Ceramic art ain’t what it used to be. On a small table near the gallery entrance, six historic pots huddle together to remind us of the past. Though made by ancient hands from all over the planet (Rwanda, Peru, Cambodia and North America, among others), they all share a certain dignity. Rooted to the shelf beneath them, each stands tall and proud, asserting a simple though necessary function, and as strong, content, healthy, reliable, honest and handsome as one might wish sons and daughters to be. But don’t those qualities lead to a dead-end, low-pay job in today’s world? Ambition, cleverness, innovation, rule-breaking and unique virtuosity are required for success in our civilization, and are well represented by the five contemporary artists chosen to fill the rest of the gallery. Read the rest of this entry »
More is more in contemporary American ceramics: more color, more shapes, more textures, more references, more audacity; subtle understatement and minimalism have been left to the Japanese and the modernists. Spanish-born Xavier Toubes fits right into this hyperactive art world—except that his work just does not feel American, despite having lived and worked here for two decades. And despite a palette of strong primary and metallic colors, and a slurpy sense of formlessness, he just hasn’t been able to abandon that traditional European elegance so successfully realized in the eighteenth century. Read the rest of this entry »
As this exhibition demonstrates, the non-traditional practice of ceramics in our age continues to spin centrifugally away from formal expression or a sense of clay’s unique plastic qualities. Instead, it’s all about ideas, the quick and clever kind like sound bites or thirty-second commercials, transforming the gallery into a kind of Halloween funhouse where the viewer can be expected to get one joke and then move on to another. And just like those seasonal displays, most of these pieces tend toward the dark and eerie, especially with the “family heirlooms” that Blake Jamison Williams has knit out of ceramic pieces shaped like human finger bones. Often there’s a lingering anxiety, characteristic of contemporary art, that something in the world has gone terribly wrong. That’s the feeling that accompanies the large head-like pots of Xavier Toubes that may function simultaneously as attractive home furnishings, science-fiction aliens, folk-art face-jugs, and tributes to the monster heads of Leon Golub. Read the rest of this entry »
Thirty-five years ago, Sister Johanna Becker, OSB, of Saint Benedict’s College arranged for a graduating senior, Richard Bresnahan, to apprentice with Takashi Nakazato, a thirteenth-generation potter in Karatsu, a Japanese port city near the coast of Korea, that has been known as a ceramic center since the sixteenth century. Three years later, Bresnahan returned to Collegeville, Minnesota and built the eighty-seven-foot long “Johanna kiln,” the largest wood-fired kiln in America. And so a revered Japanese tradition took root in the upper Midwest.
But, as Bresnahan notes, though his work may seem Japanese to Americans, the Japanese say, ‘Boy, Richard, you sure make American-style pottery.” That unavoidable American-ness is what is so fascinating about this exhibition of work by Bresnahan and four of his former students, as selected by Matthew Welch, curator of Japanese and Korean Art at the Minneapolis Institute. While rooted in traditional Japanese technique and aesthetic, these Americans are chomping at the bit to express a louder, looser, more extroverted culture. Read the rest of this entry »
When progressive young postwar Japanese artists followed their American colleagues into the brave new world of Abstract Expressionist painting, they were only expanding upon a tradition that had been putting expressive shapes, lines, colors and textures on the surfaces of pots for over a thousand years. The Gutai Group, founded in 1954, encouraged experimentation with materials and methods. As their manifesto declares, one member worked a large surface “in a single moment by firing a small, hand-made cannon filled with paint by means of an acetylene gas explosion.” The manifesto turns much more traditional when it declares, “We tried to combine human creative ability with the characteristics of the material in order to concretize the abstract space.” Despite their avant-garde mission of “creating a world that has never been,” the results, at least demonstrated by the two Gutai members in this exhibition, display the precise balance demanded by traditional Japanese aesthetics instead of exposing the self-destructive absurdity of the modern world. Read the rest of this entry »
Here Rebecca Warren exhibits two types of sculpture. Medium-sized steel planks with a corroded patina are propped in a vague Constructivist revival style, each adorned with a single pom-pom ball. The steel sculptures are, plainly, a one-line joke, parodies of historical Minimalism. Humor in art can be a great antidote to the junk of life, but these sculptures are jokes about art, as if invented during an art student’s drinking game.
The second type of sculpture presented here is a series of clay piles on pedestals. The formless piles are manhandled and sparsely painted with some colors. There are, unfortunately, about eight of these sculptures, each no different than another (although one clay sculpture, with female parts, is quite good, though not better than Hans Bellmer). Personally, I get a lot of pleasure from abject and “unmonumental” art, but these pieces of shit pack no punch. As pieces of shit go, they don’t stink at all. Read the rest of this entry »
If the Art Institute had an attic, it would look exactly like Gallery 227, a strange narrow hallway on the second floor that wraps around the brick dome of the Ryerson Library. Until last year, it held temporary exhibitions of architectural drawings and models. In the recent reinstallation of the museum’s permanent collection, architecture and design moved to the Modern Wing, and Gallery 227 now houses the American Folk Art collection—except that not all of it is American, and it’s only “folk” because it defines a period of American art before modern European styles dominated the scene.
For example, there are commercial ceramics from Stratfordshire and Mexico, which are only American in that Americans once collected them. There is a fine set of nested baskets made by a specialist on the New York Stock Exchange as “a release form Wall Street’s pressures.” There is also a perspective view of Roxbury, Massachusetts by John Penniman (1782-1841), a highly skilled former assistant to Gilbert Stuart. If these two are “folk artists,” then who isn’t? So, like an attic, this gallery is full of surprises, including some fine portraits by a local hero of the underground railroad, Sheldon Peck (1797-1868), a professional artist who lived in Lombard, Illinois. And, of course, there’s plenty of old furniture, though not every attic has a transcendent Shaker sewing desk like the one found here. There’s almost enough great wood carving to have a gallery of its own, including a crucifix by one of New Mexico’s famous Santeros, Jose Benito Ortega (1858-1941), and a newly acquired carving by Leslie Bolling (1898-1958), who was almost a star of the Harlem Renaissance. There are also some significant omissions. Where are the toys, dolls, rifles, tools, iron work, and silverware? Hopefully this gallery of surprising stuff will eventually go into permanent rotation. (Chris Miller)
On view at the Art Institute of Chicago, 111 S. Michigan. Digital catalogue of art on view in gallery 227: http://www.artic.edu/aic/collections/search/citi/gallery%3AGallery+227
“RimWare” is a handmade, four-piece porcelain dinnerware set with inlaid drawings of gay rimjobs. On a small appetizer plate, a man washes his behind in the shower. As the meal moves on to salad, soup and dinner courses, the scene gets progressively dirtier. Assholes receive lickings. Each piece of flatware has a decorative gold mesh pattern around its lip.
Thirty years after Judy Chicago’s “Dinner Party,” a gathering of thirty-nine vaginal-themed plates (on permanent display in the Brooklyn Museum of Art), over-sexed ceramics no longer seem that shocking—not that Dustin Yager’s “RimWare” needs to shock in order to be successful. Yager is after something different than sexual liberation, perhaps, even, critiquing its opposite. As gay sex practices shed their taboo associations, commemorative plates, such as the “RimWare” collection, codify the dream of domestic bliss. “Oh, what interesting china,” remarked the conservative senator’s wife in “The Birdcage,” from 1996; “it looks like young men playing leap frog.” Today, sodomy need not be reduced to ambiguous detail. As the gays love their home decorations, and home-decoration retailers know this all too well, the market for fashionable homoiserie grows with the force of a Viagra-laced boner. Read the rest of this entry »
For Dutch artist Jan van der Ploeg’s first exhibition with Shane Campbell Gallery, he brought his paintings to the United States in his luggage, reminding me of the “Suitcase Paintings” exhibition at the Loyola Museum of Art last year, which featured small-scale Abstract Expressionist work that was (or could be) likewise transported via luggage.
In both cases, attention to scale is very important. Van der Ploeg composes his hard-edge geometric abstractions so that even though they are physically small, they have a large presence due to the sense that their organization could extend beyond the edges of the canvas.
Going beyond the edges is something that van der Ploeg has in mind. In addition to the five paintings on view, van der Ploeg has also created a wall painting specifically for the gallery space. Including relations to specific architecture in his work by rhyming with forms like the gallery’s light tracks and vents, van der Ploeg says that the wall painting is similar to monumental paintings on canvas, and certainly both strive to command space. The wall paintings have linked this artist with graffiti, but he seems more at home in the gallery than the street.
Van der Ploeg describes his painting as being like a street sign rather than a “window,” a sentiment I have heard echoed by Chicago artists also working in hard edge geometric abstraction. It would seem that this reinvigoration of the genre is an international phenomenon. (Abraham Ritchie)
Through May 9 at Shane Campbell Gallery, 1431 W. Chicago.
Nicholas Freeman’s work momentarily transports viewers to ancient Greece, only to pull them back to the present, and keeps them lingering between the two. Freeman’s terracotta paintings, on pottery thrown by Lisa Harris and Jennifer Cooper, emulate ancient Greek vases and drinking cups painted in the Red-figure style. Ornate borders and familiar characters from Greek mythology decorate the pottery— Prometheus and Pandora appear back to back, bearing their respective offerings for mankind; satyrs frolic and play. But these are not exact replicas of the ancient world. On some pieces, contemporary figures mingle among mythological characters. Other pieces have unique twists. Clio, the muse of history, is seated with a scroll—upside down—as a flag would be hung in times of distress. Is our history under that much of a threat? Freeman thinks so. He makes correlations between Greek mythology and modern-day issues, and uses classical imagery to comment on current events. The centerpiece of the show is a large vase depicting the slaying of Argos, the hundred-eyed guard of Hera. Freeman likens Argos’ 100 watchful eyes to the hundred US Senate members, who approved the President’s declaration of war on Iraq. The association suggests they fell asleep on the job as well. The viewer may have difficulty extracting contemporary meaning from the work without the accompanying texts, but the show does provide food for thought. Any art-history buff will also enjoy this great tribute to the sixth-century painting innovation that had a profound influence on Greek pottery. (Patrice Connelly)
Nicholas Freeman shows at Finch Gallery, 2747 W. Armitage, (312)622-8921, by appointment, through December 15.