The Unknown Artist stages a dialogue around obsolescence, the value of making, and its entanglement with artistic authorship and visibility. The exhibition presents contemporary artworks that reflect on the act of making, the role of identity in artistic validation, and the future ecology of artistic practices, alongside works from Portland’s now-closed Museum of Contemporary Craft, whose makers’ identities have been lost or never recorded. The museum’s absence reflects the current vulnerability of art and cultural institutions at large. The exhibited objects by unknown makers also remind us of the fragile status of artworks, whose avoidance of slipping into being “mere things” is dependent on economies of looking, on uneven systems of cultural exchange, and on the transactional value of individual identities. The exhibition title draws on Soetsu Yanagi’s pioneering book The Unknown Craftsman, which proposed the value of unknown makers in 1920s Japan when craft was becoming obsolete. The subsequent mingei folk art movement repositioned craftspeople, closely aligning them with artists. The Unknown Artist highlights the always-shifting positions of the maker, the craftsperson, and the artist and seeks to reflect on how their interrelationships might be reimagined for their future sustainability.
Lucy Cotter, PhD is an independent writer, curator, and artist, currently based in Portland, Oregon. She was curator of the Dutch Pavilion, 57th Venice Biennale (2017) and is author of Reclaiming Artistic Research (2019). www.lucycotter.org