Image credit: Susan Allred, “How Does Your Armor Grow?,” 2022, fiber, mixed media, 25 x 19 x 13 inches.
The “44th Annual Contemporary Crafts Exhibition” at Mesa Contemporary Arts Museum runs through April 23, 2023. To learn more about the show, writer and Mesa Arts Center volunteer Sandy Rizzo browsed the exhibition and chatted with Chief Curator Tiffany Fairall.
Q: The overall umbrella of MCA focuses on contemporary art, yet this exhibition features “crafts.” Can you help us understand the mediums judged, and especially where craft becomes art?
A: The easiest means to understand the concept: all works judged and presented have been created using earth-based elements — glass, metals, fibers, basketry, wood, paper arts, ceramics, jewelry and so on. Often used in the craft world, these elements typically endure “museum snobbery” where, in some circles, they’re not classified as “fine” or “high” art, like painting and sculpture. This marginalization may have arisen from the ideals perpetuated by the Western Art History cannon. I’m happy to say that MCA has never held that exclusionary, elitist opinion. We’ve always respected and shared craft, particularly during our long-standing, juried contemporary crafts exhibitions. I’ve participated in 17 of these annual exhibitions in my time so far at MCA Museum, and each is unique and pushes the boundaries of work with these earth elements.
Q: Please tell us about the exhibition’s origin and judging.
A: For many years, the contemporary crafts exhibition was called “Vahki,” which was an appropriated term that referred to a period in Hohokam history celebrated for its craft art. The show would move to different locations in the city until it found a home at Galeria Mesa in 1980. (Galeria Mesa is what the museum was originally called, when it was at the old Irving School, just north of Mesa Arts Center at 2nd Street and Center.) This established our long history with craft and non-traditional mediums. The gallery was renamed Mesa Contemporary Arts in 2000 and our current building opened in April 2005; with these changes, we’ve continued this annual tradition, showcasing the finest in contemporary craft.
Guest Juror for the “44th Annual Contemporary Crafts” exhibition was Ariel Zaccheo, curator at the Museum of Craft and Design in San Francisco, California, a craft and design specialist who understands the mediums and represents an institution noted in the field. National submissions are judged on a blind basis — no information is revealed about the artist. Each year’s show takes on a different flavor based upon the judge’s perspective. Our judge this year evaluated the selections first and foremost on material knowledge, craftsmanship and clever storytelling.
Image credit: Memory Bradley at the 44th Annual Contemporary Crafts Exhibition opening reception on Feb. 10, 2023 at Mesa Contemporary Arts Museum. Memory Bradley, “Bleached,” 2022, wool, silk, 27 x 28 x 2 inches. Photo by Angela Mason Photography.
Q: Did thematic elements emerge?
A: This always depends upon each year’s submissions and its judge. To answer your question this year: yes! Ariel found herself exploring two basic themes: reverence and reference to nature, and “home,” either as a physical place or ephemeral feeling. To name a few examples: featured on our catalog’s cover, Mesa artist Memory Bradley’s felted work “Bleached” (2022) depicts a once vibrant coral reef, now skeletal and bleached of its natural neon tones. Tucson artist Zach Gordon’s “Flooding” (2022) cleverly incorporates a ceramic fountain form atop a vessel depicting the potentially devastating effects of rising water levels upon coastal cities. Marla Hattabaugh, a Scottsdale quilter, explores the desire to venture out and reassemble after pandemic distance in “Resurface” (2021). Lemon Grove, California silver artist Kerianne Quick’s “214 Hartle and All the Places You Never Lived” (2017–2022) offers house keys as negative space imprints, suggesting loss, change or simply moving on. We know that visitors will derive their own themes as they examine the many works.
Image credit: Zach Gordon at the 44th Annual Contemporary Crafts Exhibition opening reception on Feb. 10, 2023 at Mesa Contemporary Arts Museum. Zach Gordon, “Flooding,” 2022, ceramic, 12 x 14 x 14 inches. Photo by Angela Mason Photography.
Q: Can you tell us about the Juror’s Choice piece?
A: Oh yes. This year’s selection is a work by the aforementioned Zach Gordon. Constructed from ceramic and metal, “Insiders and Outsiders” (2022) is worth examining for its artistry and its message.
Image credit: “Jim S. Smoote II: Urband Portraits” opening reception at Mesa Contemporary Arts Museum on Feb. 10, 2023. Exhibition on view through April 30, 2023. Photo by Delia Johnson.
Q: Why is this exhibition so well regarded? And do you have anything else to add?
A: We’re proud of all our artists and want to give a special shoutout to Phoenix artist Kelvonnah Stidhum, who once interned at MCA Museum! That’s not why she was chosen — again, entries are judged blindly and not by us, so the fact that she interned here was purely coincidental — but we’re tickled she’s among the selections. We’re also pleased with the strong showing of artists in our state among those from farther afield; they create noteworthy art in our communities. You’ll also see artists from many western states and others including New York, Indiana, Hawaii and South Carolina.
Our Juror’s Choice artist is bestowed the honor of presenting solo in an adjacent gallery during the next year’s craft exhibition. This year, we’re pleased to showcase Chicago fabric artist Jim S. Smoot II, Juror’s Choice at the “43rd Annual Contemporary Crafts” exhibition. His quilts are stunning and relevant. More works from Zach Gordon, this year’s Juror’s Choice, will appear next year at this time.
Artists highly regard this exhibition as we respect their craftmanship, stories and place in the art world. Our display and promotion increase awareness of their work. Museum guests, including our winter visitors, anticipate and enjoy this show for its fine craftsmanship and variety. Everyone will find something to inspire and excite them. It’s not to be missed.
We appreciate Tiffany’s insight and encourage everyone to experience the 44th Annual Contemporary Crafts exhibition on view at Mesa Contemporary Arts Museum through April 23, 2023. While you can view the catalog online here, there’s no substitute for seeing the exhibition live and we hope to see you soon. Don't forget, admission is free!
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