Across time and continents, people have been fascinated by finely crafted objects. Armies have plundered for it, vaults have been built to store it. Nonetheless, craft occupies an awkward place in the art establishment. For centuries, it's been looked down on as the domain of artisans, women and indigenous peoples, placed secondary to the Old Masters' oil paintings and the sculptures that pack out our national galleries.
Now the zeitgeist is changing and a renewed appreciation for the handmade, as well as a greater awareness of the institutional racism and sexism operating in the art world, is seeing distinctions between art and craft begin to blur. We're here for it. Ready to take a tour of craft's many guises? Here are six of our favourite museums and galleries around the globe, from big guns to independent operations, putting craft in the spotlight.
Elevating craft: Five museums and galleries changing the definition of art
Hong Kong's contemporary art centre Para Site is working to reframe the narrative around craft, and recently held a major exhibition that travelled to Bangladesh, Myanmar, Poland, Norway and Thailand. Titled A Beast, a God and a Line, it explores ideas of human connection and movement across the Asia-Pacific region, with textiles underpinning the architecture and storyline. Co-curators Cosmin Costinas and Vivian Ziherl argue that there is a need to "include, as a matter of urgency, practices that have been systematically excluded from the realm of art and designated by a colonial ethnographic gaze as craft, folklore or, at best, 'traditional' art".
22/F, Wing Wah Industrial Bldg, 677 King’s Road, Quarry Bay, Hong Kong
Although Manhattan's Museum of Arts and Design (MAD) - located opposite Central Park in a 5,000sq m building with a terracotta-tiled and fritted glass facade - dropped "craft" from its name in 2002, it remains dedicated to innovation in craft, art and design. The 2022 line-up includes a show that pushes the boundaries of floral arrangements; an exhibition by furniture sculptor Chris Schanck, who works with other artists, students and Bangladeshi craftspeople; and Queer Maximalism x Machine Dazzle, which highlights the outrageous creations of cabaret, drag and theatre costume designer Matthew Flower.
2 Columbus Cir, New York, NY 10019, US
The Victoria & Albert Museum
The V&A is the world's largest museum of applied and decorative arts, and although craft isn't mentioned in its mission statement, artisanal and handmade items are central to its permanent collection of more than 2.3 million objects spanning 5,000 years. Among its unrivalled collection of textiles, fashion, jewellery, furniture, metalwork, glass and ceramics are exquisite pieces from Jingdezhen (known as China's porcelain capital), ornate Iznik ceramics from Turkey and famed figurines by Germany's Meissen. British ceramics are well represented including the standalone V&A Wedgwood Collection at Barlaston, Stoke-on-Trent. A highlight here is the iconic anti-slavery medallion produced in the 18th century by Wedgwood, with an updated narrative to reflect current debates around race and equality.
Cromwell Rd, London SW7 2RL, UK
A must-see in the Austrian capital, most visitors to the head straight to the first floor for its outstanding collection of European masters, which includes numerous Brueghels, two of the remaining original (and astonishing) Four Seasons by Arcimboldo, and Vermeer's celebrated The Art of Painting. Just off the main entrance is the less-trodden Kunstkammer - a 20-gallery, 2,200-piece-strong cabinet of curiosities amassed by the once omnipotent Habsburgs before their empire collapsed in the early 20th century. Within this fantastical wing stands vitrine after gleaming vitrine of glittering objects from the Middle Ages to the baroque period - golden bowls, silver platters, cups made of ostrich eggs, a ship-shaped automaton... The list goes on.
Maria-Theresien-Platz, Vienna, 1010, Austria
High up in the Andes, in the Peruvian city of Cusco, is Xapiri Ground, a non-profit organisation that promotes the art and culture of Peru's indigenous Amazonians. Its discreet shopfront hides a trove of treasures, including intricately patterned clay animals and jars by Shipibo-Konibo women and the vibrant geometric textiles of the Iskonawa people. Also on show are designs by artist Emily Urquía Sebastián, inspired by the Yine community's traditional body art. All monies from sales are reinvested into the creation of more art and on-the-ground projects that facilitate sustainable economies. According to Melanie Dizon, creative director of Xapiri Ground: "The essence of Amazonian indigenous art is born from mythopoesis, storytelling and song, expressed through each culture's iconography, techniques, colours and materials, most of which stem from the natural environment that surrounds and sustains their life."
Plazoleta de San Blas 630, Cusco 08003, Peru
Fogo Island Arts
On Fogo Island, a windswept settlement off Newfoundland, Canada, communities have embraced a social business model in place of a struggling cod-fishing industry. A charitable initiative, Shorefast, founded the luxurious Fogo Island Inn and Fogo Island Arts (FIA), a residency-based, contemporary arts organisation that brings in artists, curators, filmmakers, writers, musicians, designers and thinkers from around the world. The island's wild beauty and thoughtful art shows have become drawcards for intrepid travellers. Many artists take cues from local craft practices. A recent exhibition by Abbas Akhavan referenced the island's elevated wooden sheds for landing and processing fish. Earlier this year, Shezad Dawood's Between Land & Sea featured textile-based paintings, video and a reworked handmade fishing net from the 70s. In 2018 artist Ieva Epnere employed textiles, oral tradition and music as key components of her work, to explore the rich local histories embedded in the landscape.
210 Main Rd, Joe Batt's Arm, NL A0G 2X0, Canada