LOS ANGELES, California — Blum & Poe presented Los Angeles-based artist Shio Kusaka’s second solo exhibition at the gallery (Los Angeles, July 2 – August 20, 2016). For this presentation, the gallery states:
“Kusaka establishes a narrative via a body of work comprised of varied shapes, textures, sizes, techniques, and motifs. Ceramic pots carved to resemble wood grain, porcelain beach balls, pots painted with grids and lines, and miniature porcelain animals, can all be understood as a response to ceramic traditions.
Installed in the three main-floor galleries, on a seemingly continuous pedestal more than one hundred feet in length, Kusaka’s installation calls for each work to be considered within the context of the collective whole. While each pot does function as a stand-alone work, a certain rhythm emerges as individual works gesture to the whims of form and content of surrounding works.
This exhibition is accompanied by the first of an ongoing series of catalogues documenting a selection of Kusaka’s art, inspired by Japanese pottery reference books. This first volume focuses on pieces from 2014–2016. It is published by Karma, New York and distributed by D.A.P./Distributed Art Publishers, Inc.
Shio Kusaka (b. 1972, Japan) lives and works in Los Angeles. Her work was included in the 2014 Whitney Biennial, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, and has been exhibited throughout the world.”
That’s all well and good. But what about the pots as art? Blum & Poe is one of the country’s most important galleries and that de facto means that Shio is one of the nation’s most significant ceramists and an artist to boot. Or is she? She is part of the elite of L.A. artist world. I have no problem with the premise of a pot as fine art, but it takes a certain kind of vessel to cross over.
Does Shio make that kind of work? First, she does not throw her own pots (I will be corrected if I am wrong), which is of no consequence unless throwing is meant (as in the work of Peter Voulkos) to represent a certain kind of power and personal articulation. In her case it does not.
The genius of this exhibition, alas, is not in the individual pots. (And I am not even going to touch on the odd little parade of animals). It is in the installation, which is awe inspiring. In this context whether each pot is art-worthy or not is rendered. The entity is immensely satisfying; a catalog of the many things pots can be. The long stage on which they appear keeps moving to the end (or the beginning). It’s absorbing, hypnotic and satisfying, unlike her mini-installation in the Whitney Biennial, which was scrappy and pointless.
However, this is not an installation except for display purposes, the pots are sold individually and that is when the work runs into trouble. They all have some charm, some lower key than others, but aside from three large red vessels, none feel significant. Her work is matched and exceeded in each of the genres she attempts by many potters in America. She has no vessel language to call her own; her work is not original, it’s all appropriation but without any conceptual underpinning to make that act meaningful outside the installation.
I imagine these living alone in a home, one pot on a shelf, and I wonder what it says, this orphan from her larger oeuvre. Few would stand out beyond being a pretty vase. Her three large red pots from the exhibition, which are stunning, would make a powerful statement but still a decorative one, like most potters. What is she at the end of the day, a painter, a potter, or a curator? I got the magic of the assembly but not that of the loners.
To leave on a positive note, the work shown here is an enormous improvement on work from two or three years ago, which bodes well. If she can find a way to engage an epic vision through the pot, which I feel she is struggling to do, there is promise.
Garth Clark is Chief Editor of cfile.daily.
Do you love or loathe these works of contemporary ceramic art? Let us know in the comments.