Craft Contemporary: Three Exhibitions focusing on the environment, humanity, and the use and misuse of both

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Echiko Ohira, Finding the Center, Craft Contemporary; Photo credit Kristine Schomaker

Craft Contemporary: Three Exhibitions, One Exciting Aesthetic

Craft Contemporary, Los Angeles
through January 5, 2020

Written by Genie Davis
With three outstanding exhibitions now at the Craft Contemporary, two solo shows, and one group exhibit, it would be hard to underestimate how strong these exhibits are separately, and how powerful it is to see all three in one space.

In these shows, the overriding aesthetic the great beauty and grace in the implementation of outside-the-box sculptural materials. Each packs a potent message, as well, about the environment, humanity, and the use and misuse of both.

Echiko Ohira’s Finding the Center is the artist’s first solo museum exhibition, and it is vast and impressive. Using repurposed paper and other found-materials, the Los Angeles-based, Japanese-born artist draws some of her beautiful forms from childhood memories and the revered tradition of delicate paper-based art. Rather than utilizing the pristine materials of an art form such as origami, Ohira’s more visceral and larger scale works feature everything from receipts, notebook paper, and pages from books. More recent works include mixed media components such as thread, glue, wire, nails Nonetheless, her work is also carefully perfected, from their unique, vivid colors to their intricate, multi-layered shape. Her sculptures have a reverence to them, a hushed, strongly meditative quality. Working with many delicate layers, she forms shapes ranging from small and large spheres to evocations of plant life and sea life, building an entire world. Also on display are some of the artist’s fascinating sketch books, which reveal the origins of some of her ideas. The works – even the spheres, which appear in vibrant, primal blues and reds – are filled with action and motion. Many pieces seem to represent aspects of the life cycle: mysterious eggs about to hatch, organisms blossoming and gestating; seemingly “dead” materials, discarded detritus, are repurposed into lush, deeply textured images of rebirth. Ohira’s precise, lyrical work is awe-inspiring.

Los Angeles sculptor Cynthia Minet uses discarded plastics in her work. Her site-specific Jacked: Panthera Atrox, is a vision in magenta and rose and pink. Both animal and mechanism, the full figure of an extinct North American lion is animated with the use of a modern oil pump jack. Minet’s work has long focused on the roles of plastic and disposable consumables in the eco system. Her animals and birds are translucent, glowing with LED light, and transcendent from the consumer plastics used to create them. Here, this new large-scale piece captures the vulnerability of an extinct species, and begets the question of whether man could be next. Smaller works from Minet also on display include ethereal white plastic skulls and a petite version of the extinct lion. Displayed in glowing niches just beyond the main piece, they enhance its power. Like Ohira, the detail in Minet’s work is staggeringly lovely; the viewer forgets the original purpose of the materials used to create the image, and revels in its aliveness and beauty. There is a haunting, complex ecological poetry in that.

On the top floor of the museum, a group show also utilizes a variety of found and repurposed materials. The nine artists of RAW: Craft, Commodity, and Capitalism work with materials that reflect the harshness of capitalistic purpose, touching on ecological concerns and human rights – or rather, lack the inherent lack thereof in the creation of the material. The images serve as both art and historic record; the stories behind each graceful work are impactful, as we are led to consider at what price the luxuries we consume and depend upon – sugar, salt, copper, tea – have been created. Using these materials to shape these works serves as an elevation of the human cost in the creation of our conveniences and pleasures. Exhibiting artists include Charmaine Bee, Atul Bhalla, Sonya Clark, Raksha Parekh, Jovencio de la Paz, Ignacio Perez Meruane, Amor Muñoz, Juana Valdes, and Ken + Julia Yonetani. Inspired by an interview with the author of the books Empire of Cotton: A Global History, the exhibition examines the effects of industrialization, trade, and the gathering of raw materials on the environmental landscape and human lives. Created by the Yonetani’s, a delicate chandelier beaded with salt drips from the 3rd floor to below the second, bringing attention to issues of salinization. Clark created crystals from sugar, ribboned across $5 dollar bills. Bee has crafted a floor to ceiling undulating curtain of blue-dyed tea bags that waver like waves from the sea, fragrant and compelling. Also on exhibit: Bee’s glossy, peeling sculpture made from melted sugar; it appears as consuming as lava. Bhalla examines water politics with ten large, clear, rectangular aqua-tinted glass containers on pedestals. Each are filled with sculpted sand and water, the watery images recalling treasures lost in the bottom of the sea. Merune creates copper wall sculptures, their deep green/blue colorization impacted by a special process utilizing acetic acid. Each of the nine artists shape uniquely beautiful objects while acknowledging the fraught history behind the elements used in their creation.

All three sublime and thought-provoking mixed-media exhibitions will be available for viewing through early January 2020. View them, cherish them, and consider the rich meaning behind each.

Craft Contemporary
5814 Wilshire Blvd, Los Angeles, 90036

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