NYC Makers: The MAD Biennial Gets Crazy About Craft

By Marine

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With NYC Makers, Director Glenn Adamson returns to the origins of the MAD Museum (formerly known as The Museum of Contemporary Crafts), whose mission was to display the handmade work of artisans, craftsmen, and highly skilled individual makers. Appointed Director in October 2013, the former Head of Research of the Victoria and Albert Museum (who as a college graduate was an intern at MAD) made it a top priority to “advocate for the reconsideration of craft as a pervasive cultural force rather than a circumscribed artistic category.” As he sees it, craft provides the “connective tissue” between art and design. And this is what the NYC Makers exhibit is all about: celebrating the artisans, artists, designers, and craftspeople who live and work throughout the five boroughs and the range of skilled activity they represent. In doing so, it presents a snapshot of the city’s creativity economy and cultural production, and the ingenuity and resourcefulness of the individuals engaged in it.

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Above: Anatomical 12-Part Dissected Human SkullRyan Matthew Cohn dismantles human and animal skulls and then remounts them in exploded form.

The exhibition honors the work of 100 “makers”—practitioners whose work demonstrates the high craftsmanship and innovation. They include familiar names in the art and music world, such as Laurie Anderson and Yoko Ono, and designers both established and emerging from Flavor Paper to Fort Standard. Still, over 80 percent of the makers are showing at the museum for the first time, and many works were made especially for the show. Over 400 skilled artisans were originally nominated for the showcase by over 300 local cultural leaders from a range of trades and disciplines, including museum curators, choreographers, academics, chefs, musicians, and journalists. The final 100 participants were selected by a 10-person jury, including Adamson and curator Jake Yuzna, led by design entrepreneur Murray Moss. The selection reflects the diversity of makers in the city, in terms of ethnicity, gender, background, location, expertise, and materials used. The exhibition also sheds light on the hidden gems by including the work of behind-the-scenes makers you wouldn’t ordinarily encounter.

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Above: an installation view of NYC Makers: The MAD Biennial

From neon signs, whiskey bottles and mannequins to dinosaurs’ bones, instruments and coffee beans, the MAD Biennial definitely impresses with the variety of materials and pieces on show. What makes this exhibit one of a kind is that it takes the showcase outside of the galleries: step into the lobby and dive into the colorful world of CONFETTISYSTEM; take the stairs to sample the scents of a scratch-and-sniff wallpaper, a collaboration between Carlos Benaïm, Jesse Hlebo, and Flavor Paper; and ride the elevators to experience Moonlight, a glowing lurex interior created by Scott Bodenner. Along the way, you might get your portrait done by artist Jason Polan, whose ambitious project is to draw every person in NYC: during the summer, he will sketch the museum’s visitors and add the portraits to the gallery walls.

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Above: a scratch-and-sniff wallpaper by Carlos Benaïm, Jesse Hlebo, and Flavor Paper

NYC Makers turns out to be a great friends-and-family activity as the exhibit is lively, entertaining, colorful, educational, and accessible to everyone. Children and adults can have fun playing in the colorful playground of Misha Kahn and Anne Libbey’s installation Peach is Back, join Or Zubalsky’s Meeting table where they can hear their hearts beating together, and see how fragile fossilized bones are displayed in the Velociraptor Mount of professional mount-maker Richard Webber. We guarantee you that no one will say “I am bored!” One of the show’s more compelling and revealing moments is delivered in And I Can’t Run by Lower East Side Printshop, where visitors can use their cellphones to snap a photo of a screenprint to unlock a hidden image of early-20th-century slavery.

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Above: a few pieces displayed at NYC Makers, including Misha Kahn and Anne Libbey’s installation Peach is Back

The MAD museum also put together a comprehensive summer program including a large variety of talks and workshops. Explore your wild side with the self-professed “Mad Hatter” H E I D I L E E, who will teach the art of origami and how to make hats that can be transformed different ways; join designer Jeremy Chernick and J&M Special Effects as they demonstrate the possibilities of live and pre-taped special effects; or participate in a multisensory experience created by artist Miriam Simun and commemorate Agalinis acuta, the federally protected endangered plant species in New York State whose flowers bloom only one day a year. There’s practically something for everyone! Find the full list here.

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Above: participate in a fun origami workshop with Mad Hatter H E I D I L E E

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