The Human Condition: The Stephen and Pamela Hootkin Collection of Contemporary Ceramic Sculpture at Chazen Museum (Madison, WI Sept. 5 – Nov. 30, 2014) is huge and sprawls with fluid ease through the Rowland, Garfield and Mayer galleries of this elegant institution. Its scale is not just due to the number of works, over 100, or the number of artists, 34, but because of the large scale of many of the pieces.
Above image: Charles Simonds, Growing Towers, 1983, unfired clay
For me, the experience was multifaceted. My partner Mark Del Vecchio and I contributed some key works though our gallery in New York. We are friends with the Hootkins and over 30 years watched the collection first grow, then outgrow their East Side apartment and then take over their next home, a loft in Tribeca, New York. Until the Chazen exhibition we had never seen it outside its domestic setting.
It was very different released from its elegant but busy home environment and accorded lavish space, each object in its own pocket of space. It was as though Mark and I were seeing it for the first time and the Hootkins —I might add— felt the same way.
I cannot review the exhibition, not only are we close to the collectors and worked with them but I am also the author of the exhibition book, which is a beautiful publication design-wise. As a result I fairly bristle with conflicts of interest (including the fact that a 6’1” sculpture by Beth Stichter, A Sudden Rush of Blood to the Head, a portrait of Mark and me as goats locked in a demonstrably passionate embrace lives on the fourth floor). But I can employ my intimacy with the subject to offer a few pointers to those who visit the show or acquire the book.
The Hootkins have created a ceramic theater around the human figure and the human condition. Sometimes the works are august and Shakespearean, at other times, bawdy, rowdy and Vaudevillian. As you pass each is whispering, orating, scheming, declaiming, buskering or just yelling about life, sex, death, joy, pain, sorrow, triumph, and failure.
Broadly the exhibition falls into four groupings. Their vessels are not in the spirit of Chinese pottery with shape and glaze as their only formal aesthetic qualities. Pots in this collection are like bottles with messages that a castaway might toss into the sea hoping for salvation. Each bears content, personal, literal and abstract. Then there is a sculpture that is a blend of form and painting, the largest part of the collection, and sculpture that is monochrome and in its earthy simplicity channels the earth mother and creation myth and is as much about life as it is death. The last category is none of the above and has one object, Ken Price’s XXX.
The exhibition is supported by a wide array of educational events that expand the exhibition theme with artists’ panels, lectures, films by David Cronenberg and poetry. A full itinerary of the exhibition can be found here.
Garth Clark is the Chief Editor of CFile.
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