Ceramic is the new video! Not long ago it was ostracized, or worse, condescended to, but just as artists feel obliged to have a video component in all their exhibitions, they now want ceramics. This new popularity is probably for the same reason as the popularity of video – a reaction against highly commercial and impersonally produced art. And adding to the credibility of ceramics as an art medium is the great number of well-known artists who use ceramics occasionally in their practice (e.g. Rosemarie Trockel, Anish Kapoor, Mary Heilmann, Lynda Benglis, Jeff Koons, and Josh Smith, to name but a few).
A good side effect of all this is that artists who use ceramics as their primary medium are getting the attention and respect they have long deserved.
|Installation view, Ken Price Sculpture : A Retrospective, September 16, 2012 - January 6, 2013, Los Angeles County Museum of Art (© Ken Price © Fredrik Nilsen).|
Price's contemporaries Peter Voulkos and John Mason were more important than he was in the evolution of ceramics, but, although Mason has some work in the Whitney Biennial, they are still relatively ignored. (I'll soon be writing about Voulkos, Mason and other 1950s California ceramicists.) Perhaps Price's interest in color and refined finishes separated him from the others and made him fit better with the now re-discovered Los Angeles "Cool School." In any case, Price is a great sculptor and certainly deserves the acclaim he is getting.
|Left: Peter Voulkos building a sculpture, Los Angeles, 1959 (photographer unknown). Right: John Mason compacting clay on his easel for a large ceramic relief, c.1959-60 (photo Robert Bucknam).|
|Installation View, Ken Price Specimen Rocks (Matthew Marks Gallery, 526 W 22nd Street).|
|Installation view, Paul Clay, Salon 94 Bowery, June 23, 2011–August 12, 2011.|
|Ken Price, Snail Cup, 1968, glazed ceramic, 3 ½ inches high (private collection).|
|Ken Price, Chinese Block, 1984, fired and painted clay, 4 1/2 x 5 1/4 x 4 1/2 inches (Matthew Marks Gallery, NY).|
|Ken Price, Siam, 1983, fired and painted clay, 3 x 3 3/4 x 3 3/4 inches (Matthew Marks Gallery).|
|Installation view of Ken Price's large sculptures, 2011-12, polyurethane paint over bronze composite (Matthew Marks Gallery, 522 W 22nd Street).|
Price's large sculptures began as small ceramic models that he had greatly enlarged. I often wonder how sculptors know what something looks like on one side while working on another. Experience and talent is the answer, of course, but with small ceramic sculptures/models, it would have been easy for Price to turn them around and take in a lot at once.
The sculptures were cast in a bronze/fiberglass composite that allowed him to work the surface the same way he worked fired clay, applying many layers of multicolored metallic and iridescent paints which he sanded, scraped and repainted until he got the ephemeral changing color and lustrous smooth surfaces he wanted.
The sensual and erotic curving forms of these large sculptures go back to his "Eggs" of the 1960s, but this work is more in-the-round; they change, sometimes surprisingly, as you walk around them. And the guy certainly could draw – you can really feel the volumes expand and sense the energy under the "flesh" of the surface.
You really need to see Robins's work in person to truly fall in love with it. You need to see them close up to experience the texture, the physicality of the surface, the illusionistic space and color, and all the delightful little details.
|Joyce Robins, Topographic Rectangle #3, 2014, clay, glaze and paint, 10.5 x 11.5 inches (THEODORE:Art in Bushwick).|
|Joyce Robins, Pale Intersections, 2014, clay, glaze and paint, 14 x 17 inches (THEODORE:Art in Bushwick).|
|Joyce Robins, Pale Color Circle, 2014, clay, glaze and paint, 8 inches diameter (THEODORE:Art in Bushwick).|
|Detail, close-up from the side, Joyce Robins, Topographic Rectangle #3, 2014,|
|Joyce Robins, Rectangle Color Circles, 2014, clay, glaze and paint, 11 x 8.5 inches (THEODORE:Art in Bushwick).|
Los Angeles wunderkind Sterling Ruby's ceramics is in the tradition of Voulkos and Mason: big, bold, raw and aggressive. He has three large ceramic sculptures in the Whitney Biennial (until May 25th).
|Installation view, Sterling Ruby, three ceramic sculptures at the 2014 Whitney Biennial.|
|Installation view, Sterling Ruby, KILN WORKS (Metro Pictures Gallery, February 21 - March 29, 2008).|
continues to be a big influence on his oeuvre, as can be seen in his spectacular show at Hauser & Wirth's enormous space on18th Street in Chelsea (until July 25th).
|Panoramic installation view, Sterling Ruby, SUNRISE SUNSET (Hauser & Wirth until July 25th). Click to enlarge.|
Similar to the way Voulkos broke up his pots and reassembled them into large sculptures, Ruby repeatedly breaks up and recycles old work, firing and re-firing them multiple times. He describes what he does in the gallery press release:
I am smashing all of my previous attempts, and futile, contemporary gestures, and placing them into a mortar, and grinding them down with a blunt pestle. I am doing this as a way of releasing certain guilt. If I put all of these remnants into a basin, and it gets taken away from me, then I am no longer responsible for all my misdirected efforts. I will no longer have to be burdened with the heaviness of this realization.So Ruby, to use an old Yiddish expression, makes "gelt from dreck" for the very original purpose of concealing malpractice. But whatever, there's a lot of creative energy in Ruby's work – it's powerful stuff.
Here are links to some other contemporary ceramic artists I admire:
Kathy Butterly at Tibor de Nagy, NY
Nicole Cherubini at Tracy Williams, Ltd, NY
Elisa D'Arrigo at Elizabeth Harris, NY
Arlene Shechet at Sikkema Jenkins & Co, NY
Jessica Jackson Hutchins at Timothy Taylor Gallery, London
Rebecca Warren at Matthew Marks, NY
Adrián Villar Rojas at Marian Goodman, NY – more environmental installations -- but made of clay.
And, to keep things in perspective:
|Venus of Doini Vēstonice , 29,000 - 25, 000 BC, low fired clay, Czech Republic, 4 ½ x 1 ¾ inches.|