John Yau, in beginning his review of the deliciously sexy show by Kathy Butterly at Tibor de Nagy (New York February 27 – April 12, 2014), gives a partial list of ceramics exhibitions at major New York galleries over the past 12 months:
“Ken Price: Sculpture at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (June 18–September 22, 2013), which I reviewed for Hyperallergic Weekend; Joanne Greenbaum: Sculpture at Kerry Schuss (May 2–June 2, 2013); Betty Woodman: Windows, Carpets and Other Paintings at Salon 94 Freemans (May 7–June 15); Alice Mackler: Sculpture, Painting, Drawing at Kerry Schuss (June 9–July 26, 2013); Arlene Schechet: Slip at Sikkema Jenkins (October 10–November 16, 2013); Mary Frank, Elemental Expressionism: Sculpture 1969–1985 & Recent Work at DC Moore (November 14–December 21, 2013), for which I wrote the catalogue essay; Lynda Benglis at Cheim and Read (January 16–February 15, 2014).
“Current exhibitions include: Jiha Moon: Foreign Love Too at Ryan Lee (February 1–March 15); Norbert Prangenberg: The Last Works at Garth Greenan (February 27–April 5, 2014), for which I also wrote the catalogue essay; and Kathy Butterly: Enter at Tibor de Nagy (February 27–April 19, 2014).”
To this he could have added Edmund de Waal at Gagosian, Robert Arneson at David Zwirner, Gareth Mason at Jason Jacques, Takuro Kuwata at Salon 4 and a few dozen more. Indeed, the 2013-14 art season has been a bumper one for kiln fruit.
It is instructive that Yau offers this list within Butterly’s review because this artist, a student of Robert Arneson, was a trailblazer crossing over into the fine arts with her porcelain vessels soon after graduation and being hailed as one of the City’s most important emerging artists by New York Times critic Roberta Smith.
In a review for her previous exhibition at Tibor de Nagy, Panty Hose and Morandi, Butterly is compared to George E. Ohr (1857-1018) the radical Biloxi potter:
“Kathy Butterly’s current show, Enter, at Tibor de Nagy confirms what I first thought when I reviewed her previous solo show, Panty Hose and Morandi, at the same gallery for the Brooklyn Rail:
“The formal traits she shares with Ohr include a penchant for crumpled shapes, twisted and pinched openings, and making (as Ohr was understandably proud to point out) ‘no two alike.’ Working within the confines of the fired clay vessel, Butterly has transformed this long established, historical convention into something altogether fresh and new, melding innovation to imagination so precisely that it is impossible to separate them.”
This is relevant and obvious. Less apparent and more subversive is her love of Ken Price’s work and the sexual energy one finds in both these artists.
Moreover, Butterly is able to make the miniature monumental. The forms are small, yet labyrinthian; her aesthetic ambition is vast and sprawling. As Yau notes:
“While maintaining a modest scale, she continually reinvents the fired clay vessel (cup or vase) in ways that exceed anything anyone else has done in the medium. From the unique base to the distinct body (creased, collapsing, convoluted and twisted), to the diverse surface, which can run from smooth to craqueled, often in the same piece, to the saturated color (sunshine yellow, fleshy pink, Veronese green and fire engine red), to minute details (yellow lozenges the size of an elf’s pat of butter), everything (including the spills and stains) in a Butterly sculpture attains its own particular identity.”
“Butterly’s commemorations of misshapenness contradict a basic assumption in ceramics and, by extension, art, which is it is possible to make a perfect or ideal form, achieve a timeless beauty. The postmodern converse of this ideal, that one can make a perfect corpse (or copy), is well known. Butterly doesn’t buy into these models, with their roots in Plato (the ideal) and Aristotle (classification). Rather, she seems to believe that change is central to experience. In shaping her vessels, she folds, bends and twists the clay, recognizing that anxiety, worry and vulnerability are inherent to existence. Unable to escape time and the constant, multiple pressures it applies, she transforms those forces into contours and forms that are simultaneously goofy and shy, fantastic and disenchanted, gaudy and thwarted, sexy and monstrous.”
The string of pearls, a continuing motif for Butterly, is still with her. One sees this in Scout, almost invisible, minute white beads frame the foot. This fetish jewelry with a thousand sexual connotations is, as I once said when interviewing Butterly in front of a (shocked) Philadelphia audience, is as much a sexual toy as the dildo.
It is liberating to feel her libidinal empowerment as a woman. She is not coy about this. The projection of eros in the art is funky, frank, open, pleasure-seeking and persistent, blending seamlessly with liquid sensuality of her medium.
Garth Clark is the Chief Editor of CFile.
Above image: Kathy Butterly, Dual 2, 2013, clay, glaze, 4 6/8″H x 5 3/8″W 3 6/8″D. Photograph courtesy of the gallery.
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