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Pop Filter Hot Pick: Humor in Craft opens at Society for Contemporary Craft

A new art exhibition making its world premiere in Pittsburgh is looking at the laughter in crafting. Opening on Friday, July 20th at the Society for Contemporary Craft (SCC), Humor in Craft features multimedia works by 32 makers from around the globe, including craft artists from the US, UK, Canada, Japan, Germany, Australia, Finland, France, and Holland.

Curated by artist, author and crafthaus editor Brigitte Martin, and co-organized by the Strip District-based museum, Humor in Craft explores the fun and the funny inherent--in both the creative practice and the subject matter--of a diverse range of artwork.

From the playful and whimsical to the ironic and sardonic, Humor in Craft embraces the seriously funny side of functional and decorative art. Works from across the U.S. and abroad examine a full battery of highly ironic, political, sarcastic, and everyday subjects and figures--as well as topics that are just plain amusing.

What's sew funny?

With its roster of international artists from many different backgrounds, the engaging exhibition presents a wide variety of takes on the far-reaching and universal concept of "funny." Each artist's social background, life experiences, personal values, knowledge of popular culture, education, and national origin all come into play in the presentation.

Via witty and seemingly outrageous elements, the craft-based works in the exhibition use humor as a way to address difficult and sometimes challenging subject matter. The show invites viewers to learn about not only the works on view and the materials used, but also reflects the perceptions and personalities behind each piece.

Humor in Craft also explores the synergies and the differences in the perception of humor. And hardly any topic is off-limits for these artists. In a world where everything can be made fun of, museum-goers will be provoked and encouraged to laugh at everything from human foibles to banana-peel jokes. Plus of course, plenty of political jabs.

"The humor is this work transcends cultures and materials. It's about showing high-end craft art that has unexpected, exaggerated and humorous elements. Approaching topics that are not funny through employing humorous elements makes the artwork approachable and also makes the public wants to know more," says exhibition curator, Brigitte Martin. "The work is all very accessible; we wanted the exhibition to appeal to families and children. Humor is just such a good topic to reach a wide and diverse audience."

Crafting an exhibition

While DIY craft and tinkering movements have swept the nation with indie markets such as Maker Faire and Renegade, popular online commerce sites like ETSY and even a documentary film called Handmade Nation, Martin says that an exploration of the intersection of humor and craft has largely remained uptapped.

Martin, who is very active in the national craft scene, is founder and editor of the international online resource, crafthaus, which supports a free exchange of ideas among practitioners of international art craft. She describes the site as "Facebook for professional craft artists."

Martin first organized a smaller iteration of Humor in Craft in 2008, in her former Lawrenceville gallery, Luke & Eloy. "To my knowledge it was the first time that anyone had shown work like this that was fun and funny. The response from the audience and the media was phenomenal. I did a lot of research on humor and craft and not much turned up, so I thought, why don't I do this?"

Martin turned her passion for the subject into a coffee table book of the same name, which was featured on NPR and published by the family-owned company, Schiffer Books, located near Lancaster, PA. Released in May of 2012, the book is available for sale at the SCC.

"As the creator and editor of crafthaus, I see a lot of work that comes over my desk. There is a lot of humorous craft art out there; sometimes it is very obvious and sometimes it is more hidden, curious or odd."

Featured in Humor in Craft are fiber artist Mark Newport and jeweler Margaux Lange, who both incorporate pop culture imagery into their work. In Newport's The Two Gun Kid, an illustrated Marvel Comic Book cover features an unexpected embroidered version of the story's hero. Newport's unique treatment of iconic boyhood emblems challenges preconceived notions of masculinity, bravery and courage.

Similarly, in her provocative Plastic Body Series, jeweler Margaux Lange presents a feminine point of view via work that employs salvaged Barbie doll parts in conjunction with sterling silver and pigmented resins. When discussing the iconic doll, Lange says, "I'm fascinated with who Barbie is as a pop culture icon, her distinguished celebrity status and the enormous impact she has had on our society. I enjoy the funny juxtaposition of wearing the body, on the body. Barbie has become the accessory instead of being accessorized."  

Channel your inner crafter and comedian

Visitors to the show are sure to marvel at whimsical yet weighty works such as Alanna DeRocchi's large ceramic hippopotamus butt affixed to wood scaffolding, Joseph Cavalieri's stained glass pieces emblazoned with sinister scenes implicating beloved characters from The Simpsons and Emiko Oye's colorful necklace constructed from repurposed LEGO pieces and sterling silver.

For Martin, one of the show's iconic images is Texas artist Jason Kishell's Smug Mug, which embodies the spirit of the entire exhibition and which she chose to grace the cover of her book. "It is recognizable as a functional object, but then it has the teeth, gums and and that smug grin. It captured me and shows what is so wonderful about humor and craft."

Sure, we all love to share funny anecdotes and experiences, but this artwork conveys that humor can definitely takes on different meanings. Asking the timeless question: "what do we laugh at," the SCC invites you to explore this provocative question and participate in a lively dialogue surrounding making and making fun.

Don't miss the public reception ($5 suggested donation) on July 20th from 5:30 to 8 p.m. On view through October 27th, Humor in Craft is open Mondays through Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Go beyond the gallery this summer and fall, with the SCC's ongoing series of public programs and educational workshops. On Sept., join Brigitte Martin and Post-Gazette editorial cartoonist Rob Rogers for a public talk, and on October 20th and 21st, sign up for a workshop with participating artist Loring Taoka.

Crafty neighbors

The opening of Humor in Craft also marks the first date that SCC visitors can experience an exclusive live installation created by Bill Chisnell Productions. Pittsburgh's premier premier floral and event designer, the company recently opened its new Strip District digs.

Designed to complement the Humor in Craft exhibition, Chisnell's In Polaroids to Pixels combines flowers and various live materials with a variety of traditional and contemporary media, resulting in an immersive and tactile art installation. Adjacent to the SCC, Bill Chisnell Productions' Polaroids to Pixels is located at 1111 Penn Ave.

Read all the Pop Filter picks.

Images: Joseph Cavalieri, La Morte Al Campo Giochi (The Death in the Playground), 2009. Alice Simpson, Portrait of the Artist as Marie Antoinette, 2008. Jason Kishell, Smug Mug, 2011.
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