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The Disraeli Room

The Disraeli Room

Blog Post

Craft, Luxury & Value

28th May 2015

As Head of Exhibitions and Collections for the Crafts Council, museum objects and public programmes are my business.

Exhibitions are a unique platform for public engagement with critical themes, profiling makers work, and creating an enjoyable, stimulating and learning experience.

The Crafts Council uses its programme to profile the work of makers, the way in which work is made, as well as the context in which work is made. This context can be wide and far reaching, or very specific and near. The themes can be ‘real’ or conceptual.

Featuring few objects or hundreds, exhibitions can exist in galleries, on the street, on online. A recent project is Acts of Making which presents the work of six makers as a two-week festival. Some works staged in the museum gallery, alongside others ‘performed’ on the street. Keith Harrison presents Tombstone, a series of stone topped benches to be used by skateboarders whose activity grinds and wears away the stone, changing and creating the form and surface, contributing to its making (all making falls into one of 3 categories: adding; taking away; shaping).

Our most recently opened exhibition was developed in partnership with the V&A. The third and final in a triennial series, What is Luxury? The exhibition has captured the public’s and media’s imagination. The relationship between craft and luxury is not new, but the nature of the relationship has been far from constant. Co-curator of the exhibition, (along with V&A curator, Jana Sholze), Leanne Wierzba recently explained ‘ luxury isn’t something new, it’s as old as civilisation, but … we argue this is a particularly prescient topic at the moment because it’s so much part of the vocabulary of our time’.

This idea of ‘of our time’ also applied to Power of Making – the second partnership in the series. Both exhibitions captured a zeitgeist moment and one rooted in craft practice and debate.

Seen by over 360,000 visitors, Power of Making was about making, skill, invention and human behaviour. It presented a wunderkammer of amazing, wonderful and intriguing objects and celebrated making as it is understood and practiced on many levels. The theme chimed with thinking of the time – democracy of making, and the accessibility of craft with its ability to inspire awe. The project included an open call for submissions of ninety second films to be uploaded to Vimeo. Forty of these were selected and screened in the gallery, inspiring and inviting participation.

What is Luxury? is also about making, skill, invention and human behaviour. However, its focus is on production in a particular constructed context and how this context – of luxury -has been, is being and may be constructed and understood.

A significant value of exhibitions lies in their ability to reach large and diverse audiences. The exhibition is free, and together with media coverage – both formal and social – and an accompanying programme of events, there are multiple opportunities to engage in the wider debate beyond the gallery.

What is Luxury? interrogates the fundamental ideas and understanding of luxury. And it goes further, proposing what luxury may come to mean and where it may be seen and in what form it may take in the future.

Prior to this show, the longstanding relationship between craft and luxury was the subject of Added Value?  which questioned the value of contemporary craft within the current landscape of branding and luxury. Through the example of six selected makers and works, the desire for authenticity, quality and craftsmanship was presented as redefining the understanding of luxury.

This exhibition did not speculate about the future, but sought to investigate differing perceptions of value and engage the visitor in a dialogue about the value, asking – is craft a new language for luxury?

These exhibitions are platforms to open up debate about ideas, definitions, concepts and contexts; to be reflective, contemporary and speculative about any subject. They are a journey through a selection of design and art projects, where the current and future relationships between value, luxury and materials are interrogated. Central to each phase of this journey is craft: as much as it asks ‘What is luxury?’ this exhibition poses the question ‘What is Craft?’ This is what exhibitions can do.

Within each exhibition project, we are committed to working with designers and makers to commission new exhibition furniture and graphics. Many of the designers we work with have found that the briefs we issue result in new ways of working, leading to new products or processes.

What is Luxury? and Added Value? both pose questions – and it is clear that the answer to both is craft.


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