Dame Helen Mirren has had a couple of crying episodes lately. In March, she made Stephen Colbert cry while he read poetry on his show. Then, earlier today, Mirren made herself cry. Because of craft.
During the award ceremony of the third annual Loewe Craft Prize, presented this year at the London Design Museum, Mirren—after a brief introduction by Loewe creative director Jonathan Anderson—wept during emotional remarks as she announced the 2018 winner, the Scottish ceramist Jennifer Lee. Mirren described seeing the prize’s exhibition on the museum’s top floor as an “incredible experience,” before joking, “I’m sorry to be emotional about it, but I’m an actress!” She continued, “It’s deeply and profoundly moving. It’s beautiful, of course. It’s exciting. It’s transformative. It’s inspiring.” There was a palpable sense in the room about the power of craft, and Mirren’s speech made it all the more palpable. The tears weren’t fake. Mirren really was in awe of what she described as the show’s “extraordinary manifestations of human abilities.”
Walking around the gallery this morning, I was in awe, too. For the foundation of an LVMH-owned fashion label to be so engaged in craft, with such integrity, is rather flabbergasting. Nothing fashion-related (other than the Loewe connection) is a part of this effort. Loewe, of course, isn’t the only luxury house with such a foundation or prize—Prada, Max Mara, and Louis Vuitton all have similar organizations—but none, in my mind, come close to having this kind of quality or focus. It wasn’t entirely surprising for me to learn that, 30 years ago, the Loewe Foundation launched an international poetry prize for unpublished work in Spanish. The Craft Prize, only a few years old, stems from this sensibility—the works on display are indeed built poetry. (The Loewe Foundation also supports dance, photography, and art projects.)
Chosen by an illustrious jury including Anderson, London Design Museum director Deyan Sudjic, architect Benedetta Tagliabue, and designer Patricia Urquiola, this year’s 30 finalists, as with those of the previous two years, ranged widely in age, nationality, and medium. The winning work of Lee (born in 1956) was “Pale, Shadowed Speckled Traces, Fading Ellipse, Bronze Specks, Tilted Shelf” (2017), a hand-coiled vessel that seeks to capture “a sense of frozen time.” (She will receive a 50,000 euro cash prize as part of the honor.) The two runner-up special mentions were the Japanese potter Takuro Kuwata (born 1981), who creates experimental, high-contrast vessels (I first came across his work last year in a small gallery in Kyoto), and the self-taught French textile sculptor Simone Pheulpin (born 1941), whose “Croissance XL” (2017), made with cotton and pins, immediately captured my attention despite its remote location in the gallery’s far corner.
Here, a selection of several of the standout works on display (the truth is, they were all standouts). The exhibition will be on view through June 17.
Christopher Kurtz’s “Singularity” (2012).
Simone Pheulpin’s “Croissance XL” (2017), one of this year’s two special mentions.