California Handmade: State of the Arts

California Handmade: State of the Arts  is an exhibition of innovative sculpture, furniture, textiles, jewelry and decorative arts by more than 80 visionary California artists, curated by Craft in America Center Director, Emily Zaiden. This exhibition highlights the forward-thinking spirit of our state as embodied in recent works of art made with virtuosity, profundity and gumption. These objects are the outcome of dexterous manipulation and contemplative application of materials in the service of storytelling and forming more meaningful ways of living. Ranging from the functional to the purely sculptural, this collection of more than eighty objects is filled with insights into how we live today. While California craft defies categorization, these works assert that experimentation, imagination and diversity of thought are thriving.

California Handmade: State of the Arts is a collaboration between The Maloof and Craft in America that revives the spirit of the influential California Design exhibitions. In those groundbreaking surveys, design innovation and craft mastery were paired together under the same spotlight. Now, four decades after curator Eudorah Moore orchestrated the last of those exhibitions, we stop to evaluate and celebrate our current artistic culture.As a launching point for this show, we relied upon the insight of twelve core or “master”* artists from across the state to identify artists in their specific fields who are generating exceptional work. Once the additional artists were determined, both the “masters” and the invited artists provided submissions of their most recent work.Today, the boundaries between media, between the utilitarian and the conceptual and between design, art and craft have blurred. Artists are increasingly versatile and experimental, often preferring to operate as unencumbered by the limitations of traditional disciplines. Conceptual approaches flow across the field and artists often split their practices between functional and strictly sculptural works.

Californian artists made essential contributions to the Studio Craft movement in the mid-twentieth century and a handful of the present artists were even participants in the original California Design exhibitions. While many objects in this show attest to the continuity of traditional methods and practices, we have also included objects that champion the potential of technology. Jointly, these works create a dialogue about the evolving nature of the handmade.

A number of thematic threads link this body of works together. There are moments of tranquility with unadulterated, exuberant beauty balanced by darker social commentary about race, identity and class. Provocative conversation pieces are scattered throughout and artists’ voices can be heard loud and clear. Engagement, beyond simply the visual and tactile, is a compelling motivation for many artists.

The landscape has offered lyrical, romantic inspiration throughout the state’s aesthetic history, resulting in the stylized representations, motifs and focal subject matter. While depictions of California’s natural assets continue, they are tempered by a heightened fear for our legacy and even remorse about our impact on the natural world. Sustainability, eco-friendly production processes and use of repurposed materials are resounding considerations for many.

These works of wit, humor and whimsy, experiments in concept and design, and examples of artistic mastery are imbued with individuality and the signature free-spiritedness of California. Rays of optimism shine through, compelling us to consider what the future may hold.

Photos by Madison Metro