New West Coast Design: Contemporary Objects at the San Francisco Museum of Craft + Design through April 27

New West Coast Design: Contemporary Objects at the San Francisco Museum of Craft + Design through April 27

6cf6bd130d5eed73f622a65766312f99.jpg

Chrysalis
One & Co for Council
stainless steel and leather
30” h
Photo by: Jeffery Cross

In an ambitious effort by to display the most interesting craft and design being produced on the West Coast today co-curators Ted Cohen and Kathleen Hanna visited studios and workshops in Washington, Oregon and California, looking for what was innovative, well designed and well made.

The meditative nature of the San Francisco Museum of Craft + Design's garden entrance has been transformed by the arrival of a day glo, solar grid. Twenty-five electro-luminescent yellow wires run parallel the ground, climb to clear a dwarf Japanese maple tree, and part to skirt Fletcher Benton's geometric steel sculpture. Rows of narrow, luminous posts support the wires, encompassing the garden in a matrix of glowing filaments, which finally scale the museum's façade to a row of solar panels. This site-specific installation, Solar Terrain by San Francisco landscape designer Marcel Wilson, is one of the most engaging aspects of the museum's current exhibition, New West Coast Design: Contemporary Objects, an ambitious effort by co-curators Ted Cohen and Kathleen Hanna to display the most interesting craft and design being produced on the West Coast today.

Cohen and Hanna visited studios and workshops in Washington, Oregon and California, looking for what was innovative, well designed and well made. In some instances, they selected work that was still in process. "In that sense," Cohen told the San Francisco Chronicle, "this show is a first of its kind-a freeze-frame of West Coast design in action." The resulting survey exhibition includes 60 objects by 50 designers and studio artists ranging broadly in scope from functional objects (a series of glass goblets, a scarab-shaped jewelry cabinet) to fine craft (6-foot blown glass bottles, a glass and steel room divider), to furniture (tables, benches, chairs), to alternative materials (concrete, rubber, bleached madrone burls), to industrial design (lamps, a light curtain, a modular bench).

A timeline in the front room introduces the rich history of design in California: 13 trend-setting California Design exhibitions which took place between the mid-fifties and mid-seventies, mostly at the Pasadena Art Museum (now the Norton Simon Museum of Art) under the supervision of Eudorah Moore; the 1939 Golden Gate International Exhibition on Treasure Island; Design in '49 directed by Elizabeth Moses for the M.H. de Young Memorial Museum; and California Craft at the Oakland Museum in 1961 and 1963 which was curated by Hazel Bray. In particular, California Design reflected the California lifestyle-relaxed, outdoor oriented, inventive, on-the-go; over the years, beside Eames chairs, Stocksdale bowls, and Kaneko ceramics, Moore exhibited a dune buggy, a hang glider, and a two-passenger gyroplane.

In that tradition, New West Coast Design: Contemporary Objects includes two-wheeled and water-powered vehicles-a handmade racing bicycle (Bruce Gordon, Touring Bicycle, 2007), a custom tricycle (Sacha White, Vanilla Tricycle, 2006), a one-of-a-kind motorcycle (Shinya Kimura, The Needle, 2005), and two surfboards (Thomas Meyerhoffer, Boosoo, 2007 and Cod Rod, 2005). Lawrence LaBianca's My Father's Dream -a seven and a half-foot oak limb inset with a narrow glowing green neon tube-reflects the part nature, part neon temperament of contemporary California. Environmental and architectural issues loom large in Barbara Holmes' Tall Stack, a beehive-like cone made from recycled hollow-core doors. Sixties-era flower power pads the sleek, polished silver surface of the digital-age in Gary Hutton's Sturgis Chair (nickel-plated steel with silk fabric). A series of quieter pieces border Hutton's chair: James Aarons' intricate, delicate line drawings on ceramic plates ( Pearson, 2006; The Girding, 2007; and Part Way, 2007), and Holly Tornheim's cosmos in a breadboard ( Micro/Cosmos, 2007 and Celestial Navigation II, 2007). Somewhat surprisingly, there are no signs of the digital revolution that has transformed the West Coast so dramatically since Moore mounted her exhibitions (although when Meyerhoffer isn't working on surfboards he designs high tech objects, among them the world's first soft computer, the Chumby).

Since New West Coast Design: Contemporary Objects lacks the 12,000 square feet of exhibition space that Eudorah Moore had at her disposal in 1962, Cohen and Hanna have tried to compensate by inviting local galleries and museums to mount satellite exhibitions: Jewelry + Metal at Velvet da Vinci, Is It a Fiber Show? (textiles and variations thereof) at Bucheon Gallery, The Handmade Book as Craft and Fine Art at The San Francisco Center for the Book (through April 25), "C" Change: Craft in Our Future at the Museum of Craft and Folk Art, and State of the Art Quilt at Art Works Downtown (through February 28), 18 miles north of San Francisco in San Rafael. (The Oakland Museum also has an excellent exhibition that includes numerous craft luminaries- Artists of Inventions: A Century of CCA, -through March 16-celebrating the 100-year anniversary of the California College of the Arts, formerly the California College of Arts and Crafts).

While New West Coast Design: Contemporary Objects doesn't establish any sense of new trends or developments, it does, as Cohen hoped, introduce its audience to a group of young designers and craftsmen. And clearly there is more to see-of the 100 or so objects that Cohen and Hanna wished to exhibit, space and funding required that they cut that number almost in half. With that in mind, the museum's plans to make New West Coast Design a biennial event appear well founded.