In the 1960s, the visionary gallerist Lee Nordness came up with the idea of mounting a survey focused on American craft designers. Titled Objects: USA, the resulting exhibition opened to crowds in 1969 at the National Collection of Fine Art at the Smithsonian Institution, in Washington, D.C., before traveling to 33 venues across the country and abroad. Uniting an impressive range of established and emerging artists who invented new approaches to art making with craft media, such as Anni Albers, Wendell Castle, Wharton Esherick, Sheila Hicks, Doyle Lane, George Nakashima, and Art Smith, this revolutionary event altered the course of American art and introduced to the world some of the 20th and 21st centuries’ most celebrated artists. It led to an explosion of object makers at a time when the distinctions between fine art and design were not as entrenched as they once were.
In subsequent decades, the worlds of art and design stratified, and the role of the object maker in contemporary culture diminished. It was in the late ‘90s that R & Company, a design gallery originally founded in New York City under the name R 20th Century, spearheaded a rediscovery of midcentury design. In the process they not only reintroduced forgotten object makers to collectors and to a new generation of creatives, but they also began helping to dismantle the barrier that distinguished craftspeople from fine artists. Since then, the founders of R & Company have been championing the handmade arts while at the same time promoting and preserving historical legacies.
OBJECTS: USA 2020
Today, the worlds of art and design are increasingly intermingled; the global pandemic especially has sharpened our perception of design as the gateway to our lived aesthetic and domestic experiences. It’s against this backdrop—not dissimilar to the social and cultural upheavals of the late ‘60s—that R & Company will present Objects: USA 2020, a major exhibition and publication that pairs a new generation of design artists with a selection of object makers featured in the 1969 exhibition.
“We find it compelling to be revisiting Objects: USA in 2020 because so many of the same questions around art, craft, and design are still in play,” says Evan Snyderman, R & Company Co-Founder. “As these worlds continue to coincide, where do they converge today? What is the potential of the handmade object? Have we reached a point of true post disciplinarity in the arts? We may not have all the answers, but we are adding our voices to this dynamic discussion.”
Objects: USA 2020 will be installed in R & Company’s 64 White Street location, where fifty artists from the original Objects: USA program will be represented. These historical objects, selected by Glenn Adamson and James Zemaitis, capture the full range that was present in the original exhibition. Additionally, R & Company will showcase fifty contemporary established and emerging talents. Chosen by Glenn Adamson, Evan Snyderman, and Abby Bangser, the exhibition’s group of contemporary American artists represents a wide range of experience and materials. In curating the contemporary selection, the aim was diversity in all senses of the term, with respect to medium, progressive idiom, generation, ethnic background, and geography.
“The energy and creativity of today’s object makers for us parallels what was happening in America when the original Objects USA took place,” says Zesty Meyers, R & Company Co-Founder, “and we strongly believe our exhibition will inspire a new generation of collectors, curators and most importantly emerging talents to redefine artmaking.”
Sales from Objects: USA 2020 will directly contribute to the creation of important private and institutional collections, a core component of R & Company’s work over its two decades of leadership in the field. With the exhibition—and with James Zemaitis now serving as Director of Museum Relations—R & Company is continuing its long-term commitment to promoting and preserving object making for posterity.
With the aim of having institutions across the country replicate the exhibition, R & Company will provide a roadmap of how Objects: USA 2020 came together. By sharing this information, R & Company is laying the groundwork for artists to take part in the advancement of their own—and their peers’—promising careers in a booming market. With this grassroots approach, Objects: USA 2020 aims to ignite a new movement in art. As Zesty Meyers says, “the hand work of artists has always been one of the greatest catalysts for change and that is true today more than ever.”
The catalog that accompanied the original Objects: USA exhibition has become a bible of sorts to many researchers, with many of the show’s original participants now considered famous names in art and design. A half-century later, the Objects: USA 2020 publication extends this legacy by assembling designers across all generations who, in their own ways, have radically altered the traditional methods and materials of craft to create new forms of art. Through contributions by leading voices on art at the intersection of craft and design, historical photos and ephemera from the original exhibition, and brilliant full-color images of more than 150 works, Objects: USA 2020 puts the past into conversation with the present and celebrates American makers today, in all their diversity.
Anni Albers, Robert Arneson, J. B. Blunk, Arthur Espenet Carpenter, Wendell Castle, Claude Conover, Fritz Dreisbach, Ruth Duckworth, Wharton Esherick, Arline Fisch, Maija Grotell, Trude Guermonprez, Sheila Hicks, Ka Kwong Hui, Paul Hultberg, Jun Kaneko, Brent Kington, Howard Kottler, Doyle Lane, Marvin Lipofsky, Harvey Littleton, Charles Loloma, Sam Maloof, Richard Marquis, John Mason, James Melchert, John Paul Miller, Ron Nagle, George Nakashima, Gertrud and Otto Natzler, Marilyn Pappas, Michele Oka Doner, Svetozar and Ruth Clark Radakovich, Lee Rohde, Ed Rossbach, June Schwarcz, Kay Sekimachi, Richard Shaw, Tommy Simpson, Art Smith, Rudolf Staffel, Budd Stalnaker, Thomas Stearns, Toshiko Takaezu, Lenore Tawney, Robert Turner, Daniel Loomis Valenza, Peter Voulkos, Marguerite Wildenhain, J. Fred Woell
Tanya Aguiniga, Daniel Arsham, Ebitenyefa Baralaye, Thomas Barger, Dana Barnes, Sharif Bey, Ashwini Bhat, Nicole Cherubini, Liz Collins, Amber Cowan, Jes Fan, Green River Project LLC, Rogan Gregory, Haas Brothers, Marie Hermann, Cody Hoyt, Serban Ionescu, Doug Johnston, Hildur Ásgeirsdóttir Jónsson, Misha Kahn, Christopher Kurtz, Steven Young Lee, Joyce Lin, Nancy Lorenz, Roberto Lugo, Tiff Massey, Jiha Moon, Luam Melake, Jaydan Moore, Kiva Motnyk, William J. O’Brien, Jay Sae Jung Oh, Shin Okuda (WAKA WAKA), Woody De Othello, Jovencio de la Paz, Monique Péan, Jill Platner, Sarah Perkins, Rowland Ricketts, Anders Ruhwald, Pamela Sabroso and Alison Siegel, Adam Silverman, John Souter, Katie Stout, Adejoke Tugbiyele, Anna Von Mertens, Jesse Wine, David Wiseman, Thaddeus Wolfe, Jeff Zimmerman