Making It: MAD Museum Celebrates Craft’s NYC Comeback
If you can make it there, they say, you’ll make it anywhere. The phrase has been twisted, however, by the New York companies progressively moving factories to the suburbs and beyond, where space is cheaper and wages lower. Fortunately, a new generation of artisans came along to fight the flight. There’s been sufficient progress for the Museum of Arts and Design to celebrate the comeback with “NYC Makers: The MAD Biennial,” running July 1 to October 12.
This freewheeling showcase of 100 exceptional talents, from Lindsey Adelman Studio to a man who hand-rolls truly magnificent cigars, is the brainchild of MAD’s new director, Glenn Adamson. His own professional Cinderella story started at the museum: He was an unpaid intern when it was still called the American Craft Museum. From there, he eventually proceeded to London’s Victoria and Albert Museum, where he directed the research department and helped to mount the “David Bowie Is” show before rejoining MAD.
Adamson is bringing MAD’s focus back to craft and to the makers, as he calls them, who are getting their hands dirty behind the scenes—even if the hands and the dirt in question are increasingly metaphorical in the digital age. Sitting in a conference room with a zillion-dollar Central Park treetop view, he talks enthusiastically of opening up the museum to embrace the likes of a little-known specialist in trumpet repair. “NYC Makers” includes one of those exquisitely resuscitated instruments. Curator Jake Yuzna, director of public programs, presents it alongside elements taken from the Metropolitan Opera’s set for Die Fledermaus, a discotheque performance vignette commissioned from Rafael de Cárdenas/Architecture at Large, and Boym Partners’s meta-kitsch Washington Monument and Forbidden City renditions in optical crystal. “The breadth of what we’re doing is going to challenge everyone,” Yuzna warns. Indeed, the biennial format, to explore a different city each time, should offer MAD the advantage of a certain amount of innovation, “pushing the possibilities of the institution” as Adamson notes.
For the debut edition, a panel chaired by Interior Design Hall of Fame member and design-retail expert Murray Moss vetted nominations. They had been generated during an information-gathering stage that uncovered the pockets of creative experimentation that still exist in New York, despite soaring rents and other financial pressures. An extraordinarily wide net was cast. “I don’t know who nominated me. It could have been the museum janitor,” the multitalented Heidi Lee says.
Lee acknowledges that she wears “a lot of hats,” among them fashion designer and sculptor. “Right now I am using hats, themselves, as a medium.” Marcel Duchamp would smile at her hat crowned by a diminutive Chinese parasol, the paper covering long gone and the bamboo frame blackened. Even more ambitious is her 3-D printed helmet that encircles the head with masklike faces partially based on depictions of Echo and Narcissus.
Flavor Paper and two perfumers have collaborated on scratch-and-sniff wallpaper. “It has either the smell of creativity or the smell of ambition,” Yuzna says. Another wall, down in the lobby, sports Confettisystem’s shaggy shredded gold-colored Mylar. At a table nearby, Sylvia Weinstock Cakes’s very own Sylvia Weinstock will spend a day decorating her sculpted confections. Above the membership desk hangs a chandelier 6 ½ feet high in brass ornamented with a high-style bubble in glass canework and a group of dangling glass awl shapes. “I’ve been making a handful of pieces that are more extreme,” Lindsey Adelman says. When she introduced this series in San Francisco, she recalls, some people reacted with: “What’s that girl up to?”
Lampshades covered in yarn, definitely not Adelman’s work, are stacked into totemlike towers on a MAD gallery floor, not attached to functioning lamps. Ana Kraš, a Serb who just moved to New York, says that she doesn’t intend her installation to make any literal references to the city. Nevertheless, if you squint, it’s not hard to see the lampshade towers as a future metropolis rising.