December 2008, The Shape of Things @ the Museum of Craft and Folk Art

December 2008, The Shape of Things @ the Museum of Craft and Folk Art
Jiyoung Chung Whisper III, 2006 24 1/2 x 17 3/4 in. One of a kind Joomchi paper painting, three-layered hand-processed paper. Courtesy the Museum of Craft and Folk Art, SF

The Shape of Things
Reed Anderson, Gene Apellido, Mike Arcega, Jiyoung Chung, Adriane Colburn, Robert J. Lang, Jennifer Falck Linssen, Linda Mihara, Gina Osterloh
Museum of Craft and Folk Art
Through February 15, 2009

By Emily Gonzalez

I like craft. There it is in print. I appreciate a well-made, aesthetically pleasing object. I enjoy art created by artists who see their work not only as a practice, but also as a skill to be honed and refined. The Shape of Things: Paper Traditions and Transformations on view through February 15, 2009 at the Museum of Craft and Folk Art demonstrates how blurry the line between fine and folk art really is by juxtaposing the work of contemporary artists working through Western, Korean, Japanese, Filipino, and Chinese traditions with artifacts from those cultures made of the titled material. 
The single gallery is tightly packed with paper works that range from sculpture to photography by nine living artists and examples of traditional artifacts made of paper. Wall texts throughout the gallery explain the traditions of paper-making, -cutting, and -building in the above countries. If anything, the exhibition is too didactic. A small flat-screen television in the corner of the gallery plays artist Robert J. Lang’s presentation on the mathematical and scientific applications of origami and how he used computer modeling to map out folds for his works. His voice pervades the gallery and can be distracting. The diagram and text next to his origami sculptures of insects and animals along with the example of an incomplete work would have sufficiently illustrated his method. 

Among the traditional objects, the accuracy of the cut papers from China and Japan stand out. The delicate examples of Jian Zhi, papercuts in China, are mounted on Plexiglas and hung a few inches off the wall creating shadows and displaying the precision of the unknown folk artists. Also created by unknown artisans are the examples of katagami, stencils used to dye kimono patterns, from Japan in the 1907s. The stencils add another layer of traditional craft to the exhibition by recalling the rich textiles of Japan. 

Playing off of the tradition of katagami is Jennifer Falck Linssen who turns her stencils into sculpture by sewing the paper to metal wires for support. Her vessels twist into graceful shapes and filter light through her cuts creating pleasing contemporary interpretation of a traditional technique. Next to Falck Linssen’s work is that of Korean-American artist Jiyoung Chung who uses cut layers of traditionally dyed mulberry paper, joomchi, to create abstract works that straddle the line between sculpture and painting. 

The artists in the exhibition are not only concerned with the creation of beautiful objects; they call attention to issues that are sometimes forgotten or unseen. Filipino-American artist Mike Arcega’s Conquisatdork II, 2005, built an armored suit out of manila folders—a clever pun on the city of his birth—recalling the history of colonialism in the Philippines. In Piped In, Hooked On, 2008, local artist Adriane Colburn maps out a network of pipelines and oil refineries illustrating the complications of oil dependence. 

The Shape of Things is worth a visit if you are in the area already visiting YBCA, SFMOMA, or the Jewish Contemporary Museum. Some of the works in the show are unremarkable, but it has its bright spots and it is worth supporting an institution that is still proud of the word “craft.” The exhibition asks the visitor to consider the contemporary works as the products of skillful artisans rather than trained artists. I enjoyed my time in the galleries and appreciated the attention to precision in the practice of all of the artists, named and unnamed.


whitehot gallery images, click a thumbnail.

NAIL Collective


NAIL is a curatorial collective in San Francisco California. 

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