Makers’ Mark: The 2014 MAD Biennial Opens its Doors to New York’s Top Creatives

On first blush the latest from New York City’s Museum of Arts and Design may seem better situated within the vernacular of food-and-craft fairs like Smorgasburg and the rest of Brooklyn’s export-ready culture. But “NYC Makers: The MAD Biennial” is a serious investigation into creativity and a referendum on the realm of contemporary art and design.

By focusing on the “full spectrum of creativity,” “NYC Makers” differentiates itself from a glut of other semi-annual and annual shows, both recent and established. And it meets people where they are: a populist fair (determined with a touch of autocracy*), the Biennial presents a cross section of creative culture in New York City. In the context of this widened lens, visitors might find on display a relatable portrayal of what it means to be a maker today.  

One hundred of these “makers”—artisans, artists, designers, dancers, fashion and furniture makers, architects, and others in between—demonstrate an incredible variety of creative expression. Most blend disciplines and production methods along the way, each privileges the decorative or the functional to different lengths, and some are better known than others. Boldly, the show’s organizers have chosen to present everything from candy to fine art without hierarchy. The risk here is that the established practitioners are brought down, debased even, while the others are buoyed. Or vice versa. Still, the experiential opportunities are promising.

Semantically, “maker” can conjure up the 21st-century tinkering, tech-focused do-it-yourselfer. Here instead, MAD is shedding light on a community of creatives who are—or long have been—at the very top of their craft, asserting that workmanship, skill, and ingenuity are thriving in New York City. Establishing the biennial conceit, MAD will look to other urban communities in future iterations.

The group of 100 NYC makers falls generally into three categories: 

1. Entrepreneurs or members representing the creative economy 2. Unsung tradespeople in dying specialties like verre eglomisé (back-gilded glass), stone carving, instrument repair, millinery, and osteology 3. More codified artists, designers, architects, performance artists, and fabricators The exhibition takes over the Museum completely. CONFETTISYSTEM has applied their luscious, swirling mylar and paper fringe to the lobby’s elevator bank and stairwell; Brooklyn-based Flavor Paper has created a custom scratch and sniff wallpaper working with artist Jesse Hlebo and “olfactory artist” Carlos Benaim; Jeff Zimmerman has lent his glass vessels suspended in unbelievable mid-collapse; Gaetano Pesce casts a portrait “of one who does not look;” and Misha Kahn shows playful, but cleverly-crafted and seemingly inflated everyday objects. Then there’s sculptural pigment artist Leslie Wayne, painterly tattoo artist Amanda Wachob, the set designers of The Metropolitan Opera’s “Die Fledermaus,” and Brooklyn’s Kings County Distillery among others.  Also, and delightfully, Boxart is included. For the first time, the trusted crate-making experts—with loyal customers like MAD itself, The Museum of Modern Art, and the Guggenheim—are on display in the galleries after the show opens, the registrars leave, and packing materials are put in storage. Boxart’s intuitive, sturdy, shipping crates are elegant, unfussy essays in protection. “NYC Makers: The MAD Biennial” integrates and democratizes the exquisite, the rare, the behind-the-scenes, and the sometimes jurassic expertise of people across the five boroughs. The show thusly establishes the Museum of Arts and Design under newly minted director Glenn Adamson’s leadership. Founded in 1956 as the Museum of Contemporary Crafts, and rebranded as the Museum of Arts and Design in 2002 in advance of its 2008 opening at 2 Columbus Circle, MAD is perhaps at home again in the world of craft. Education is a big part of MAD’s new era. The show is curated by Jake Yuzna—the museum’s Director of Public Programs—and inaugurates Adamson’s plan to make more integrated curatorial and educational ambitions. A robust calendar of some 80 public programs, including a performance by William and Steven Ladd and demonstrations by Martinez Hand Rolled Cigars and Blue Bottle Coffee, completely runs the gamut. Since its Columbus Circle opening MAD has had an Open Studios program that gives visitors a window directly into the process of making; during the Biennial, stone mason Chris Pellettieri will be in residence as he plies his dusty trade. Whether the MAD Biennial will simply demo this most inclusive definition of creativity or shape the future of creativity itself remains to be seen. Visit the exhibition website for a full list of public programs and activities related to the show.  “NYC Makers: The MAD Biennial” is on view at Museum of Arts and Design, New York, July 1st–Oct. 2nd, 2014Explore NYC Makers: The MAD Biennial on Artsy and follow along on Instagram and Twitter: #nycmakers #madbiennial #100makers #madmuseum *Nominations were solicited from over 300 “New York City-based cultural leaders and civic figures from a range of trades and disciplines, including museum curators, choreographers, academics, chefs, musicians, and journalists.” The final group of 100 was narrowed by a panel of ten judges chaired by Murray Moss.