations of growth and decline as industry and other forces exert pressure on populations. His work engages not only the geography but also the history of a place, imbuing each object with layers of information to tell stories of how urbanization, immigration and industry shape both personal and shared histories.
A series of free public programs will accompany the exhibition. Three of the artists discuss their work at the Renwick: Viviano Thursday, Oct. 13, at noon, Morgin Sunday, Oct. 30, at 2 p.m. and Trask Tuesday, Dec. 6, at 5:30 p.m. Atkinson will present a gallery talk on the four artists Friday, Oct. 21, at noon. Additional information about programs is available online at www.americanart.si.edu/calendar.
An accompanying catalog co-published with D Giles Limited, London, includes a foreword by Broun and essays by Atkinson, Ramljak and Walker. It will be for sale in the museum’s store and online ($34.95, softcover). The Ryna and Melvin Cohen Family Foundation Endowment provides support for the “Renwick Invitational.” The Cohen Family’s generosity in creating this endowment makes possible this biennial series highlighting outstanding craft artists who are deserving of wider national recognition.