After Memphis: Crafted Postmodern traces the legacy of radical design and Postmodernism in contemporary craft. Featuring six U.S. artists—Courtney Banh, Dee Clements, Jenny Mulder, Jessica Ninci, Christin Ripley, and Erin Lynn Smith—the exhibition takes the form of a showroom, featuring objects ranging from marbled-fabric furniture and neon lighting fixtures to basket-woven rugs and ceramic vessels.
Postmodernism arose in the late 1960s as a critical departure from the austerity and formalism of Modernist architecture and design. This period was uniquely defined by architects who worked in an interdisciplinary mode of object and houseware design. Collectives of radical designers and architects formed to develop an alternative visual language to Modernism’s strict minimalism, championing experimentation, ornamentation, conceptualism, irony, and design elements that did not serve structural function. In the 1980s, one of the most influential postmodern collectives was the Memphis Group, an Italian design and architecture group that designed furniture, fabrics, ceramics, glass, and metal objects.
Today, contemporary craft artists have harnessed Postmodernism’s critical design ideologies and are applying them in a new context, with an emphasis on the hand. After Memphis highlights the shift in design objects from those that incorporated industrial materials to those that are nimble, malleable to their materials and processes, and embody elements of improvisation and performance. For example, in her soft sculpture and upholstered furniture, Christin Ripley employs suminagashi, a Japanese water-marbling technique that creates an effect of sinuous stone, pebble, or terrazzo patterning. The organic lines of her soft sculptures defy associations with established furniture forms and bring to mind the anti-design ideologies of early radical design collectives like Archizoom. Erin Lynn Smith, on the other hand, builds sinuous, patterned ceramic bases that culminate in exposed incandescent bulbs and twisted neon forms. Her lighting fixtures, while thoroughly contemporary, embrace the postmodern architectural tenets of communication, sensuality, and ornamentation.
In her Basin series, Courtney Banh’s experimental, basket-woven rope sculptures and garments subvert the readiness of commercial objects by manipulating established forms through scale and presentation. Her abstracted garment caricatures restore novelty to the experience of interacting with objects. In this body of work, an oversized woven sandal becomes a vessel for bodies and play, reading almost as an area rug or centerpiece of a showroom. Alternatively, Dee Clements and Jessica Ninci interpret elements of postmodern architectural facades and all-over patterning through their respective mediums of weaving and ceramic. Clements’ wall hangings and furniture forms bring viewers into an abstracted, graphic architectural space with a vibrant postmodern palette, while the geometric elements and patterns in Jessica Ninci’s ceramic sculptures and vessels channel Memphis Group-designed laminate patterns and ceramic forms.
HCCC Curatorial Fellow Sarah Darro commented on her inspiration for the show, “Thirty-seven years after the Memphis Group’s 1981 showroom debuted at the Milan Design Fair, After Memphis: Crafted Postmodern seeks to investigate the legacy of architecturally inspired design and its renewed significance and expression in contemporary culture.”