Alex Bradley Cohen and Marissa Neuman. “Living to Work Together,” installation view at Roman Susan
“Please take off your shoes” welcomes viewers as they enter Roman Susan to seek refuge from the barren cold. Playfully enhanced with black painted bubble letters and animated stick-like legs, the five words sprawl across the front wall of the gallery. Their placement is not only a polite request for compliance, but also an invitation to actively participate. Take off your shoes, as to not ruin the floor. Take off your shoes, so your feet may stand where ours have.
In Alex Bradley Cohen and Marissa Neurman’s collaborative room-sized installation piece, “Living to Work Together,” a mixture of primary colors and bold shapes have been stitched, painted, stapled and strung across all facades of the space, beginning with the floor. The carpeting has been transformed into a type of jigsaw puzzle composed of large triangular pieces of felt that have been first fitted and then visibly sewn together. The sharp shapes further reinforce the abnormal, angular floor plan of the gallery, as do a series of patterned ceramic pieces that politely form a line on a shelf that stretches diagonally in front of the gallery’s storefront window. In the window hang three large-scale felt tapestries that lack the calculated, flat appearance of the floor; instead their odd shapes and snippets of varying colors layer atop each other like unmixed paint on a canvas. Read the rest of this entry »
Shio Kusaka. Installation of ceramic pots currently on view at Shane Campbell Gallery.
Japanese-born, American-trained ceramicist Shio Kusaka appears to be standing in both worlds. Formally, she’s one-hundred percent Japanese, making the cups and bowls of conventional Japanese pottery with a simple, gentle, flowing, balanced, slightly off-kilter, understated sense of design and craftsmanship. Every detail is rewarding—from the firm footing, through the delicate thin walls, up to the inviting, sharply drawn orifice. But conceptually, she’s a contemporary American artist, hunting for that mysterious, ever-alluring boundary between tiresome banality and unique revelation. Read the rest of this entry »
Josef Strau. “Raft,” 2014
The application referenced in the title of Josef Strau’s first museum exhibition in the United States, “The New World Application for Turtle Island,” is a fantastical art-and-text alternative to the formal procedures for a green card, and Turtle Island is a name given to the North American continent by its indigenous peoples. The Renaissance Society is filled with the Austrian-born nomad’s sensitively indulgent bricolage of Americana used to deconstruct histories of European invasion and colonization alongside his more personal accounts of exploring the United States and Mexico. Strau poses uneasy questions about the ethics and aesthetics that accompany cultural trade, not least of all his globetrotting presence as an after-effect of prior violent usurpations of place. His knowingly disjointed installation grapples with the conditions of being an outsider—and perhaps more confounding, an insider—in these places he holds dear. Read the rest of this entry »
Eliza Myrie. “diamond, diamond, graphite,” graphite and paper, dimensions variable
In “go/figure,” Eliza Myrie and Daniel Giles converse over problems with abstraction, distortion and obfuscation of black bodies’ representations. Their respective historical research and process-based practices make manifest obscured features in histories of African mining and the craft objects of black slaves in the American South. Read the rest of this entry »
Paul Hopkin. Makgeolli Cups, 2014
In the inaugural exhibition of Loo, Slow’s gallery within a bathroom, Paul Hopkin has his walls turned on his own work. Recently asked by a stranger to rent out Slow’s exhibition space in Pilsen, Hopkin was inspired to calculate how much of his building (in which he also lives) was dedicated to art space. Hopkin’s calculations led to a measurement of cost per square foot, and the silent partner of Slow, Jeffrey Grauel, immediately asked to lease the bathroom for one year—the decided lease at $19.42 a month. Because this is not technically Hopkin’s space, Grauel invited him to display his work for the first exhibition, highlighting the irony of Loo being a competitive gallery held within Slow’s walls, a space where the partners’ roles have been reversed.
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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 »
Michael Fujita, “iBlock”
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 »
Anne Meyer, “Tiger”
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 »