The Museum of Craft & Design is a lovely little space tucked neatly to the side of Union Square on Stockton Street. This month, as a perfect respite from obligatory holiday shopping, stop by and enjoy the opportunity to "kick it" with one of Baltimore's most revered artists, Joyce J. Scott. It was my first visit to the Museum of Craft & Design, and I found the building to be just as special as the work it showcases. The interior design of the space features exposed brick -- appropriately revealing the structure and craftsmanship of the building -- a seemingly direct comment on the fact that it is a craft AND design museum, rather than an art museum.
Scott's work is considered craft but follows the current trend in contemporary art where pieces reinterpret universal meaning. She's a pioneer in this field since she's been at it for more than thirty years, and her retrospective exhibit has the power to educate and enlighten viewers. Using intricate beadwork, weaving, glass, photographs, and assemblage techniques, she expresses her thoughts on stereotypes, violence, and societal injustices. Her work appears playful and has a dry sense of humor, but her subject matter is serious and is rarely discussed in such a poignant manner.
One of the first pieces I noticed was titled Cuddly Black Dick I. Sitting on a small, sweetly crafted wire bench, a female figure made of a porcelain doll's head and a sky blue beaded body posed with her arm around a large penis made of iridescent black beads. The piece was unexpectedly frank and actually quite adorable. I read a quote in the programming guide that accompanies the exhibit where Scott points out that the phallus in a similar piece, Cuddly Black Dick III, represents the woman's husband or lover, "but when people who dislike this, or have one narrow view of what blacks are, see her, they see her with just a dick." So, I'll admit that at first I only saw a dick, but after reading further into the artist's intentions, I had a new perspective and found myself reassessing my own notions of stereotypes.
Scott works with beads in a way that is very sculptural and sometimes painterly. The number of icons she recreates through beadwork is astounding: playing cards made of beads, scripted beads, beaded human figures, and one of her specialties -- necklaces that incorporate photographs, beaded images, and Native American, Mexican, and African traditions. Another quote from the programming guide illustrates why Scott is an artist who'd be more than fun to kick it with -- "I make jewelry to be worn. And if it tells about scary, icky subjects, then so much the better for the person who has the cojones to wear it in public."
It's impossible to pigeonhole Scott as an artist because she uses an array of media and presentation styles. She studied arts education and fine arts in Maryland and Mexico and is a storyteller in the true sense of the word. In the back of the museum, you will find a screen playing a two-minute excerpt from her performance piece, Genetic Interference: Genetic Engineering, in which Scott dons one of her creations -- a headdress made of baby-dolls, a shirt with a skull on it, and crazy glasses -- and does a spoken word performance to give a better understanding of the messages conveyed in her artwork.
In the center gallery space, I stood dumbfounded and tried not to drool as I stared at an extraordinary wall hanging that incorporated weaving, quilting, and the richly colored extra-chunky yarn that I'm absolutely enamored with. I wanted to wrap myself up in the piece and roll around, then maybe ogle every inch of it carefully with a magnifying glass. It sounds insane, but anyone who has studied weaving will understand how I felt and recognize the incomparable level of skill and imagination involved in creating such a piece.
If the performances, sculptures, weavings, and wearable art pieces aren't enough, Scott is also an outstanding printmaker, and a few of the lithographs from her Soul Erased series are on display. The lithographs incorporate screen-printing and embossing to give them a multi-dimensional feeling. Most of the works in the series feature skeleton's bodies with heads of flesh. One image was of a small child backed by wings made of guns -- just one of Scott's works that comments on youth violence. I sensed that Scott takes great care with her work, and all her pieces are carried out beautifully while they not so subtly remind the viewer of everything that is wrong with society. In the programming guide, she discusses being worried about youth desensitization with violence and says that she feels "a responsibility living in a land where this is happening" and her artwork conveys her active and thoughtful comments on violence, among other issues.
I read that Scott aims to "incite people to look and then carry something home -- even if it's subliminal, that might make them change." Before I left the museum, I witnessed a direct connection between the artist's intentions and a viewer's experience, when I read a handwritten message on a hot pink post-it note on the museum's comment wall that said "You have transformed a past world of darkness and pain into something more meaningful and bright."
Kickin' it with Joyce J. Scott runs through January 7, 2007 at the Museum of Craft and Design, 550 Stockton Street in San Francisco. Additional jewelry creations by Joyce J. Scott are on display at Velvet Da Vinci on Polk Street through December 31, 2006.