The companion volume to a recent exhibition at The New Museum in New York City, A Labor of Love chronicles the debates surrounding the production of arts and crafts over the last century. Discussing hierarchical categorizations of high and low, fine and folk, art and craft, insider and outsider, curator Marcia Tucker investigates the family tree of criticism (and politics) that led up to, and grew out of, Clement Greenberg’s infamous polarization of avant-garde and kitsch.
The Arts and Crafts movement of the late nineteenth century had a socialist agenda, according to Tucker, paralleled by her own tract. Her polemic, a self-critical look into the roles of art history and museum practice in hegemonic relations, rages against the moral reform of the right and politicians’ waning support of the arts. Naming names throughout, she highlights the specificity of our historical moment and yet ultimately demonstrates the ties that bind this fin de siecle with the last.
Tucker notes that searches for national identity and cultural authenticity, both dubious projects in which critics and historians are implicated, were as prevalent a hundred years ago as they are today. She made a statement against this trend in A Labor of Love, which included works by people from many different backgrounds, with no focus within the gallery space on their personal identities. Tucker chose instead to examine the human drive to create, contextualizing the pieces within a home-like setting. She intentionally worked outside any specific art or crafts canon, thus stressing the point of her curatorial process: there are no right answers here, only possibilities.
A Labor of Love attests to the will of people inside and outside art institutions for whom creative spirit and the production of material culture are inextricably tied to their survival; they are those for whom art and everyday life are inseparable. A. W.