Dorian Zachai, “Fiber – Clay – Metal”
Dorian Zachai, “Fiber-Clay-Metal,” Craft Horizons 25, no. 1 (January/February 1965): 10-17, 48. Reproduced with permission of the American Craft Council.
FIBER – CLAY – METAL
by DORIAN ZACHAI
In what may well have been the most selective national craft exhibition of 1964, the seventh biennial “Fiber-Clay- Metal” show of the Saint Paul Art Center, Saint Paul, Minnesota (November 18 to December 27), presented some 101 objects by 68 individuals—a small collection picked from an amazing entry of nearly 4,000 objects, the largest number of works ever submitted to this well-known competition.
The jury was made up of three artist-craftsmen whose names need no introduction to readers of CRAFT HORIZONS: jeweler Christian Schmidt of Minnesota, ceramist Peter Voulkos of California, and weaver Dorian Zachai of New Hampshire. Technical consultant was Lois Bing-ham, head of the Fine Arts Section of the United States Information Agency, Washington, D.C. The jury met for three days at the Center’s new three million dollar Arts and Science building, during which time it selected the show and named the following pieces for special recognition by recommending them. for purchase: stoneware “Sarcophagus” by Fred Bauer (Wisconsin); stoneware bowl by Paul Bogatay (Ohio); tapestry by Janice Bornt (California) ; hanging woven form by Dominic DiMare (California); silver pendant by Guy Granger (California); two porcelain slab forms by Stephen Kaltenbach (California); cast sterling hanging bells by Brent Kington (Illinois); cast silver and rose-wood chessmen by Earl Krentzin (Michigan).
In addition to the above, the Saint Paul Art Center selected twenty-three additional pieces for museum purchase by the following: ceramics: Rose Cabat (Arizona), Michael Cohen (Massachusetts), Jim Leedy (Ohio), Thomas Shafer (Iowa), David Shaner (Montana), Paul Soldner (California), John Stephenson (Michigan); fabrics: Anne Hornby (California), Terry files (Indiana), Meda Parker Johnston (Michigan), Sister Mary Remy (Wisconsin), J. Rodono-Brown (Ohio ), Nell Scott (Washington); wood: Roger Sogge (Oregon); metalwork: Abraham (address not listed), William Haendel (Illinois), Ed Lund (Wisconsin).
In the article that follows, written especially for CRAFT HORIZONS, juror Dorian Zachai gives her personal view-point on the 1964 “Fiber-Clay-Metal” exhibition, as well as juried shows in general.
PART ONE: COOPERATION
When it has to do with people attempting to make a peaceful world, I am all for it. But somehow, when juries cooperate, it all ends up looking like mashed potatoes. Like that piece of junk jewelry that was slipped in under the table and ended up being taken seriously as PROTEST [the award-winning “Medal of Honor,” shown on page 20, appeared as a new entry on the third morning that the jury met]. What a lot of bunk! It was a pretty outworn, dumb joke in my book. The only funny thing about it was the name on the obviously phony entry card, and that they didn’t print in the catalog—guess they got cold feet right in the middle of putting a blessing on the PROTEST. Actually, it is a pretty good label for anyone— “Abraham Isitshits.”
My initial feeling that man-o-man I was going to help make this kickeroozio of a show, disintegrated day by day. In the first place, the whole setup of a “craft show” seemed to get lost somewhere in the shuffle. I wish I had the figure of how many entries, for instance, in the textile section were actually useful items. Saint Paul stipulated in the prospectus that ceramic sculpture was not eligible. I must confess that I did not know this until afterwards, when irate friends pointed to pieces that could be called nothing but sculpture. If ceramic sculpture is not eligible, then how can tapestry and hangings be eligible? Is ceramic sculpture really ART, and is tapestry really CRAFT? You can guess my answer to that! So, confusion gains momentum, and control seems to slip away, and after it’s over, you wonder who had any control in the first place. And then I saw the catalog. Ordinarily I would not care to mention this aspect of the show, but works were mutilated in photos which are just about the worst I have ever seen in any catalog. I do not know where Janice Bornt is, but I hope she reads this so that I can express my horror at seeing her small fiat tapestry turned sideways and draped!
You know, there was a time when CRAFT meant CRAFT. Everyone in the field knew to some depth or other just about everyone else, and the jury system probably did seem like the only “fair” way to select a show. Things have changed. There is a craftsman under every bush along the way from New York City to San Francisco. There are a fantastic number of people working in too many different* ways. The works have no more to do with one another than does a potted geranium have to do with a jet plane, yet they are all heaved into the same “craft show.” To cite an example : How can a cleverly made Kleenex holder stand a chance for entry or a prize in a craft show when it is competing with hangings which probably have their inner eyes on the walls of the Museum of Modern Art ? I grant you that the Kleenex holder may be a masterpiece and the hanging a complete flop, but that only makes the goofy setup more apparent. More about what is craft and what is not later. To go on with juries: Why isn’t it a good idea for one person to take total responsibility for a show? It would be biased? Of course it would be biased. Any definitive opinion is biased, and it is a thousand times better than “No, you cannot point at me because I am only one anonymous voice in the entity called the JURY,” which is what I end up whining when people back me into corners and want to know how come their so-and-so didn’t get in the show. There were things accepted in “Fiber-Clay-Metal” that I consider pure and unadulterated scrap, and things which did not get accepted that I felt strongly positive towards. Since my likes and dislikes are anonymous, I frankly think that my name ought to be anonymous, too. It would be better to have been the sole juror and now be proud and responsible for every single piece exhibited. You see, with this system, no one has to take the praise or the blame. And what good is the applause if there is no one there to acknowledge it? (Like people who applaud movies, especially in an empty movie house; some people are, of course, remarkably self-sufficient.) Or, if there is to be blame, how marvelous it would be to allow someone to benefit from his mistakes! Maybe that has a little to do with why this art and craft business gets more and more confused; the errors are not being learned from; the culprits jet off in all directions the minute the dirty deed is done and never have to face the consequences, i.e. the show. Of course, the Saint Paul museum people have had years of experience with this sort of thing, and one can assume that with each show they amass tomes of wisdom. But then, on the other hand, with each show they must accept the judgments of a virgin group of jurors who may or may not be fit to judge anything outside the progress of their own work. Even with veteran jurors, the interaction of any particular combination of people makes them virgin relative to the museum people, who are in home territory.
Actually, I do not think that the jury system is all evil. Probably in many situations it is the only practical method; however, this business with all categories of work equally eligible in the same show I cannot buy.
I do not know how Saint Paul chose this jury—perhaps at a distance we all looked similar. Or perhaps we looked like an interesting variety, the way people choose dinner partners. We did pretty much split into two camps, which might help to account for the small show. With two for and two against and neither side willing to budge, you couldn’t sit there all night to break the tie.
And the basis for judgment? That is what everyone asks. Well, it is at this point that I stop reading articles like this because they usually descend into a mystic of phraseology that depresses the guts right out of me. I would like to imitate it for you—”suitabilityofmaterials-form-experimentalconcepts-structuralconcepts-monumentalsignificance . . . ,” but I really can’t do it. You either do or you don’t get the idea. I cannot speak for any other member of the jury, but for myself: I LOOK AT THINGS WITH MY INSIDES—and that is all there is to it.
There seems to be too much of everything anyway—that’s mostly what hits me. The whole trip was for me a crazy-wild ecstasy of excesses. Those fantasy-like airports with funny, blasé people who think nothing of jetting across the country twice a week. Everything fast and hard. Then into the bright white new Saint Paul Art Center—everything smooth and polished on the outside, but when you got to the inside—Holy Christmas! To the left someone was preparing to make a patchwork quilt big enough to cover a giant asleep on the state of Minnesota (that was the textile section), and to the right was a vast sea, or better, a static landscape of muck with lots of little ups and downs (that was the pottery section). There was a pile of glitter in the foreground, just about enough for a Macy’s type Christmas tree (that was the metal). THEN— trumpets should sound here—then in the distance you saw the cardboard cartons! The pile was stupendous indeed. I was knocked on the head by the implications of those big and little boxes quietly proclaiming what they used to be intended for: “1 gross DIAMOND KITCHEN MATCHES —strong sure lights for indoor and outdoor use.” The irony of that pile sticks in my head. I wish that I had measured it—must have been thirty feet high anyway. The real crafts of this country were proclaimed on the sides of those boxes. That’s the stuff people really use and is part of their daily absolutions to hands, feet, teeth, and stomach. It’s like the real Pop art that has been all over this country, everywhere, for anyone to enjoy—all you had to do was cast your eyes about to see it.
Now I am at the old What is Art? and What is Craft? argument. I used to get impatient and say what difference does it make how a thing is classified. If it is good, it is good, and that is all that counts. Now there has to be a more accurate delineation. The reason is not for the sake of the dictionary. The reason is that the people who are making Kleenex holders and tapestries and the vast number of useful and not so useful items between are not finding their audience. Do art critics cover craft shows? Not that I know of—not in The New York Times anyway. Do avant-garde artists and art collectors swell the throngs at craft shows? I can’t prove one way or the other, but I sort of doubt it. The evidence I have seen is that they look down their noses at this whole area. Most devotees to craft shows look to me like they are shopping for interior decorating ideas or ideas to further their own progress with their own particular craft-hobby. Which is just fine. But, are these last mentioned people interested in buying an avant-garde hanging it.
If a CRAFT show is a CRAFT show, then crafts should be sent to it—no °1 If the work has no tangible function, then it should be sent to an ART SHOW—no? And if the individual is too chicken to label his no-use-craft-object “art,” then he should not send it anywhere.
Does that sound too simple and stupid’? To me, it sounds simple and sensible. The bulk of the responsibility for this mess lies with the students and amateurs who haven’t the foggiest idea what they are doing or why. I suppose that this is understandable. This group also seems to have a big thing about being “experimental.” My thoughts about this are perhaps obvious, but I will put them down anyway. To experiment implies a preliminary search which hopefully leads to an idea or thing. An artist who has respect for his work throws a good deal of his experimental work on the trash heap ; otherwise, how can it be termed experimental’? If your experiments are going to lead to anything, you work with them and use them as a foundation. Then perhaps you will have something worth looking at. The experiment is not (except maybe once in a great while) an end unto itself and a work of art, nor is it (just about never) a useful craft.
In general, as I gazed about that sea of stuff, I wondered what motivated people. Thinking back, it mostly looked like a lot of egos eager to hop on a band wagon— a liberal sprinkling of naive hobbyists, teachers and educational types who don’t work enough on their own stuff to really come up with something but nevertheless are dead set on enhancing the aura about their names. There were a few obvious beginners who looked promising; I wish them luck and hope they keep working.
At this point I must stop and say that there was a small core of work, real work, done by mature artists who I think must enter these shows out of an old loyalty to the “cause.” There were plenty of names” who did not send at all. Whether or not they enter a show or get into a show has absolutely no effect on these people or their work. They will continue to work. I think they know that whether or not they get into a show has to do with “Bingo.” All shows are “Bingo.” Until the “Bingo” part of the system is done away with, an intelligent artist will have difficulty taking the outcome of a particular show seriously. If working artists can-not take this thing seriously, then for whom are they run °? For the students, teachers, amateurs, and hobbyists’? Sure, these part-time artists do some nice things, but I, for one, am looking for something more complex, something way beyond what I am at present capable of. I want to have to stretch my brain until it hurts—not stoop and be comfortably bored.
*Actually my complaint is that they are all imitating one another or their instructors—by “different” ways I mean more ways than were being done ten or fifteen years ago.