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.
As with the ancient pots, the artists selected by Rhona Hoffman from the international art fairs to which her gallery travels span the globe (Japan, Brazil, Italy, and America). Each reflects Hoffman’s provocative, postmodern taste, and yet they are wildly diverse. On the one hand, there’s American ceramicist Tom Sather who practices a Zen-like emptiness that’s almost Japanese, except that rather than barely achieving balance, it’s barely the reverse. On the other hand, there’s the Japanese ceramicist Takuro Kuwata, whose pieces seem infected with a high-tech, metallic opulence that blisters uncontrollably out of their surfaces. Then there’s the funky, athletic formlessness of New York sculptor Arlene Shechet, and the industrial banality of Italian Tristano di Robilant’s mysterious constructions. Finally, there are the comic sculptures of Brazilian artist Tiago Carneiro da Cunha, whose human-like, post-psychedelic figures seem to be happily decomposing after decades of excessive self-medication. So many ways to be dysfunctional! And yet, one might notice that in addition to being eye-catching, all of these pieces resemble the baked, glazed clay of which they’re made. No attempt was made to resemble paper, wood, plastic or human skin, as appeared in last year’s survey of contemporary ceramics at the Elmhurst Art Museum. And, unlike conceptual sculptors, these artists fabricate their own work. You can feel the intensity of hand-mind in every view. So, in some ways, the ancient ceramic traditions are still with us. (Chris Miller)
Through March 9 at Rhona Hoffman Gallery, 118 North Peoria