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Museum Roundup: Winter 2020

What’s up now in NYC Art Museums?

Like “illustrative” and “decorative,” the label “craft” has a mixed reputation in the worlds of modern and contemporary art. But amidst the current reevaluation of feminism, queer art, and marginalized identities, craft is overdue for a makeover.

“Making Knowing: Craft in Art, 1950–2019” at the Whitney Museum examines materials and methods like textiles, pottery, beadwork, and other hands-on traditions. “While artists’ reasons for taking up craft range widely,” writes the Whitney, “many aim to subvert prevalent standards of so-called ‘fine art,’ often in direct response to the politics of their time.”

The legendary Bauhaus immortalized designers and artists alike, and cemented legacies between teachers and students. Among these is Herbert Bayer, who studied under Wassily Kandinsky, Paul Klee and László Moholy-Nagy before Walter Gropius appointed him to the faculty. Bayer taught design, typography, and advertising, while he developed Universal Type, a revolutionary sans-serif, lowercase typeface. “Why should we write and print with two alphabets? Both a large and a small sign are not necessary to indicate one single word,” he observed. “We do not speak a capital ‘A’ and a small ‘a.’ We need only a single alphabet.” After fleeing the Nazis and resettling in the United States, he embarked on a successful advertising career, which culminated in the branding of Aspen, Colorado.

“Herbert Bayer: Bauhaus Master” is currently on display through April 5, 2020, at the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum.

Mission Accomplished? The premature conclusion projected by George W. Bush in 2003 still haunts us, a hallmark of the “dumb wars” which then-senator Barack Obama had bemoaned in 2002. Now, with Iran cast once more as a foreign policy antagonist, the Persian Gulf is front and center. Hence, MoMA PS1 commits its entire building to “Theater of Operations: The Gulf Wars 1991–2011,” a new exhibition focused on the 1991 Gulf War and the 2003 Iraq War. The exhibition “explores the effects of these wars on artists based in Iraq and its diasporas, as well as responses to the war from artists in the West, revealing how this period was defined by unsettling intersections of spectacularized violence, xenophobia, oil dependency, and new imperialisms.” What will it teach us?

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