The winner of one of the most important awards for craft was announced in New York on Tuesday evening (16 May). The Japanese ceramicist Eriko Inazaki was declared the winner of the sixth edition of the Loewe Foundation Craft Prize at a ceremony in the garden of the Noguchi Museum in Queens, walking away with €50,000 for her work, Metanoia (2019). Special mentions were given to Dominique Zinkpè from Benin for his wall sculpture, The Watchers (2022), and the Japanese artist Moe Watanabe for Transfer Surface (2022), a sculptural vase made from walnut bark – both were awarded €5,000.
To use a vulgar method of comparison, the total prize money awarded puts the value of the Loewe Foundation Craft Prize ahead of the Turner prize. In many ways this is a statement of intent from the Loewe Foundation. How else do you signify value – and so shift perceptions – if not by attaching money to something? For Loewe creative director Jonathan Anderson, ‘it was a marketing thing that was wrong with craft, it wasn’t marketed in the right way. The work was there but the platform was not.’ Now he sees a change: ‘I think younger people are starting to realise as much as it can be interesting to be a contemporary artist, it can also be interesting to be a rug maker or to make ceramics.’
Metanoia took more than a year to produce. Made up of minuscule components layered up and joined together to create a form that appears as though it might be made from the fibres of a living organism, it is a work of painstaking delicacy and technique that seems to defy possibility. Anderson is open about his bias towards ceramics – ‘I have a natural thing to go towards ceramics, which I have to pull myself back from’ – and says of Metanoia: ‘I think it’s a magical piece. You don’t really know what it’s made from until you inspect it. It has an incredible depth of field which I think is unusual, there’s this idea of perspective.’ But beyond the form and technique, ‘It has this incredible sense of anxiety about it, which I think makes it quite human, somehow.’
The Loewe Foundation Craft Prize was set up, in the words of Anderson, ‘to build a platform in order to promote craft on a global stage that would help bring a bit more of an eye to something that is maybe less supported than, say, contemporary art.’
The platform has clearly caught the attention of the craft world. Each year the increased volume of applications means that ‘[the list] is getting harder for us to edit,’ Anderson says. But the prize does not work in isolation. The Loewe Foundation has also worked with crafts councils, invested in education and craft fairs and supported the acquisition of works for institutions.
All this attention on craft has thrown up one surprising change in the applicants: they are getting younger. According to Anderson, ‘This is the big one.’ He goes on to say, ‘Weirdly, it’s happened since the pandemic.’ This is, of course, not a problem for the prize as it promises a bright future. But Anderson sees a more serious side to craft practices. ‘They tell you what is happening in the world today,’ he says. ‘Craft has been there for centuries and it is a form of visual language. If we cannot communicate through making it is a very difficult place to be in.’ No wonder it was the human aspect of Inazaki’s work that caught his imagination.
Works by all 30 finalists are on show at Isamu Noguchi’s Studio at the Noguchi Museum in New York until 18 June.