“Enhancements, Handcrafted Functional Objects.” Traveling exhibition

Historically, fine art and craft have eyed one another warily, not sure that they should sit together at the same table. Questions arise about aesthetics and function. If an object can be used, does that diminish its appeal and value? Does the insistent presence of history woven into a handcrafted object make it less contemporary? Do all artists, regardless of the medium they use, address the same questions and issues? And how strong is the role of the maker in valuing an object? To what extent do we value less that which is made to be both used and beautiful? Is the product of our hands less significant than the work of our minds and intellects.

Enhancements is a collection of objects that answers these questions eloquently. The works on view are compelling and complex, art and craft, referencing both history and function in design and creation. The works nod to the past while existing firmly in the present. Christopher Robert Ellison’s Bottle Cap Chair exemplifies this paradox. What at first appears to be a steel version of a 19th-century parlor chair with a frilly ruffle is on closer inspection a chair of our time, with cushions made of low-carbon steel shaped like bottle caps. Ellison’s work uses an emphatically modern material to create a functional object, the oft-seen bottle cap, simultaneously creating a work that stands up to the most rigorous aesthetic scan.

by Deborah Borrowdale-Cox

director of education at the University of Kentucky Art Museum