This Present Moment: Crafting a Better World

This Present Moment: Crafting a Better World

A Renwick Gallery exhibition of craft that’s been overlooked.
Published on Thursday, June 2, 2022. This article appears in the Summer 2022 issue of American Craft Magazine.
Author Anjula Razdan
oval ring made from bronze with ornaments reminscent of finger pads with prints

Touch (in the time of corona), 2020, by Sharon Massey. Photo by Lee Stalsworth, courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

With works ranging from Margarita Cabrera’s hand-sewn vinyl sculptures representing labor politics to Lakota artists Kevin Pourier and Valerie Pourier’s carved bison horns and Bisa Butler’s monumental portrait quilts of Black identity, This Present Moment: Crafting a Better World showcases marginalized histories. It also marks the 50th anniversary of the Renwick Gallery, the branch of the Smithsonian American Art Museum devoted to American craft.

purple woven textile with QR code in the design

This Present Moment:
Crafting a Better World

Renwick Gallery, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, DC

May 13, 2022–April 2, 2023
Plan Your Visit

Mapuche Portal #3, from the Encoded Textile series, 2014, by Guillermo Bert (the QR code takes you to this link: 3.mapu.co). Photo by Ronald Dunlap, courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

sculpture of a blender made from brown leather reminscent of a boot

LEFT: Brown Blender, 2011, by Margarita Cabrera. Photo by Gene Young, courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum. RIGHT: BLM-4, 2020, by Carolyn Crump. Photo by Lee Stalsworth, courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

felt sculpture of black lives matter demonstrator holding many protest signs

“We’ve known for years that there are so many histories of craft that have gone overlooked by collecting museums, including the Renwick,” says curator Mary Savig. “This exhibition centers artists of color, women, and LGBTQ artists, and it looks very different from the rest of the permanent collection.”

This Present Moment comprises over 170 objects, 135 of which are new and were acquired in the past two years against the swirling backdrop of the pandemic, the murder of George Floyd, and the US Capitol riot. The exhibition­­ highlights how artists respond to crisis with activist values, resilience, and ideas for a more empathetic future. (A book by the same name accompanies the exhibition and comes out in June from publisher D Giles Limited, London.)

arched sculpture with monarchs

Monarch Nation, 2019, by Kevin Pourier and Valerie Pourier. Photo by Lee Stalsworth, courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

“Normally, when you think about doing an anniversary exhibit, you think about a ‘greatest hits’ approach,” says Savig. “But we couldn’t do that at the Renwick because it would simply re-create the canon in a lot of ways that we’re trying to undo, or at least complicate, with these new acquisitions.”

Savig is particularly excited about Sonya Clark’s Monumental, which is based on the white dishcloth the Confederate army waved as a truce flag to end the Civil War. Clark rewove the dishcloth, making it the shape of a standard US flag, but monumentally larger. (Read more about Sonya Clark in the Spring 2022 issue of American Craft.)

flag sized handwoven dish cloth on display in museum setting

Monumental, 2019, by Sonya Clark. Photo by Carlos Avendaño, courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

“Clark is asking questions like, What if this humble dishcloth had become the symbol we associate with the Confederacy instead of the Confederate flag?” Savig says. “What if this idea of truce, as difficult as it is, would have guided us instead of the Lost Cause ideology associated with the Confederacy that has been so violent and continues to cause violence and oppression in the United States?

“I think it’s one of the most important acquisitions the Renwick has ever made.”

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