The Museum of Craft and Design has finally found a home in San Francisco after the unexpected loss of its location on Sutter Street in 2004. After years of pop-up museums around the city, the museum’s new permanent location opened in the Dogpatch neighborhood this past weekend with a celebration including inaugural exhibits, food trucks and a family activity in its MakeArt Lab — all for free.
The museum boasts the MakeArt Lab room specifically for educational programming, such as the Etsy Meet and Make Program this Thursday, in which one can learn how to make mobile wire underwater creatures such as Arline Fisch’s luminous jellyfish on exhibit in the smaller gallery room. Though many of the programs are for families, the museum will also host monthly 21-and-over Meet-and-Make Nights.
MCD’s location matches its educational goals as well. Creating programming and exhibits that compel kids as well as adults can be tricky, but the MCD did so effortlessly. At the public grand opening, kids as well as adults, many of whom are artists and veteran patrons of the museum, enjoyed the exhibit. Though it took years and effort to find a location after moving from Union Square, the museum’s new spot could build a greater community beyond the more metropolitan and impersonal area where it once was.
The noncollecting museum’s modest size also influences its intimacy. One main gallery, which touted Michael Cooper’s mixed-media vehicles and furniture, takes up almost the entire museum. However, the placement of the large pieces created a zigzag path for viewers, removing the monotony of long gallery halls. A smaller room off to the side held Arline Fisch’s wire sea creatures, and the threshold quietly held Rebecca Hutchinson’s incredibly balanced clay and wooden branches.
The three installation experiences vary, lending much hope to the MCD’s future exhibits as well. Cooper’s polished structures themselves demonstrate a diversity of techniques, media and subjects. His style is unmistakable and demonstrates a level of craft and design beyond that of much contemporary art.
Many of Cooper’s other works are tricycles, racing cars and other vehicles that make up a category of their own, such as “Overarmed Wheelchair.” Three hands act as the supports for the vehicle, gripping the ground with the pads of their fingers as if they were the arms of a sprinter about to start. Laminated wooden swirls surround the central warped body with crossed muscular arms, surrounding bicycle wheels that tilt in harmony with the central figure.
Cooper’s works, however, aren’t just aesthetic wonders. His grandest work in the back of the gallery, “How the West Was Won, How the West Was Lost,” brings together lacquered cowboy boots, oil towers, wooden saddles, mechanical wires and levers, bicycle wheels, toy cars and more on top of the hood of a station wagon to make a statement about greed and violence and materialism. The sculpture was a project of more than 30 years, embodying in one way the title of the show, “A Sculptural Odyssey.”
With Cooper, Fisch and Hutchinson’s art, one truly does find one’s self wondering at how the pieces were made. Contemporary conceptual art (think Tilda Swinton sleeping in a box at the Museum of Modern Art in New York) can often create more buzz, but it is easy to lose sight of the craft skills of an artist. MCD truly demonstrates its dedication to craft and design, offering a mature and awe-inducing experience of what the human hand is capable of. Its move and grand opening illustrate a revival of awareness of craft in high art.