Makers and Modelers - Works in Ceramic

Guillaume Apollinaire, poet and defender of cubism and surrealism once said

"…it is not enough to see the work; it is by the amount of work which goes into it that one measures the value of a work of art."

His proclamation was stated in defense of the technique of using found images within collage by the likes of Picasso. Today that Cubist tactic seems an anachronism, while Apollinaire's point of view still rings true regardless of the media an artist wrestles with.

Today however the fixation on an artist's media still manages to draw attention or disdain depending upon your point of view. The most recent exhibition that fixates on media and materiality is "Makers and Modelers" works in ceramic at the Gladstone Gallery. According to the gallery press release "the works in the show emphasize process and question the relationships between objecthood and material. No longer just the vessels and other earthenware historically associated with the medium, the works in the exhibition play off or depart from established formal and technical precedents of ceramics."

If it were only so…

The exhibition includes thirty contemporary artists most of whom are known for their use of media other than clay. While the curatorial theme explores how each of these artists uses ceramic in their work, most examples in this show fall short of the stated goal of departing from established precedents in ceramics.

Some notable exceptions in this exhibition are Ken Price who is often doted on by critics and the Museum of Modern Art, which showed several of his facile blobby amorphous painted objects. While I am not a fan of Price's work, he is one of the few artists in this exhibition who actually has some mastery over the medium in question. Many of the art works included are more in-line with the mushy rather than modeled and exhibit more hesitation on the part of the creator. In particular Richard Hawkins clay figures appear amateurish at best, Manfred Pernice's mixed media work is a half hearted after thought and William O'Brien's "cinaedus table" is a colorful yet awful assemblage of bric-a-brac. I could go on like this but I won't, because there are plenty of high points among the fodder of my criticism.

Some of the more notable works include Rosemarie Trockel's mixed media "untitled" lounge chair, which abruptly confronts gallery visitors upon entering the exhibition. In the main gallery Anish Kapoor's clay mounds exploit the attributes of clay and glaze perhaps more flagrantly than any of the other works in the room, unfortunately the decision to place everything on a pedestal disrupts the visceral qualities inherent in Kapoor's work. Jonathan Meese's expressive totem forms offer a primitive figurative exploration that has some relation to the rough and ready qualities of a Donald Baechler painting. Andrew Lord's figurative dissections offer some intriguing examples of a discombobulated figuration and certainly owe a debt to Bruce Nauman. The quirky and quiet works by Paloma Varga Weisz, Klara Kristalova and Fischli & Weiss suggest unhinged clues to an incomprehensible narrative perhaps known only to the artists.

Unfortunately others whose facility and substantial bodies of work in ceramic, who are certainly worthy of some attention seem to hold little of it; at least in the New York art world. Sculptors such as Saint Clair Cemin or Barbara Nanning both of whose large-scale work manages to give an unexpected lightness to the ceramic forms that explode forth. Established ceramic artists such as Wouter Dam, Stephen De Staebler, Jun Kaneko and others, all break new ground and depart from precedents in this medium, seem to be passed over too often because of the peculiar prejudice toward artists exclusive to this medium. "Ceramics" long said with disdain by contemporary sculptors and critics alike; the fixation on the material and the unavoidable processes associated with clay, have presented a road block rather than an opportunity for many of the artists in this exhibition. In the end Apollinaire's pointed observation is still correct. The amount of work which goes into it, the time, thoughtfulness and discipline to explore the capacity and appropriateness of the ideas and materials at hand will more often than not elevate and clarify the vision of the artist and as a result provide some intrinsic value, some meaning, something new.

By Andrew Cornell Robinson, Artist
off site link Written for the Gay City News


Exhibition Information

Makers and Modelers
Works in Ceramic
September 8 - October 13, 2007

Gladstone Gallery
515 West 24th Street
New York, NY 10011 USA

off site link www.gladstonegallery.com


Makers and Modelers
Installation View
September 8 - October 13, 2007
Photo David Regen
Courtesy Gladstone Gallery, New York

Makers and Modelers
Installation View
September 8 - October 13, 2007
Photo David Regen
Courtesy Gladstone Gallery, New York


William O'Brien
cinaedus table, MDCCLXXV, 2007
Glazed ceramic, found objects, plaster, unfired clay, fabric, string and mixed media on table
84 x 30 x 65 inches
(213.4 x 76.2 x 165.1 cm)
Photo David Regen
Copyright William O'Brien
Courtesy Gladstone Gallery, New York


Ken Price
Zoma, 2005
Fired and painted clay
15 x 12 x 15 inches
(38.1 x 30.5 x 38.1 cm)
Photo David Regen
Copyright Ken Price
Courtesy Gladstone Gallery, New York