Grant Vaughan, Split Form, 2005, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Photo by Lee Fatherree.

Conceptual Craft Created Since 1984

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Avenue of the Arts
465 Huntington Avenue
Shy Boy, She Devil, and Isis: The Art of Conceptual Craft, Selections from the Wornick Collection
September 11, 2007-January 6, 2008

The exhibition, Shy Boy, She Devil, and Isis: The Art of Conceptual Craft, Selections from the Wornick Collection — which derives its name from three works in the exhibition — features the collection of Ronald C. and Anita L. Wornick and includes 120 objects by 107 artists from 20 countries. Among the artists and works featured in the exhibition are ceramics by Peter Voulkos and Jun Kaneko, glass by Dale Chihuly and Bertil Valien, furniture by Wendell Castle and John Cederquist, and wood sculpture by David Ellsworth and Gord Peteran. Shy Boy, She Devil, and Isis: The Art of Conceptual Craft, Selections from the Wornick Collection will extend discussions about the interpretation of American craft in a variety of media within the context of a comprehensive art museum.

Ron and Anita Wornick have made a promised gift to the MFA of 250 pieces from their collection, including all of the works in the exhibition, positioning the museum as a leader in the area of contemporary craft. They have also generously supported the museum’s campaign, and a new gallery in the west wing, devoted to Contemporary and 20th Century Art, will be named in their honor.

“The Wornicks have made an extraordinary impact on the contemporary craft movement, raising the awareness of these works as objects of fine art,” said Malcolm Rogers, Ann and Graham Gund Director of the MFA. “We are grateful for their generosity and for their vision in making their collection part of this great encyclopedic museum. Their collection will add richness and depth to the Museum’s holdings and will allow visitors to engage in some of the most exciting works of contemporary craft created in our time. The Wornicks have made an important contribution to Boston and the Museum for generations to come.”

The Wornick collection captures an important moment in the evolution of three-dimensional contemporary art. Created since 1984, these works document an era in which materials-based artists in clay, glass, metal, wood and fiber moved toward the creation of expressive sculptural forms that stand alone as objects of art, without a utilitarian purpose.

Figurative works in the exhibition are wide ranging, and encompass everything from portraits to abstract interpretations of the human form. Viola Frey, one of the most important ceramicists of the 20th century, is represented by the imposing Man with Jar II (1999), which measures 6.5 x 7.5 x 5’ or an area 253.5 cubic feet. This vibrantly colored ceramic of a man seated and kicking an urn-like jar reveals elements of its flea market inspiration with its stiff posture, stylized pose and faceless expression. Clifford Rainey is featured with Shy Boy (2005), the fifth work in an autobiographical series entitled Boyhood, which is a commentary on Rainey’s life as a child in Northern Ireland. Along with the personal details, the work is also technically accomplished with its complicated process of modeling, casting and construction.

Many of the artists represented in the exhibition use both ceremonial imagery and the idea of a story or narrative in their works. Sergie Isupov’s Passions Rise (2004) allows for multiple readings with a two-headed creature that is half human and half beast, as well as the painted depiction of a couple in a heated argument. John Garrett reinterprets the Jewish spice box, which is traditionally passed among worshipers at the end of the Sabbath, in Between and Among (Spice Box) (2005). A sculptural monument to the Jewish ritual, the work has a rough armor to protect the delicate items within. Another example is Tommy Simpson’s The Story Ladder (1991). This piece was created for the Wornicks and represents their family history. It includes, for example, a ladder rung in the shape of a saw, inspired by Ron Wornick’s father’s background in carpentry, as well as a plate, denoting Ron Wornick’s business in the food industry.

Craft materials such as wood, clay and fiber lend themselves to fabrication into a variety of organic forms. Peter Voulkos, one of the seminal figures in American studio ceramics, stretches the traditional vessel form toward abstraction with Isis (2001). He uses clay in a fresh and spontaneous way while still celebrating the organic form of the vessel by stacking wheel-thrown pots, which he then gouges and slices to reveal the hollow spaces inside. This work, made one year before his death, reflects the monumental “bottle-shaped” forms he explored in his later years. Martin Rosol creates his sculptures by laminating cut blocks of crystal into abstracted geometric forms. Part of Rosol’s Psychorealm series, Psyquatica (2005) reflects and captures light while exploring the aquatic world. Split Form (2005), by Grant Vaughan, is a skillfully carved vessel from a single piece of Australian red cedar. This complex object, which looks so simple in form, has soft folds, sinuous curves and flowing lines, all enhancing the vessel’s organic shape.

Artists who embrace pattern and ornament use geometric shapes and forms, color, layering, or contrasting linear devices as part of their technique. Jun Kaneko’s Dango (2000), named after a Japanese steamed dumpling, is a monument to bold pattern. This enormous ceramic, measuring approximately 7’ x 3’ x 2’, incorporates striped weaves that are similar to textures one might find in domestic objects. Colombian artist Olga de Amaral’s work defies classification as it is fiber art, painting and sculpture. The fiber structure of Cesta Luna 64 (1998) was stiffened with white gesso, then covered in radiant gold leaf and highlighted with green acrylic paint. One of the world’s foremost glassblowers, Lino Tagliapietra, has created repetitive patterns of red circles and vertical ridges engraved into Stromboli HG521 (2002).

Artists today are breaking from traditional craft in the materials they use and how they use them. She Devil (2005), by Michael Lucero, is a wild vision wrapped with wool yarn in startling polychrome colors. Lucero drew inspiration for the piece when he was living in Faenza, Italy, where he was captivated by the colorful yarn produced by the local Missoni knitting factory. Artists are also challenging the philosophy of “truth to materials” by creating optical phenomena in their works. Tom Eckert’s Floating Chimera (1999) is a highly produced trompe l’oeil composition with Eckert’s trademark white “silk” scarf over a thorny branch that appears to hover in midair. This sculptured wood object poses an immediate physics problem that draws the viewer in. The artists also play with language as chimera can mean a “fanciful mental illusion or fabrication.”

The MFA has produced a book in conjunction with the exhibition. Edited by Gerald W.R. Ward and Julie M. Muñiz, Shy Boy, She Devil, and Isis: The Art of Conceptual Craft includes an introductory essay by noted critic Matthew Kangas, who explores how these avant-garde works at once transcend the category of craft and reach back to humankind’s deepest expressive urges. Ward and Muñiz discuss the combination of aesthetic innovation and acute sensitivity to materials shown by these artists, whose works define the riotous and compelling cutting edge of craft. Available in the MFA’s Bookstore and Shop for $55, the hardcover book is 184 pages long and includes 164 color illustrations as well as short catalogue entries on the 120 works in the exhibition.


Michael Lucero, American, born in 1953, She Devil, 2005, Ceramic with wool yarn and glazes, Overall: 30 x 23 x 14", The Wornick Collection, Photograph © 2006 Lee Fatherree, Courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Clifford Rainey, British, born in 1948, Shy Boy, 2005, Cast glass, pigment, gold-leafed both, pins and maple plinth, Overall: 43 x 15 x 15", The Wornick Collection, Photograph © 2006 Lee Fatherree, Courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.


Dale Chihuly, American, born in 1941, Rembrandt Blue and Oxblood Persian, detail, 1990, Blown glass, Overall: 35 x 26 1/2 x 27 1/2", The Wornick Collection , © Dale Chihuly, Photograph © 2006 Lee Fatherree, Courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.