Update to MAD Article

Lowery Sims, Crazy as in MAD

She's Organizing Two Major Exhibitions That Will Open in Fall 2014


 Joyce J. Scott, Buddha (Fire & Water), 2013,  hand-blown Murano glass processes with beads, wire, thread. Courtesy of Goya Contemporary. Photo: Michael KorytaUpdate: After the article below was posted in July 2014, MAD provided press images for the show and we were pleased to note that Joyce J. Scott is continuing her Buddha series.

Joyce J. Scott, Bib Neckpiece, 2009, woven glass beads. Courtesy of Mobilia Gallery, Cambridge, MAWhen IRAAA first reported on the series in 1996, Joyce Scott described her beaded sculpture, Buddha Supports Shiva Awakening the Races, 1992, which was reproduced in the issue (v. 13, no. 2):  "The Buddha is contemplative, knowing. Shiva is much more active. In his hands he holds an egg impregnated by a sperm. This combination represents the fouth ethnic destinations: Europe, Asia, Africa and the Americas."   

In addition to multiple, glass Buddhas and numerous beaded figures, Maryland to Murano consists of the artist's fantastical neckpieces.


Lowery Sims. Photo: MAD"I’m a bit crazy," curator Lowery Sims recently told a colleague. But "crazy" in this instance means "good crazy" — busy crazy, mad crazy or crazy mad as in MAD, the acronym for the Museum of Art and Design in New York.  Sims was referring to her over-flowing agenda as she makes final preparations for two, major exhibitions opening this fall at MAD: Maryland to Murano: Neckpieces and Sculptures by Joyce J. Scott, September 30, 2014 to March 22, 2015, and New Territories: Laboratories for Design, Craft and Art in Latin AmericaNovember 4, 2014 to February 22, 2015.

In 2008, shortly after she’d joined the staff of this museum connecting art, design and craft making, Sims was interviewed about her devotion to craft art for an IRAAA article:  “MAD allows me to get into my inner craft person!" she said. "I’ve always had an interest in form and material throughout my career.” (“Lowery S. Sims Following her Bliss,” by John Welch, IRAAA, 2008, vol. 22, no. 3).     

Sims’ longest professional relationship is with Leslie King-Hammond, who is a craft artist, as well as an art historian. King-Hammond and Sims met as girl scouts in St. Albans, Queens.  They encouraged and influenced one another in college and graduate school and have continued their associationGlobal Africa Project: Alex Locadia, The Batman Chair, 1989, leather, steel, wood, paint, laminated tin pin. Museum of Arts and Design; gift of Jenette Kahn, 1992. Photo: Ed Watkin
as friends and professional colleagues over four decades. Their mutual love of craft culminated at MAD in the massive and unprecedented, Global Africa Project exhibition which they co-organized.  

Global Africa Project: Victor Ekpuk, All Fingers Are Not Equal, 2008. Pigment print and acrylic ink on paper. Courtesy of the artistExploring the impact of African visual culture on contemporary art, craft, and design around the world, the Global Africa Project (November 17, 2010 - May 15, 2011 at MAD and traveling 2011-2013) featured the work of more than 100 artists and designers in Africa, Europe, Asia, the United States, and the Caribbean who work in  furniture, architecture, textiles, fashion, jewelry, ceramics and basketry. Selective examples of photography, the painting, sculpture, and installation work were also included.  The exhibition was awarded Best Architecture and Design Show by the United States branch of the International Association of Art Critics in March 2011.

Lowery Sims came to MAD from The Studio Museum in Harlem where, from 2000 to 2007, she was executive director and then president and adjunct curator for the permanent collection. 

With Sims at the helm and Thelma Golden scouting talent, the Studio Museum became the preeminent showcase for contemporary African American art and a direct pipeline for emerging artists into the mainstream. As a scholar and writer, Sims also advanced the museum's reputation for art historical research and documentation. The Challenge of the Modern: African-American artists 1925-1945 exhibition that she curated for the SMH, with an accompanying book, demonstrated how African American artists anticipated, reflected and influenced trends of modernism in the art world at large.  The administrative demands of directing this leading African American art museum, however, generally took precedence over her scholarly and curatorial work.

“I love the experience of being a museum director and the perspective it brings it to my work in museums,” she told us in 2008. “But I feel that my heart and best skills are as curator.” 

The Museum of Arts and Design building designed by Allied Works Architecture symbolizes a MAD sensibility and style. Photo: Helene BinetLowery Sims is now chief curator at MAD. Her work there, like her work at the Metropolitan Museum (1972-1999, where she was the first African American curator) allows her to extensively survey the broad international art scene without losing connection with her core interests in African American, African Diasporic, Latino, Native and Asian American art. 

Sims' exceptional, early-career experience included helping to organize Met exhibitions such Ellsworth Kelly, and Henry Moore: 60 Years of His Art, and curating major shows such as Stuart Davis, American Painter for which she also was principal author of the catalogue.

Drawing from a wealth of professional experience, Sims handily earned a Ph.D. in art history at the Graduate School of the City University of New York.  Her dissertation on Afro-Chinese-Cuban artist Wifredo Lam Afro-Chinese-Cuban artist, completed in 1995, was adapted for a book published by the University of Texas Press in 2002 

The connection between Lowery Sims’ broad curatorial interests at MAD varies.  Some MAD exhibitions that she curates or co-curates bear no direct relation to African Diasporic makers.  For others, like Against the Grain: Wood in Contemporary Art, Craft and Design (2013), the inclusion of African American makers was inevitable because they (in this case, Martin Puryear, William Pope.L, Martin Puryear, Marc Andre Robinson, and Betye Saar) are working at a high level of craftsmanship or performance with wood. 

La Ciudad Frondosa, 2011-2012, Chiachio & Giannone, hand embroidery; cotton, rayon, wool. Argentina. Museum purchase with funds provided by Nanette L. Laitman, 2014Sims' New Territories: Laboratories for Design, Craft and Art in Latin America exhibition is a continuation of the broad survey series that began with the Global Africa Project.Pine offcuts, bottle bulbs, LED light, brass fittings, fabric cable. UK. Courtesy of Coletivo Amor de Madre. Photo by Studio Swine

 “New territories” is Italian architect and designer Gaetano Pesce’s term for the state of making in today’s globalized society  that has helped to spur a confluence of art, design and craft.  Examining this trend in several Latin America cities, the exhibition will include the collaborations between small manufacturing operations and craftspersons, artists, and designers and will demonstrates how these works address not only the issues of commodification and production, but also of urbanization, displacement and sustainability. 

The exhibition will be accompanied by a fully-illustrated, full color catalogue that will be published in English and Spanish editions.Rodrigo Almeida, Servant Lamp, from Slaves Series, 2013 , steel, wood and plastic, courtesy of the artist, Brazil. Photo: Studio Rodrigo Almeida 

Maryland to Murano: Neckpieces and Sculptures by Joyce J. Scott in a way reflects Lowery Sims’ association with Leslie King-Hammond. Sims is organizing the Joyce Scott show with MAD curatorial assistant Sophia Merkin but King-Hammond is involved in spirit, having shared a long-time, fellow craft artist friendship with Scott in Baltimore where they (King-Hammond and Scott) live and cooperatively work. 

Because creating intricate sculptures and wearable art out of thousands of tiny beads requires infinite, meditative patience and extraordinary dexterity, it’s easy to imagine Joyce Scott as a kind of nimble, laughing Buddha. Those qualities are evident in her impersonation and affirmation of an elder, white Texas woman who wears one of her “Nigger necklaces” during this excerpt from an interview that was broadcast on the PBS Craft in America program.

Joyce Scott, Water Mammy I, 2012, ?glass beads; all bead work (Peyote Stitch) created by artist), blown glass, thread, wire, ?35 1/16 x 6 1/2 x 10 1/16In such ways, in Joyce Scott’s adornments becomes vehicles for social commentary. Maryland to Murano:Neckpieces and Sculptures by Joyce J. Scott will highlight the personal and political narratives embedded in Scott’s work, that address such complex themes as poverty, rape, love, sex, racial stereotypes and social disturbances, as well as tales from American and African history.  “Murano” refers to Scott's 2011-2012 residency at the Berengo Glass Studio in Murano, Italy, where she created large bead glass sculptures including the Water Mammy piece shown here.

As she works MADly this summer to wrap her Fall shows, we hope that, like Water Mammy 1 who appears to be resting astride her icy cool counterpart, Lowery Sims will take some time to relax with her chill alternative self or atop a waterfall.