Material World: A Capsule Museum Show In San Francisco Celebrates Today's Masters of Materiality

In an era of increasing reverence for the beauty of raw materials and aesthetic appetite for all things real, rough-hewn and handmade, a new exhibition at the Museum of Craft and Design, Raw Design, is sure to resonate. Gathering some 40 examples of edgy, materials-focused design from the past decade, the micro-survey shows how designers from all over the world are “employing new, low-tech ways to make objects, [and] embracing materiality as the primary medium of their creativity,” notes curator Glenn Adamson in his curatorial statement.

Photo by Henrik Kam

Among the works are Max Lamb’s primitive-looking Crockery jug, slip-cast in fine bone china from an original hand-carved form; Thaddeus Wolfe’s uniquely textured glass vessels, achieved by cutting into layers of poured glass to reveal interior strata; Marlène Huissoud’s nature-inspired bench, formed from silkworm cocoons cast in pewter; and Lex Pott’s pared-down side table, made from a raw hunk of red marble inset with a plane of refined white marble.

(R-L) Thaddeus Wolfe, glass vessel, 2016; photo by Joe Kramer; Omer Arbel, beeswax candle, 2017; photo by Fahim Kassam

The studies in material exploration—arranged without hierarchy on a single, massive plinth—illustrate diverse approaches, including the “performative” mindset of designers who value process over product and arrive at form through the act of making. Omer Arbel’s impossibly delicate candle (made by pouring hot beeswax into a rotating mold filled with ice and shipped frozen) and Dana Barnes’s stunning combine of hand-braided wool and cast concrete are highlights in this category.

Photo by Henrik Kam

Other objects—such as Scott Bodenner’s Mix Tape textile (woven from used cassette tape) and Mike Meijer’s Newspaperwood “timber” (made from reclaimed broadsheets, essentially returning a refined material back to its raw state)—point to an ethos of reuse and responsible sourcing. “The insight here is that acts of making can be reframed as ethical research methods,” says Adamson. “By literally taking matter into their own hands, designers not only confront the preconditions of their own productions, but also explore how the world around us is generally made.”

Marlène Huissoud, Frozen Bench, 2017; photo by Henrik Kam

In this way, the exhibition serves as an important reminder of design’s most basic function in modern culture and what’s possible when visionary practitioners put material inquiry first.

Raw Design is currently on view at the Museum of Craft and Design through October 28.

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