Treachery of Material: The Surrealist Impulse in Craft

January 26, 2018 — April 15, 2018
In the Artist Hall

Opening Reception
Friday, February 9, 5:30 – 8:00 PM
The evening will also celebrate the opening of Light Charmer: Neon and Plasma in Action in the Main Galleries and feature open studios by the current resident artists.  Beer generously provided by Buffalo Bayou Brewing Co.

Houston Center for Contemporary Craft (HCCC) is pleased to present Treachery of Material: The Surrealist Impulse in Craft, featuring Michael Crowder and Julia Maria Künnap, two artists who use surrealist strategies and references in their work. The exhibition offers a series of puzzling and beautiful objects made from cast glass, fine metals and gemstones, along with nontraditional materials like ash and soap, to highlight the unexpected relationship between Surrealism and craft.

Known for its outlandish and irrational imagery meant to express the power of imagination and the unconscious mind, Surrealism has maintained its strong cultural relevance since its introduction in the 1920s, becoming a mainstay not only in art museums but in ad campaigns, films, fashion, and household objects as well.  Both Surrealism and craft incorporate a range of materials and traditions that have proven difficult to categorize as a whole. Many of the Surrealist masters, notably Salvador Dalí, Méret Oppenheim, Max Ernst, and Pedro Friedeberg, made forays into craft media during their careers, producing work in jewelry and metals, fiber and furniture. Their influence on craft continues today, as seen in the works of Crowder and Künnap.

Though he creates much of his sculpture from kiln-fired glass, often employing a pâte de verre technique that fuses glass particles into an open crystalline structure, Michael Crowder incorporates a range of particulate mediums like soap, sugar, chocolate, marble dust, wax, and ashes in his cast objects. His body of work, L’heure bleue, was completed during a fellowship at the home of Dora Maar (which she shared with Pablo Picasso) in Ménerbes, France. In the series, which references the “blue hour” between daylight and dark, he portrays 20th-century art historical icons that are sculpted and cast from nontraditional materials, which would be self-obliterating if ever used for their intended purpose.  From a wax pipe referencing Magritte’s famous painting, The Treachery of Images (1929), to a cast-glass tire alluding to Robert Raushenberg’s Untitled (glass tires) (1997), each of Crowder’s sculptural objects is made from materials that defy its function.

Künnap, on the other hand, applies her mastery of lapidary stonecutting to form gemstones that visually defy and denature the material itself.  Through an incredibly precise and time-consuming process, she captures a sense of wonderment in her work, creating gemstones that appear to be in an eternal state of melting, dripping, and splashing.  By capturing impossibilities that seem conceived of in a dream state, her pieces hold a strong conceptual link to some of the most famous visual strategies of Surrealism, such as the “melting” clocks depicted in Salvador Dalí’s seminal painting, The Persistence of Memory (1931).

Treachery of Material was curated by HCCC Curatorial Fellow, Sarah Darro, who traces a lineage of Surrealism in craft media through the exhibition. “The show brings to the fore two contemporary artists whose works apply key strategies and tenets of Surrealism to demonstrate the contemporary and continual significance of Surrealism in visual culture.”

The exhibition is supported in part by Richard Moiel & Kathy Poeppel.

About the Artists 

Michael Crowder holds an MFA degree from Kent State University in Ohio and is currently based in Houston, Texas. His work has been exhibited internationally and is held in the permanent collections of the Museum of American Glass; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; and the Gandi Maidan Museum in Patna, India.  He was nominated for the prestigious Louis Comfort Tiffany Biennial Award and was the recipient of multiple Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, fellowships at the Dora Maar House in Ménerbes, France.

Julia Maria Künnap holds an MFA in jewelry art from the Estonian Academy of the Arts and a degree from Konstfack, University College of Arts, Crafts and Design in Stockholm, Sweden. She is currently based in Tallinn, Estonia. She was the recipient of the prestigious Ruth Reisert-Hafner Stipendium and residency at the Alchimia School of Contemporary Jewellery in Florence. Her work has been exhibited internationally, and her first solo exhibition took place at the Emerging Artist Platform at Sienna Patti Gallery in Lenox, Massachusetts.

Image credits: (1) Michael Crowder, “1.2.C.U.P.,” 2009. Cast soap. Photo by David A. Brown. (2) Michael Crowder, “Air Amusé (Amused Air),” 2009. Cast glass. Photo by David A. Brown. (3 & 4) Michael Crowder, “Pneu Velo Verre (Glass Bicycle Tire),”2009. Cast glass. Photo by David A. Brown. (5)  Michael Crowder, “Une Longue Pipe (A Long Pipe),” 2009. Paraffin wax. Photo by David A. Brown. (6) Michael Crowder, “Une Petite Pipe Morte (A Little Pipe Death),” 2009. Cigarette ashes, resin. Photo by David A. Brown. (7) Julia Maria Künnap, “A Grand Day Out,” 2012. Smoky quartz, gold. Photo courtesy of the artist. (8) Julia Maria Künnap, “How to Find Balance II,” 2017. Smoky quartz, gold. Photo courtesy of the artist. (9) Julia Maria Künnap, “Now Where Was I,” 2017. Cacholong, gold. Photo courtesy of the artist. (10) Julia Maria Künnap, “Regret,” 2014. Obsidian, gold. Photo courtesy of the artist. (11) Julia Maria Künnap, “Why Is It All Overgrowing II,” 2017. Nephrite, gold. Photo courtesy of the artist. (12) Julia Maria Künnap, “Will a Supervolcano Erupt,” 2017. Obsidian, rhodium-plated silver. Photo courtesy of the artist. (13) Julia Maria Künnap, “Will the Ice Caps Melt,” 2017. Rock crystal, gold. Photo courtesy of the artist.