A special thanks to contributing Cfile.org writer Eric Zetterquist for producing this introspective piece on Bosco Sodi’s latest exhibition. Zetterquist is an expert in Asian ceramics and an object photographer. Learn more about his work on his website.
NEW YORK—Whether to declare reverence, dominance, or a need to leave something bigger than themselves on this planet, humans across all cultures have an innate urge to build towers. They summon feelings of pride, power and awe.
Bosco Sodi’s new work Bosco Sodi: Caryatides (November 2, 2017 – January 6, 2018) at The Paul Kasmin Gallery in New York speaks to these feelings in a way that can only be described as “Fundamentalist,” not in the religious sense, but in addressing concerns that speak to all generations of human artistic endeavor. Everything about this vital series of sculpture; form, structure, technique and surface, appeal to our inner-early-human for recognition and cognition. They are writ in a universal language connecting us to a consciousness not only across cultures, but across all ages.
In choosing stacked cubes to create these towers, Sodi is using a pure form immediately understandable to viewers. Naturally occurring (in pyrite crystals) and perfect in concept, the cube is a form we all have in common, and stacked cubes are a structure we all understand. We can relax in the presence of these towers, because we know how they stand. As with a ceramic vessel, our mind’s eye makes calculations as to perceived weight of an object. We can sense how heavy and stable they are, so we feel safe to move around them.
The techniques used to create these cubes are ancient, and deceivingly simple-sounding. (But, as anybody who has ever tried to create a perfect minimalist object knows, achieving simplicity is rarely simplistic.) The artist creates large solid cubes of clay, dries them over a long period of time, then fires them in a wood-fired (often coconut-husk-fired) kiln. But clay does not want to have perfectly straight edges. Such things can be accomplished with pressure injection molds, but rarely with natural clay packed by human hands. So, although the cubes are intended to be perfect forms, they warp and crack, and their edges sometimes crumble. By embracing and celebrating these imperfections, Sodi ascribes to a “Wabi-Sabi” aesthetic. (Finding beauty in uncontrived naturalistic form and surface, as developed by the Japanese tea ceremony aesthetic from the 16th century to present day.)
This wabi-sabi philosophy follows through to the surface treatment of the cubes. By leaving the surface unglazed and firing them with various woods and husks, Sodi leaves decoration to the “Kiln Gods”. Every surface is different and is decorated by natural occurrence having to do with the draft within the kiln, the ash created by the wood, the subtle landscape of each surface, and the placement of the cube within the kiln. Each of the six squares of the cube is a different painting, recording natural happenstance. We are humbled into remembering that the most accomplished artist in the world is Mother Nature, and are left breathless with admiration for her work.
As with the surface treatment, Sodi allowed the installation to happen in an “organic” way. He first attempted to work out the exhibition plan with maquettes made of boxes months before, but then allowed the plan to be changed when the actual pieces arrived, (as their visual volumes differed from the maquettes). The result is an inviting grove of columns. Viewers are compelled to move in and around the arrangement of columns, which are humane in scale, varying heights from 110 inches to 45 inches with proportionally sized cubes. So natural is the rhythm of heights and their placement, they seem to have grown out of the floor, rather than having been placed there. As one moves through this contemplative arrangement, we are drawn into noticing the subtle differences in the each surface, starkly juxtaposed against the bright Moroccan red painting at the end of the gallery. The painting does not overwhelm the viewer’s experience, nor does it serve simply as a backdrop. One only sees a part of it at any time as one moves through the grove, serving as a destination, with its flame-like composition relating to the creation of the cubes.
Like Sodi’s cubes, his paintings are created through a process of controlled happenstance. The pigments are mixed with sawdust and glue and placed on the canvass. As the substance dries (coagulates), it clumps, cracks, slides on and soaks into the canvass, creating a work of art that can never be duplicated. Philosophically, these works, however vibrant, are also informed by the same wabi-sabi esthetic, and are a vital part of the installation.
Behind the main gallery, there is a smaller gallery containing two paintings, one large and one small, with a single cube in the center. This cube is a technical act of daring-do, 31.5 inches per side and weighing a ton, it has the most engaging of surfaces. Fired alone with a wisteria-like wood, the surface has a dramatic smattering of black natural ash glaze and is cracked, buckled and blotched. Where the columns imply human intervention, (somebody had to build them), this mammoth, scorched cube appears to have fallen from the sky.
By provocatively entitling the exhibition “Caryatides”, the columns of female form in Greek antiquity, Sodi gives a pointed reference to a known thing, and thus begs questions. His pieces are not female in form. They are stacked cubes. The artist wants this dissonance to abstract their meaning and allow the viewer to free their mind to their own interpretation. They are like ancient monoliths discovered in a jungle whose original intention has been lost to the ages. If they are columns, what are they holding up? Are they ruins? Is this what we’ve come from, or is this where we are heading?
What Bosco Sodi touches upon with this work are fundamental truths of beauty; truths we can all relate to in the same way, because they are basic to all human experience. In a world being torn apart by ideological differences, it is more important than ever to have art that calls attention to our intrinsic similarities.
Do you love or loathe this exhibition from the worlds of contemporary ceramic art and contemporary ceramics? Let us know in the comments.