Friday, November 17, 2017

The New World of Ceramics






Lacking a formal knowledge of ceramics, it is with candid eyes that I visited the latest exhibitions at the New Orleans Museum of ArtNew Forms, New Voices: Japanese Ceramics from the Gitter-Yelen Collection and Personalities in Clay: American Studio Ceramics from the E. John Bullard Collection  just opened and will run through the Summer of 2018. Respectively located in the Japanese galleries and the Besthoff Gallery, the combined displays feature more than one hundred and fifty works from seventy-three craftsmen.

Japanese ceramics have earned a world-wide reputation due to their centuries of tradition and the visit on the fourth floor starts with a short review of the craft's history through the display of three jars characteristic of  Haji , Echizen and Chigaraki ware, spanning from the fourth until the sixteenth century. This short introduction leads to the exhibition divided in five sections and featuring exclusively contemporary Japanese artists. Elegantly displayed, protected by glass, the works are accompanied by enlightening wall texts. Inspired by nature or avant-garde compositions, milky blue or heavily decorated, they represent a second and third postwar generations of Japanese artists. Following this impressive presentation, the selected pieces from the John Bullard's collection are set in a more random manner, featuring artists who built the history of ceramics in the United States from 1945 until 1990. The eclectic works range from functional vases to a teapot filled with an antiwar message or pure art through sculptures. The display appears overcrowded at first, but each artist shines with his/her different style and expression through the media and one can appreciate the works from "major figures in handmade American studio pottery". The two exhibitions complement each other and the order of the visit has no bearing on their overall appreciation.

With these two major shows, the New Orleans Museum of Art offers a review of modern and contemporary ceramics and casts some light on a neglected side of the art world. In doing so, it also revives the ongoing controversy about it: craft versus art. Walter Gropius, founder of the Bauhaus, wrote: "For it (an object) to serve its purpose perfectly, it must fulfill its function in a practical way." Today, the use of ceramic to create functional items belongs to an industrial world. Meanwhile, highly skilled artists working in their studios have discovered new means of expression through the media. Their creations should encourage hard core opponents to the inclusion of ceramics in the realm of art to reevaluate their standpoint. Mythologies foster the belief that man was first made of clay, giving a symbolic meaning to the craft.
On a personal level, what did these two exhibitions accomplish? Without expertise, I was able to  appreciate the aesthetic aspect and significance (somewhat the technicalities) of the works and get a grasp of the modern and contemporary world of ceramics, from the East to the West.






photographs by the author:

Satoshi Kino "Fall Wind 150202", 2014 
Daniel Rhodes "Untitled Head No.1", c.1980, "Untitled Head No.18", c. 1980, and "Untitled Head No.223", c.1985
Richard Notkin "Heart Teapot: Afghanistan", 1986

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