Mata Ortiz is a dusty little desert town about thirty miles down the road from Casas Grandes, Mexico, a World Heritage archeological site known for its ceramic art from the twelfth thorugh fourteenth centuries. Forty years ago, a local farmer, Juan Quezada, began to reinvent that art, and now, thanks to the marketing expertise of an American anthropologist, the entire village has experienced an economic revival, as dozens of pottery studios produce work for collectors around the world. But is it “art” or only gift-shop collectibles? This is a real dilemma for an art-world that demands authenticity and yet sometimes, as with Japanese ceramics, one has to recognize that a tradition can have authentic, living practitioners. Juan Quezada would probably count as such since his work has the quirky intensity of the ancient Casas Grandes work shown at the Art Institute in 2006. But there’s a lot of financial pressure to make a more slick, decorative product suitable for suburban American homes, and there also has to be a lot of personal pressure to break away from ancient Pre-Columbian forms and express a more modern sensibility. The tiny Marae Gallery of contemporary folk art, hidden behind the dark, cavernous ethnographic displays at the Field Museum, is a perfect place to quietly decide how much of this ceramic work is really art and then, as you’re leaving, you can walk through the gift shop and buy some! (Chris Miller)
Through January 11 at the Field Museum, 1400 S. Lake Shore Drive.