A downside of New York City’s rise to Ceramic Gotham is that the plethora of shows of ceramics also includes the most painfully inept work. This is mainly made by visitors from other media who may be competent in their primary field (though I have checked and some are almost as bad in their specialty), but not in ceramics. They may have taken a few classes at Greenwich House Pottery and believe they are ready to exhibit. This isn’t Greenwich House Pottery’s fault; they just offer the how-to classes (except, of course, for their first Little Clay Shop event that we reviewed). They have no control over hobbyists who rush the public showing with their various bits of kiln detritus.
Again, I repeat myself: not all extremely casual craft is bad. Loose is an aesthetic and if you don’t get it, tough, a lot of discerning people in the arts do. It’s about energy release. But the line between the good (extremely rare) and the bad (copious) is very fine, so the junk (above and below) predominates.
Blackston Gallery’s show Vessels (an insult to the word and its 15,000 year tradition, the pot above being a perfectly imperfect example) has offered us the most recent horror show. We will continue to point these out so that these lax standards don’t become acceptable. The fine art world is new to ceramics (i.e they are too often profoundly ignorant) and its judgment calls have been frighteningly uneven and lacking sensitivity.
Three of the artists are worthy. Betty Woodman (who must be wondering how on earth she arrived on this event) once said to me, “my work is too well made to be taken seriously in the fine arts.” She made it anyway. Matthias Merkel Hess is an excellent artist, although the gas cans are growing old.
Also added to this list is JJ PEET. You may wonder why? His work looks as formless as the rest. Not so, he is one of the few who can dance on this edge, his missteps and mishaps are those of a cunning choreography, a kind of Charlie Chaplin making pratfalls in clay but achieving a moving pathos in the process. See our review of his work and others on Satan Ceramics (and conservative fundamentalist potters beware, the devil does lurk there). Also see the article on PEET’s art in this issue.
When I reviewed the aforementioned Jane Hartsook Gallery show at Greenwich House Joanne Greenbaum was singled out for her wonderful palette that she painted on her ceramic works. She is currently one of the “it” girls in New York art, but I am finding her forms tiresomely hit or miss.
Polly Apfelbaum seems to be on the edge of something, what that is I am not sure but her hilariously satiric rendering of a ceramic plaque by Lucio Fontana on the NADA fair bodes well.
For the rest there is no hope beyond another year or two at Greenwich House. Rarely has the great vessel tradition of pottery been treated with less respect, skill or intelligence (which is saying something). And as for the installation? View and weep!
Garth Clark is the Chief Editor of CFile.
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