Learn About The Museum of Arts and Design (MAD)

Located in the heart of New York City, The Museum of Arts and Design, affectionately known as MAD, stands as a beacon of creativity and innovation. This unique institution has garnered acclaim for its dedication to exploring the dynamic intersection of art, craft, and design. MAD’s reputation as a space where these distinct worlds seamlessly blend together has made it a must-visit destination for enthusiasts, artists, and designers alike. With a mission to continually push the boundaries of creativity and offer a platform for both established and emerging talents, MAD has firmly established itself as a catalyst for artistic expression and a source of inspiration for all who pass through its doors. In this exploration, we delve into the essence of MAD, its vibrant exhibitions, educational initiatives, and its role as a creative nexus at the crossroads of art, craft, and design.

History of The Museum of Arts and Design

The Museum of Arts and Design (MAD) traces its origins back to 1956 when it opened as the “Museum of Contemporary Crafts.” This early incarnation aimed to celebrate the craftsmanship of contemporary American artists and was nurtured by the vision of philanthropist Aileen Osborn Webb. The museum’s initial focus revolved around exhibitions that highlighted the materials and techniques associated with various craft disciplines. From the outset, it played a significant role in promoting emerging artists and fostering connections between art and industry.

Under the leadership of Paul J. Smith between 1963 and 1987, MAD underwent a transformative period. Dynamic and interactive exhibitions curated during this time reflected the cultural currents of the era, challenging traditional hierarchies in the arts by embracing popular culture and everyday materials. In 1979, the institution reopened as the “American Craft Museum” and expanded its location. In 1986, it relocated once more to a more spacious facility at 40 West 53rd Street, which would serve as its home until 2008.

The subsequent decade witnessed significant growth and transformation as the American Craft Council underwent restructuring, leading to the establishment of both the museum and the council as independent entities. Holly Hotchner assumed the role of museum director in 1996, initiating a comprehensive strategic planning process. This process led to the museum’s name change in 2002, rebranding it as the “Museum of Arts and Design” to better reflect its increasingly interdisciplinary collections and programming.

MAD’s continued expansion in collections, public programs, and attendance resulted in the successful acquisition of the building at 2 Columbus Circle. However, this move sparked controversy due to proposed alterations to the original Edward Durell Stone-designed building, leading to a preservation debate involving notable figures.

The new building, completed in September 2008 and designed by Brad Cloepfil of Allied Works Architecture, features a textured façade that pays homage to MAD’s craft heritage and permanent collections.

Subsequent years brought a series of directorship changes, including several interim directors, resulting in an unusually high turnover rate. Dr. Glenn Adamson took on the role of the museum’s Nanette L. Laitman Director in September 2013, despite his prior criticism of the museum. Subsequent directors, including Jorge Daniel Veneciano, Chris Scoates, and Timothy R. Rodgers, each played a unique role in the museum’s evolving history, shaping its trajectory in the world of art, craft, and design.

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The Museum’s Mission

At its core, MAD’s mission is to explore, collect, and celebrate the ever-expanding realm where art, craft, and design converge. The museum serves as a platform for both established and emerging artists, designers, and craftspeople to showcase their work, engage in dialogues with the public, and contribute to the ongoing discourse surrounding these disciplines.

One of the defining characteristics of MAD is its commitment to blurring the lines that traditionally separate art from craft and design. The museum believes that these boundaries are fluid and that artistic expressions often transcend categorization. By focusing on the intersection of these disciplines, MAD encourages visitors to question preconceived notions about what constitutes art and how craftsmanship and design can elevate it.

A Dynamic Collection

The Museum of Art and Design boasts a diverse and dynamic collection that spans a wide range of media, including ceramics, textiles, jewelry, glass, and digital art. The museum’s collection reflects its dedication to showcasing innovative works that challenge convention and inspire new ways of thinking.

One notable aspect of MAD’s collection is its emphasis on contemporary craft. While traditional craftsmanship is honored, the museum actively acquires and exhibits works that incorporate modern technologies and materials. This commitment to contemporary craft demonstrates MAD’s forward-thinking approach to the arts and its recognition of the role of technology in shaping the future of craft and design.

Exhibitions

A visit to the Museum of Arts and Design is a journey into the world of artistic innovation. The museum regularly hosts exhibitions that explore various facets of art, craft, and design, inviting visitors to engage with thought-provoking works and ideas. Here are some of its notable exhibitions: 

“Counter-Couture: Handmade Fashion in an American Counterculture” which examined the fashion of the 1960s and 1970s counterculture movements. Through a curated collection of garments, jewelry, and accessories, the exhibition highlighted how craft and design played a pivotal role in expressing social and political messages during this era. By showcasing these unique pieces, MAD illuminated the connection between fashion, art, and cultural revolution.

“Shary Boyle: Outside The Palace of Me” is a contemporary art fun house, delving into the influences shaping our inner and outer identities, whether personal or shared. This immersive solo art display, featuring fresh creations from the Canadian visual artist, incorporates finely crafted ceramics, life-sized automatons, bidirectional mirrors, a coin-operated sculpture, and an engaging musical score. To bring her artistic vision to life, Boyle enlisted a group of collaborators, including a set designer, costume specialist, robotics engineer, amusement park innovator, and a nail artist skilled in acrylic techniques. Each piece within the exhibit is a tribute to the meticulous, passionate craftsmanship that went into its creation.”

“Taylor Swift: Storyteller” offers a comprehensive exploration of the artistic evolution of the 12-time GRAMMY Award-winning artist, who stands as one of the most prolific songwriters in the annals of music history. Notable highlights within this retrospective include the iconic cheerleader and ballerina outfits featured in the acclaimed music video for “Shake It Off” (2014). Additionally, visitors will find the striking red wedding dress and bellhop attire from the music video “I Bet You Think About Me (Taylor’s Version) (From The Vault),” a production that included Miles Teller and was directed by Blake Lively in 2021. The exhibition also showcases the dazzling ensemble worn in the music video “Bejeweled” (2022), directed by Taylor Swift herself.

Among the featured artifacts are concert garments crafted by renowned couture fashion houses, as well as an array of props, jewelry, ephemera, and video projections that provide a comprehensive view of her music videos. This exhibition serves as a tribute to Taylor Swift’s multifaceted career, offering an immersive experience that captures the essence of her artistic journey.

Craft Front & Center is an ongoing exhibition of the Museum’s continually evolving permanent collection, comprising over 3,500 items. This presentation showcases a recent arrangement of over 60 pieces, spanning from historic creations to recent acquisitions. These artifacts span a timeline from the heyday of the American Craft movement to contemporary times. The exhibition is thoughtfully organized around themes that include the transformation of materials, the deconstruction of hierarchies, moments of contemplation, explorations of identity, and considerations of sustainability. Through this thematic arrangement, the exhibition sheds light on how the expansive realm of craft has expanded the boundaries of what is traditionally defined as art.

MAD also frequently features solo exhibitions dedicated to individual artists and designers. These exhibitions provide a platform for artists to present their work in-depth, allowing visitors to gain a deeper understanding of their creative processes and the ideas that drive their practice.

Installations

The Museum of Arts and Design (MAD) is renowned for its captivating and ever-evolving installations that showcase the intersection of art, craft, and design. These installations are a testament to the institution’s commitment to pushing the boundaries of creativity and fostering a deeper understanding of contemporary artistic expressions. Here are some notable installations that have graced the halls of MAD:

Selva Aparicio, 2023 Burke Prize Winner

Selva Aparicio is the distinguished recipient of the prestigious 2023 Burke Prize. This award recognizes and celebrates exceptional talent and innovation within the field of contemporary craft. Aparicio’s outstanding contributions to the world of craft and design have earned them this esteemed honor. The Burke Prize serves as a testament to Aparicio’s creativity, skill, and dedication, solidifying their position as a notable figure in the world of contemporary craft. This recognition highlights their significant impact on the field and their potential to continue pushing the boundaries of artistic expression in the years to come.

Seeing is Believing by Judith Schaechter

“Seeing is Believing: The Artistry of Judith Schaechter” is an exhibition that celebrates the remarkable work of Judith Schaechter, an accomplished artist known for her unique and intricate stained glass creations. The exhibition offers a captivating journey into Schaechter’s world of artistry, showcasing her mastery of the medium and her ability to create mesmerizing, otherworldly compositions using stained glass as her canvas.

Schaechter’s stained glass works are renowned for their intricate details, vivid colors, and thought-provoking narratives. “Seeing is Believing” provides an opportunity for visitors to witness the painstaking craftsmanship that goes into each of her pieces, highlighting the meticulous cutting, shaping, and assembling of glass elements to form her stunning compositions.

Dwelling by Charles Simonds

“Dwelling: The Artistry of Charles Simonds” is an exploration of the creative world of Charles Simonds, an acclaimed artist known for his unique and evocative miniature architectural sculptures. This exhibition offers visitors a glimpse into Simonds’ distinctive approach to art, where he meticulously crafts miniature dwellings and environments that blur the lines between reality and imagination.

Simonds’ miniature architectural sculptures, often reminiscent of ancient and primitive civilizations, are a testament to his craftsmanship and attention to detail. “Dwelling” invites viewers to immerse themselves in these tiny, intricately constructed worlds, where every nook and cranny tells a story and evokes a sense of wonder.

Dandelion Cluster #3 by Patrick Jacobs

“Dandelion Cluster #3” is a captivating art installation created by the talented artist Patrick Jacobs. Known for his unique approach to art, Jacobs is celebrated for his miniature, three-dimensional dioramas that transport viewers into meticulously crafted, immersive microcosms of nature.

In “Dandelion Cluster #3,” Jacobs invites viewers to peer into a tiny, self-contained world where the delicate and ephemeral beauty of dandelions is brought to life in astonishing detail. Using a combination of sculpted elements, intricate lighting techniques, and a sense of optical illusion, Jacobs creates a sense of wonder and enchantment within this diminutive scene.

Goblets from the Permanent Collection

“Goblets from the Permanent Collection: A Toast to Artistry” is an exhibition that showcases a curated selection of goblets from the museum’s extensive permanent collection. This exhibition offers visitors a unique opportunity to explore the artistry and craftsmanship behind these iconic vessels, which have been used for centuries to celebrate special occasions and raise a toast to life’s moments of significance.

The goblets featured in this exhibition are a testament to the skill and creativity of artists and artisans throughout history. Each goblet tells a story through its design, materials, and unique features. From ornate and decorative pieces to minimalist and modern designs, visitors can appreciate the diverse styles and cultural influences that have shaped the world of goblet-making.

Education and Engagement

In addition to its exhibitions, MAD offers a robust array of educational programs and resources for visitors of all ages. These programs are designed to foster creativity, critical thinking, and a deeper appreciation for the intersection of art, craft, and design.

The museum hosts workshops, lectures, and hands-on activities that allow participants to explore various artistic techniques and materials. These experiences empower individuals to connect with their own creativity and gain a greater understanding of the processes behind the works on display.

For students and scholars, MAD provides research opportunities through its Center for the Study of Jewelry and Related Arts and the Burke Prize, an annual award that recognizes innovative artists working in craft disciplines. These initiatives support the growth and development of emerging talent and contribute to the ongoing discourse in the field of craft and design.

MAD as a Catalyst for Dialogue

Beyond its role as a repository of creative expression, The Museum of Arts and Design serves as a catalyst for dialogues surrounding contemporary art, craft, and design. The museum frequently hosts symposia, panel discussions, and lectures featuring prominent artists, designers, and scholars.

These events encourage meaningful conversations about the role of craft in a digital age, the relationship between form and function in design, and the ways in which art can reflect and shape our society. By fostering such discussions, MAD contributes to a deeper understanding of the cultural, social, and political implications of artistic expression.

The Future of MAD

As The Museum of Arts and Design continues to evolve, it remains at the forefront of exploring the intersection of art, craft, and design. The museum’s commitment to showcasing innovative works and challenging traditional notions of creativity ensures that it will remain a vital institution in the ever-changing landscape of the arts.

MAD’s dedication to embracing new technologies, materials, and ideas positions it to be a driving force in shaping the future of these disciplines. As we move further into the 21st century, the museum’s role in inspiring creativity, fostering dialogue, and celebrating the convergence of art, craft, and design will undoubtedly continue to be a source of inspiration for artists and enthusiasts alike.

Conclusion

The Museum of Arts and Design, or MAD, stands as a testament to the enduring power of artistic innovation and creativity. From its humble beginnings as the Museum of Contemporary Crafts to its current status as a hub for the exploration of art, craft, and design, MAD has consistently pushed the boundaries of what these disciplines can encompass.

Through its diverse collection, engaging exhibitions, educational programs, and commitment to fostering dialogue, MAD has become a vital institution in the world of contemporary art and design. Its dedication to blurring the lines between art, craft, and design reflects a forward-thinking approach that embraces the intersection of these disciplines.

As we look to the future, The Museum of Arts and Design remains a beacon of creativity and a source of inspiration for all who seek to explore the limitless possibilities of artistic expression in the 21st century. In a world where the boundaries between art, craft, and design continue to evolve, MAD stands ready to lead the way in shaping the intersection of these disciplines and inspiring the next generation of artists and innovators.

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