Many, Many More, and the Sum of the Parts at Craft Contemporary

If you could choose the subjects for three exhibitions at one small museum, one on each floor, what would they be? I would probably say printmaking, art quilts or textiles, and ceramics or objects. The Craft Contemporary museum in Los Angeles (formerly known as the Craft and Folk Art Museum, across from LACMA) didn't ask me, but if they had I would have chosen exactly what is on display right now.

Craft Contemporary on the left.
Wilshire Blvd.

Starting from the first floor, to welcome visitors, a wall of a print exchange called "Many More," from 54 artists: 65 small prints hung in a grid. This print portfolio, according to the wall text, "celebrates the numerous ways prints can be made and shared. This portfolio was generated from an open call to printmakers and print lovers throughout the United States." The collection was potluck, as print exchanges often are: some very detailed, some very loose, some slapped together. From 1991 to 1996, I ran an annual postcard print exchange, so I am familiar with the possible aesthetics. Print exchanges can be hard to navigate because some people just want to make a print to get the portfolio (or at least that's how it looks), others do a time-consuming and beautiful work because they are compelled to do so: that's how they roll.

Here is a tiny sample.

Birds Are Disappearing by Sarojini Johnson
An intaglio (with possible letterpress?)

Yes, more birds; looks like crows or blackbirds and a dove. Nice bird feeder. 
By Donna Brown, a relief print.

A lively printed and stitched piece with raw edges. (Not signed on the front.)

Up the stairs to the next level for The Sum of the Parts: Dimensions in Quilting. I've included links to the artists' websites.

Greeted with a piece by Kathryn Clark, formerly an urban planner, I was intrigued by both the fragmented square holes that breathe and the closed containment. Her website has some thoughtful and tactile works where she examines current events as well as explores the possibilities of the materials. Really makes you want to take the works into your hands, run it through your fingers. That's why there are signs, Do not touch the artworks.

To the right of the above piece were three brightly colored and bold quilts by Carlos Spivey. On the left is Heart Volts. Spivey's website says the aim is to "depict African Americans and Africans of the Diaspora in a positive light," and "Love, beauty, and sacred totems," "flying and rising." The spirit is surely there.

On the back wall, the quilts by Lavialle Campbell had a kind of improvisational aesthetic to which I am drawn, particularly the monochromatic ones that use a variety of blacks and dark purples. This is a small one called "Target." Two women stood in front of a much larger version and one said admiringly, "This is a one-of-a-kind!" 

The wall text says, "She uses the language of abstraction and act of quilting as tools to cope with physical illness," a healing, both for herself and for Black women in general.

Looking from the back wall out at the gallery.

The sculptures, part of much larger series called Drum (which was a queer magazine, 1964-69), in the center of the room are by Jade Yumang. According to the wall text, Yumang works in the "interplay of queer history and culture." Words from the magazine were digitally printed on cloth, and objects from 1966 were included as part of the works. More works and more information can be found at the their website, included, above.

Sabrina Gschwandtner creates her film quilts from 16mm polyester film, arranging and stitching the pieces together into patterns, then displaying them on light boxes. The wall text says the films were about women and textiles, deaccessioned from the Fashion Institute of Technology. I think her work is a good example of something that looks interesting from a distance, gives you a new view when you get closer, and makes you appreciate it even more once you know how it was made / what it was made from.


Up another flight and we see the exhibition, Many, in which artists either work with many of the same kinds of objects or make multiples. Twelve artists are included. I've highlighted a few that stood out to me.

Tiles by Saj Issa, ceramic on wood slyly merge Middle Eastern designs with corporate logos.

I was moved by the set of twelve charcoal drawings on the far wall by Narsiso Martinez. Born in Oaxaca, Mexico, he now lives and works in Long Beach, California. An agricultural laborer himself, he drew actual farmworkers on produce boxes he collected; the backgrounds are gold leaf (I do not know if it is real or simulated gold leaf) to highlight the disparities between the laborers and the plantation owners. The works are meticulously drawn and give a push/pull between have and have less, gold and cardboard, side by side. Opposite materials can give that kind of tension.

John Birtle creates large, monochromatic, mural-like drawings from their enormous collection of rubber stamps, a practice begun seven years ago. The layers become textures of imaginary scenes. The wall text explains that Birtle "learned that smaller, local, more unique stamp shops have been replaced by large corporation which dominate the market with general copyrighted images." A case of independent shops being forced out of business, whether by higher cost of production or demand, or both, it is hard to know. 

Here is a detail from one of John Birtle's works:

Rubber stamping was big in the 1980s; I had a large collection that I used on mail art and sometimes in my bookwork. I admire Birtle's masking and attention to the intricate detail, and the patience it takes to make a large piece by stamping. It's really an ingenious way to use the stamps. Birtle is doing a family workshop at the museum on August 14, 2022; see the info here.

Iranian American Aryana Minai creates architectural gates out of dyed and handmade paper, made from salvaged paper goods. The wall text says the works represent the wish to "preserve the memories buildings hold and create the comfort and safety of a home, especially when one is living in a diaspora."  Her website says it this way: to "embody a lived survival instinct – to preserve historic space and inhabit safe spaces." These are large-scale works embossed with bricks, metalwork, and discarded woodblocks, made while the pulp is still wet, a "full body workout." The scale and textures are important; the works are taller than most people, both towering and encompassing each viewer, perhaps providing that safe haven. Although they are paper, they feel as weighted as actual walls and gates.

from the Dream Gate series, 2022, Detail from above:

Joel Freeman's artist book, Clutch, 2019, has an egg shape, which, due to my birdy interests, appeals to me immediately. Making it personal to him, it is made from "eggshells from family chickens, wood from tree cut down in parents' backyard." Pewter is also listed. An egg, the wall text says, is "the ultimate site of creation." The idea of creation seems to fit into the exhibition's theme of mass production. To go even farther into a political realm, one could take on the egg industry and treatment of hens and old growth forests, but this egg is purely a little gem.

Stephanie Mercado's prints from hand-carved rubber stamps are eye-catching and bright from a distance, but when you get closer you realize all is not what it seems. The works presented include maids. From the wall text: "The maids tell a story about power, class, and human relationships." Also addressing "the relationship between women and labor." Exquisitely made, they contain both beauty and sadness, as well as empathy, I think. 


Gelare Khoshgozaran has created an installation of toy plane parts in cast aluminum and 3-D printed steel and copper. The pieces form patterns that are pleasing from a distance, then take on a different light once you find out what they are and what they represent. This piece, in the center of the room, is called, Boneyard, 2020, and looks at "violence and the waste of war and the long-term devastation of U.S. sanctions against Iran." Also according to the wall text, "U.S. sanctions prevent Iran from purchasing metals…as well as new planes or basic parts to maintain its aging fleet, thus making air travel within the country incredibly dangerous." I think this is another example, like much of this show, in which the art works from various distances and at various layered levels.

The Many exhibit is framed with the concept of capitalism, which the wall text says "values products over their makers" and "mass production" and how the artists work in a slow manner to create the works. My problem with framing the exhibit this way in a group show is that it lumps all the artists together, even though they are individuals with radically different styles and philosophies, and creates one political statement rather than highlighting the artists and artworks as they are and with their own nuanced messages. But that is a problem with group shows and with some curation in general. The personality can get lost in the grand scheme. For this reason, I've tried to link to each artist's website so you can get a feel for their larger vision. 

My own nattering aside, it's an inspirational show with much food for thought! I was thrilled to have a couple hours and these three exhibitions within walking distance of where I was staying. Exactly what I would have chosen.

Craft Contemporary. The above exhibitions are on view until September 11, 2022. If you are in Los Angeles, I highly recommend a visit to the museum (and gift shop!).


Aine Scannell said…
Thanks so much for sharing this reminds me that I am not searching wide enough concerning the joy of creative arts and inspiration. Can you recommend any other places like this where they exhibit a lovely cross section such as this. Thanks again. keep well

(in Dunfermline Scotland, UK)
Alisa said…
Aine, thanks for writing. Whenever I travel I do a search for museums in the place where I am going to see what is there, but there are some wonderful online resources and collections open to the public as well. I also write down any artist's names I see mentioned in the newspaper and try to look them up.

Here are a few online collections. to check out: Cooper Hewitt: / The Met: / New York's MoMA: / SFMOMA: / The Textile Museum: / and there are many more, including the British Museum: