I drive by the Craft and Folk Art Museum (CAFAM) every day on my way home from work.
I always seem to hit the red light at the Curson-Wilshire crossroad directly in front of it. While usually I would call it a punishment light for how frequently I have to stop there, I actually really enjoy it. I get time to check out what phrase CAFAM has written on the chain link fence in the combination of knit, stuffed lettering. Last time I saw the fence it read “#BlackLivesMatter.” Today it read “Be the Change.” I’m so glad I finally parked my car and went inside.
I walked up on a Sunday to pay the entry fee ($7 General Admission), and come to find out Sundays are pay-what-you-can, donation-based. Now this is an institution that understands the place art has in Angeleno culture, I thought. The positive tone had been set: CAFAM understands that art is more than a money-making or investment enterprise, and should be accessible to all.
I donated the seven bucks I was already expecting to, and walked to the third floor exhibit: Man-Made: Contemporary Male Quilters.
You don’t have to work hard to see how mold-breaking this exhibition is. Each artist’s work is far from simple, but easily appreciated since quilting is proliferately an American pastime (albeit not generally associated with demographics outside of grandmothers). There really is a harmonious contrast between the traditional and the contemporary.
The artists featured in Man-Made are: Joe Cunningham, Luke Haynes, Jimmy McBride, Aaron McIntosh, Joel Otterson, Dan Olfe, Shawn Quinlan, and Ben Venom.
While I feel like any verbal representation of CAFAM and Man-Made will cheapen how wonderful it is, I'm too excited to not talk about some of my favorite artists from the exhibit. But before I do that, truly, go see it. I'll be the blogger version of Dora here: don't question me, just do it.
The first of the exhibition artists I'd like to highlight here is LUKE HAYNES:
Luke Haynes sets the tone for Man-Made, and with his display situated to the left of the entrance, he does it without needing to physically be front and center. Taken from The American Context, his series features friends in poses mimicking American artists’ works, but in contemporary garb. Quite literally. Jeans become jeans, and a lace top becomes a lace top. Haynes truly sets the tone for the exhibit: craft meets fine art as one of the most beautiful and challenging mash-ups around.
Ben Venom goes as masculine as you can get with quilting. And then he flips you on your head. Ben Venom takes you on a journey from teenage-you cutting up your rock t-shirts to the Civil Rights movement to Sistine Chapel-reminiscent American Patriotism (I couldn’t help but feel he does it all while mocking Ed Hardy).
Cunningham quilts human-sized paintings comfy enough to wrap around a human being. All too appropriate is how Cunningham reinvents what a quilt is. He holds it up to what would be considered “traditional” art as a framed painting, and reinvents how a hanging piece can physically comfort you, as it emotionally comforts him when he feels hopeless against world plights and catastrophes.
Self-taught quilter, Princeton graduate with a PhD from California Institute of Technology, Dan Olfe embodies ceilings shattered. In the real world, as well as the art world, Olfe knows no boundaries. Or at least shows that he breaks them down and doesn’t take no for an answer. He began his quilting career by conceptualizing quilts using graphics software. In a craft space predominately seen as a “feminine”, Dan Olfe embodies a fully rounded man, artist, human, you name it. Exactly what we expect to be seen in the 21st century.
(yeah, that’s a quilt up above, not a painting). Nuff said.
McIntosh’s work is very personal and poignant. His Forest Frolic (above) is perhaps the most minimalist quilt of the show (quite physically in terms of fabric), but one that pushes the envelope and the bounds of contemporary art in a big way. There’s an offbeat feeling in having a craft associated with family and history, express voyeurism and loneliness. McIntosh tackles not only these massive concepts of insecurity and chronic ache, but also the topic of overt homosexuality in rural spaces.
Another way CAFAM allows you to get to know the artists is through a video loop of artist documentary-style interviews. Nothing is left out when it comes to what you expect of CAFAM’s crafty niche. Not only was it hosting a quilting workshop with Luke Haynes the day I visited (advanced registration only), but there was a section dedicated to creating a makeshift, miniature quilt. A basket with triangles and quilt pattern suggestions is placed near the entrance/exit, so visitors can string together their own, community version of a quilt.
CAFAM found its niche in the art world, and simultaneously the cutting edge of Contemporary Art. Not only is CAFAM monetarily accessible to all, it’s also intellectually accessible to all. The availability of each artist’s work in a non-pretentious presentation CAFAM fosters comes from concept, craft, and the well-constructed artist bios that bring home how these are men in the 21st century fighting the good fight against stereotype. Non-pretentious is, however, not to be confused with the polished and professional display CAFAM presents.
The Craft and Folk Art Museum was more than worth braving weird Sunday traffic. CAFAM is currently running several exhibitions aside from Man-Made until May 3rd, such as Focus Iran: Contemporary Photography and Video, and Jonas Becker’s The Pile. Don’t worry…the entry fee covers all exhibitions.
Jonas Becker’s The Pile (above).
Craft and Folk Art Museum (CAFAM), 5814 Wilshire Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90036; through May 3, 2015