Cultured Magazine

Fall 2013

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MADCAP DESIGN The Museum of Arts and Design in New York; below, Glenn Adamson Glenn Adamson is poised to push New York's Museum of Arts and Design into an intellectual space that asks "What is craft?" BY JULIE BAUMGARDNER When Thomas P Campbell was appointed as director . of The Metropolitan Museum of Art—a mere textile curator at the time—shocks were felt throughout the institution's world. Would an intellectual, from a niche genre, be able to courageously lead a premier global museum? Turns out, Glenn Adamson is facing similar issues. When the announcement arrived in early September that the 41year-old Bostonian who's been living in London (as the head of research at the Victoria and Albert Museum) was to sit at the helm of the Museum of Arts and Design (MAD, its affectionate acronym), many wondered aloud what to make of the news. "Barry Schwabsky from The Nation put on Facebook, 'Can anyone this smart be a museum director these days?'" recalls Adamson, in a Britishinflected accent. "But it's not about me being smart, it's about me being an academic." While his first day of work is October 15, Adamson isn't quite ready to share his vision for the institution yet, but, he says, "My thing is—how is it made? Who made it? How difficult was it? What skills were involved?" MAD's own lineage is also in craft, although when it was the Museum of Contemporary Crafts from 1956 to 1986 (and then the American Craft Museum until 2002), the usage of the word fell more towards granny-knit quilts and pine-carved carpentry—an almost quaint precursor to Adamson's pursuit. "The message that craftsmanship is important to society still matters," explains Adamson, whose start in museums was actually at MAD as an intern 25 years ago. "MAD is definitely in a position to be the flagship museum for asking that question nationally and internationally by virtue of its size, location and history." Perhaps because, as he puts it, "I do know quite a bit about the place," a flurry of controversy erupted in 2011 when Adamson critiqued the institution for its cramped curatorial display and its name. But, he says now, "The name is both a good thing and a bad thing be- 46 CULTURED cause it implies breadth. The downside is that it can imply vagueness, where this idea of art, design and craft overlap with one another as categories." Still, he points out, "I'm not really interested in categories. I'm much more interested in craft as a driving force behind art and design. I want the museum to have that kind of exploratory role." Clearly the man's intellectual capacity is fecund, but this is America and we ourselves know, as much as the rest of the world does, our lens focuses on more mercurial pursuits. "In my role at the V&A, I raised thousands in grants and am very administrative already," he contends. "There's a much more sophisticated network of private funders in America who do have a great degree of strategic intelligence, so that I can position the museum as a thought-leadership institution. It's not that different than creating a good space for your store manager to achieve commercial success." While the realm of design is something that, perhaps, in such locales as the Netherlands or Japan seem to be pulling to the fore, Adamson notes, "The complexion of the conversation is different in every place, and it's funny because we always talk about this global conversation we're in, but it's actually very different in each place. My preference has always been to find people who are very sympathetic to what you're trying to do and collaborate with them." Naturally, he knows that he has big shoes to fill, but he chirps, "Being a museum director in America is a very public and ethical role. The show that's up now, 'Out of Hand,' I almost feel like it's a gift from my predecessor." Just how? "It's exactly the kind of show I would have wanted to do myself—the kind of post-disciplinary practice that I cherish." "I'm not interested in categories. I'm much more interested in craft as a driving force behind art and design."

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