The museum serves as a breeding ground for the community to develop the discourse surrounding the dexterity of craft in modern times
Across the street from La Brea Tar Pits, on an otherwise sterile-looking block of Wilshire Boulevard, you can spot the yellow-patterned façade of a Neo-Georgian building — this is Craft Contemporary. Built in 1930 by architect Gilbert Stanley Underwood, this mixed-use commercial space housed a range of businesses over the years.
In 1965, Craft Contemporary fell into the hands of Edith Robinson Wyle and Bette Chase and became The Egg and The Eye, a restaurant and gallery with an emphasis on two things — craft and omelets. It wasn’t long until Edith Robinson Wyle ditched the eggs and founded the Craft and Folk Art Museum, later rebranded as Craft Contemporary.
According to Craft Contemporary’s Manager of Communications and Exhibitions, Caroline Ellen Liou, «Wyle’s emphasis was not necessarily on “native arts” but rather, global craft… We look for ways to showcase makers who explore how these processes and materials can be used in unprecedented ways, both in technique and concept». Aiming to bridge the gap between folk and modern, Craft Contemporary’s name change in 2011 symbolizes the dynamism of the world of craft. «We wanted to communicate to the public that craft can be a conveyor of progress — an art form that is both a noun and a verb».
This shift from folk to contemporary is communicated through the work of museum curator Holly Jerger, who aims to put emphasis on «process, material, and engagement with the historical discourse surrounding art». Essentially, the “craft” in Craft Contemporary. This focus on craft calls forth artists whose work exists «as a field that presents an alternative to the institutional white cube,» with exhibitions that have ranged from Echiko Ohira’s paper transformations to Beatriz Cortez’s steel installations.
Craft Contemporary’s second clay biennale is on exhibit with pieces from a variety of artists whose work aims to examine the relationship between the human body and clay, opening up the conversation surrounding clay in antiquity to clay nowadays.
In this way, the museum serves as a breeding ground for the community to engage in the discourse surrounding the dexterity of craft in modern times. Visitors can learn about innovation in the art world throughout the museum’s two-story gallery space and external courtyard. In Caroline Ellen Liou’s words, «Craft Contemporary is a place where you can easily run into our staff or exhibiting artists, and chat with them about anything, from sharing your experience and opinions to learning more about the artist’s process».
The sense of community and cooperation in the museum is a defining marker of its purpose within the community. Aside from their academic events, such as lecture series, artist talks, and discussion panels, the museum provides inclusion and diversity in its programs: from events dedicated to teenagers, to cocktail-hour CraftNights, the aim is to inspire engagement with craft both within and beyond the exhibitions.
The museum’s ethos of cooperation has also bolstered its relationships throughout Museum Mile. In a recent exhibition, artist Cynthia Minet displayed her sculpture Panthera Atrox, a kinetic LED-lit panther made from recycled plastic modeled after the species whose ruins were found in the adjacent La Brea Tar Pits.
The La Brea Tar Pits Museum and Craft Contemporary collaborated to offer a neighborhood tour that entwined their two perspectives — science and art. This dedication to the community came to be with founder Edith Robinson Wyle’s creation of the International Festival of Masks in Los Angeles — while the last festival was held in 1995, it is clear her ethos and mission to spread craft arts throughout the community of Los Angeles permeates Craft Contemporary to this day.
While the pandemic forced Craft Contemporary to shut its doors until new dispositions, Liou ensures that they have been «quite busy trying to rethink how audiences can engage with us from the comfort of their homes». The museum website hosts a number of digital offers, such as at-home craft nights and a portal for virtual engagement with their exhibitions.
5814 Wilshire Blvd
Los Angeles, California