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Visions and Revisions: Renwick Invitational 2016

1st floor, Renwick Gallery (Pennsylvania Avenue at 17th Street N.W.)
September 9, 2016 – January 8, 2017

Image for Visions and Revisions: Renwick Invitational 2016

Jennifer Trask, Burgeon, 2012, Found 18th & 19th century Italian gilt wood fragments, 22K & 23.5 K gold leaf, antler, bone, teeth (various), epoxy resin, 40 x 78 x 11 in., Private collection. Photo by Storm Photo

Visions and Revisions, the seventh installment of the biennial Renwick Invitational, presents the work of Steven Young Lee, Kristen Morgin, Jennifer Trask, and Norwood Viviano. Each artist takes an innovative approach to his or her selected medium. Together, they engage a current fascination in American craft with change, transformation, ruin, and reinvention.

The four selected artists work in a remarkable variety of media including porcelain, raw clay, bone, gold, glass, metal, found objects and mineral pigments. Their visual sensibilities draw on sources ranging from traditional Asian pottery to vintage Americana, and from the romance of the Victorian Era to the algorhythmic precision of the computer. Each is actively engaged in a dialogue with an idyllic past and in making sense of it for the present moment, seeking a new way forward and investigating what we carry with us and what we leave behind in the modern age.

Steven Young Lee blends Eastern and Western traditions with anachronistic, often playful imagery and striking pattern in his porcelain works, inviting chance and entropy to collapse his vessels in the kiln to create dramatic “broken” silhouettes. Lee’s process of allowing the clay to sink under its own weight in the fire is balanced by careful hours of concentration and precision, and the resulting vessels reflect equal parts mastery and chance. His works become reflections on the nature of perfection and the construction of identity, on process and material, and on continuing—and breaking with—tradition.

Kristen Morgin takes an unconventional approach to ceramics, using her trompe l’oeil sculptures and assemblages to explore personal nostalgia, obsolescence, and the American dream. Her works, ranging from recreations of full-size cars and orchestral instruments to tiny knick-knacks and playthings, appear as found objects but are in fact raw, unfired clay. They carry the mystique of an intimate, imagined history; traces of former owners and forgotten pasts recall a time of bygone innocence and optimism even as they teeter on the brink of disintegration. Morgin’s sculptures become a poignant investigation of the value of the old in a world intent on the new, invoking a sense of loss, isolation, or of the gradual slide from childhood to the grave, from cherished to forgotten, and an almost desperate longing to halt it.

Jennifer Trask engages nature as both medium and subject matter, combining unexpected materials such as bone, vertebrae, butterfly wings, resin, metal, antique frame fragments and precious stones to create arresting jewelry and botanical compositions reminiscent of Victorian wonder cabinets. Trasks’ lifelong fascination with biology spills over into lavish works that invite us to marvel at the splendor of the natural world and to view mortality not with fear, but as one more element in nature’s endless transformations. Animal remains—antler, horn, teeth, tusk, and bone—feature prominently in Trask’s work, sculpted into large-scale botanical assemblages, or striking adornments that seem to echo and extend the wearer’s own skeleton. Though made with dead matter they bloom with radiant vitality, harkening transformation and rebirth.

Norwood Viviano explores the rise and fall of American cities and industry through his visually arresting glass and metal forms. Viviano’s work deals not only with geographic place, but also the history of that place, imbuing each object with layers of information beyond the form to tell larger stories about urbanization, immigration, development and the people who inhabit those spaces. His techniques are a study in both past and present -- combining data from LiDar scan technology with antique maps and historical census data, and using techniques from bronze casting, kiln-fusing and glass blowing to 3-D printing, Viviano’s forms become haunting meditations on the way industry and migrations shape our personal and shared histories.

The artists were selected by Nora Atkinson, the museum’s Lloyd Herman Curator of Craft; 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. The exhibition will include sixty-eight objects showcasing a range of works by each artist. Atkinson is organizing the exhibition.

The museum will publish a catalog to accompany the exhibition that will include essays by Atkinson, Ramljak and Walker with a forward by Betsy Broun, The Margaret and Terry Stent Director of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

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.