Entering the exhibition Wanbing Huangs The Entrophy Reduction of Hundun to the left makes quite the statement.nbsp
Entering the exhibition, Wanbing Huang’s The Entrophy Reduction of Hundun, to the left, makes quite the statement. Photo: N Kubota, Courtesy of Loewe

With the Help of Fran Lebowitz, Jonathan Anderson and The Loewe Foundation Craft Prize Celebrate Creativity and Artistry At the Noguchi Museum

Tonight, the Noguchi Museum in Queens, New York, was the site of the sixth annual Loewe Foundation Craft Prize announcement. The work of the 30 finalists, who utilize items as diverse as pearls, bark, paper, and recycled bags, along with other classic materials including ceramics, glass, bronze, and wood, was displayed inside the former studio of the influential sculptor Isamu Noguchi, the first time a public exhibition has taken place in his space. 

“Noguchi wanted to bring tradition into the 20th century,” explained Matthew Kirsch, the Curator of Research at the museum during a tour of the grounds earlier in the morning. “He hated what he called ‘the false horizon of the pedestal,’ and wanted to bring sculpture into everyday life.” In that sense, the Noguchi Museum was indeed an ideal setting to bring to life Loewe creative director Jonathan Anderson’s vision, which aims to not only celebrate the art of craft, but show the myriad ways that it can, and should be, a part of the modern cultural conversation, just like contemporary art. 

Belgium’s Nathalie Doyen created Pays Cabi, from stoneware, oxides, pigments, and acorns. 

Shinji Nakaba’s Rose Branch was created by “threading shards of discarded pearl onto a stainless steel wire,” and then carving them into their distinct shape. 

Wetlands, a piece of contemporary jewelry by Argentina’s Mabel Pena, made from recycled polyethylene bags and 3D filament, brought to mind the “emotional landscapes,” Björk sings about.

Walking through the space, the senses were overwhelmed with not just beauty, but also the ineffable qualities of the human imagination. A giant egg-shaped structure made from China grass cloth by Wanbing Huang, from the People’s Republic of China, greeted guests, and standing in between its “cracked-open” shells, staring into the layers of concentric circles that supported the structure, there was a sense of being surrounded by infinity. A piece by Nathalie Doyen, a ceramic artist, resembled a ball of knitted patch-worked pieces, until at closer inspection, a series of acorns was revealed on one side, while the rest was covered in a pattern that resembled sea urchin shells, which the artist revealed she created by “pricking” the stoneware surface hundreds of times with a thin pin. “I like the process [because] it’s like nature, little things growing one after one,” she explained. “So I can improve because I work really slowly.” 

The Japanese artist Shinji Nakaba, who started his career in fashion design, presented a tiny sculpture of a rose branch constructed from slivers of pearls and tipped with stainless steel fang-thorns. It was delicate, beautiful, brutal, and grotesque all at the same time, and it could fit in the palm of your hand like a secret treasure. Elsewhere, a loose net punctuated with what looked like tiny red petals was actually made from thin strands of paper knotted together by the Spanish artist Luz Moreno Pinart, using a technique she learned during a residency in Villa Kujoyama in Japan. “It has a life of itself. Since they put it up, all the [petals] have been moving because of the humidity, so it will all be 3D by the end.” The work, as it turns out, had begun its life much flatter. 

Dominique Zinkpè’s The Watchers, made from wood and acrylic earned an honorable mention. The artist hails from Benin.

Japan’s Moe Watanabe earned the second honorable mention for Transfer Surface, an open box made from walnut bark. 

Anderson and an expert panel that included Anatxu Zabalbeascoa, the architecture and design correspondent at El País, Wang Shu, an architect and winner of the Pritzker Prize, and Mary Savig, the Curator of Craft at the Smithsonian American Art Museum Renwick Gallery, along with some of the Craft Prize’s previous winners and honorable mentions, were tasked with the figuring out who would take top honors. “Each year it gets better and better, hence why it becomes harder and harder [to pick a winner],” Anderson said, sitting inside the museum shop with a small group of journalists. 

Honorable mentions were given to two finalists. One went to Dominique Zinkpè’s The Watchers, a door-like assemblage made of small pieces of carved wood which, according to the Craft Prize’s catalog, “evoked the Yoruba traditional belief connected to twinship, which sees families create dolls after the death of a twin in infancy in order to ensure its soul is still cared for on earth.” Anderson added, “it’s this idea of the found object, of religion, and it’s something we’ve never had at the Craft Prize, and I think it opens up a different door into what craft and contemporary art can mean, as well as being something with an incredible sense of storytelling, which is something very central to craft.” 

Contrasting Zinkpè’s monumental assemblage, was Moe Watanabe’s open box made from Walnut bark. Sublime in its simplicity and in the way it mixed the natural world with a man-made intervention, it was held together by “staples” also made from the wood bark. 

Metanoia, a ceramic piece by Japan’s Eriko Inazaki took top honor at the 2023 Loewe Foundation Craft Prize.

“It’s something that I really believe in, this idea that craft can tell us something about ourselves,” Anderson said at tonight’s event, before introducing the New York writer and cultural icon Fran Lebowitz to announce the winner. She began, “I did ask [Jonathan] why this is called craft instead of art, because in my opinion the difference really is between useful and uselessness and most of these things are useless, which makes them art.” She continued: “Numerous times in my lifetime, there have been announcements—not by me—about the death of painting, the death of the novel, the death of this, and the death of that. None of these things are true, but the people who said them, they are dead, and that’s what it is.” 

Finally, she announced the winner, the Japanese ceramicist Eriko Inazaki, adding “the jury commented on her exceptional take on ornamentation in ceramics, such as that has never been seen before.” At the exhibition, Inazaki’s vessel defied immediate references, bringing to mind sea creatures, laser explosions, and snow, caught mid-fall. “What I love about that work is you have no idea what it’s made of,” said Anderson, who is an avid ceramics collector. “It has an incredible sense of anxiety, which I quite like; and at the same time there is a depth of field, which is very unusual. You feel that you could get lost in it.” 

Surprised by the announcement, Inazaki took the stage and gave a short speech delivered in Japanese with the help of a translator. “I’m not clear about naming my works, whether it’s art, craft, or something else,” she said. “The more you think you know, the more you stop, but I’ve been working all this time with the belief that what is good goes beyond the boundaries of categories. 

Loewe Creative Director Jonathan Anderson, Loewe Foundation Craft Prize Winner Eriko Inazaki, and Fran Lebowitz.

Seen here are Liam Lee’s Chair 11, 2022 made from felted merino wool poplar plywood; three pieces made from glass by Lene Bødker, Worthy, Walking Store, and Slice of Something Bigger; and Kristin McKirdy’s two untitled earthenware vessels, with glaze, and ‘terra sigillata’, a glazzing technique also known as ‘sealed earth’. 

Photo: N Kubota, Courtesy of Loewe

The Loewe Craft International Prize finalists will be on view at The Noguchi Museum from May 17th to June 18th.