WASHINGTON D.C. — We promised last week that we’d have more from artist Kristin Morgin’s show at the Renwick Invitational (Washington D.C., September 9, 2016 – January 8, 2017).
We’ve written before about Morgin, whose ceramic art often masks itself as garage store ephemera. These objects (Mighty Mouse, Popeye, Spider-Man) create a great sense of age and isolation. Her show at the Renwick pushes that theme a little further with one moldering classic car and what once may have been a beautiful piano that is succumbing to entropy. Her garage store work is still present, with pieces including Mighty Mouse and an assemblage of objects that, taken together, betray little of their origin in culture.
Those final two are interesting to me. Mighty Mouse has all but passed away. He was old when I was a kid, and even then I knew that the handful of cartoons I saw were relics from some other time. If pop culture icons, like gods, need our attention to survive, this is probably what a manifestation of Mighty Mouse would look like. He’s better off, though, than the assemblage of objects, which look like they were attacked by parasitic insects that chewed away their identities. The head suggests a body that we can only assume disintegrated under the creeping malignancy of age and short memories. Mighty Mouse isn’t quite there yet, but he’s on his way, as are all things like him, my somewhat-younger cultural past included. Eyewitness testimony is unreliable, in court as much as it is here. Can you trust that we’re seeing an “on model” representation of Mighty Mouse or someone’s faulty memory of it? Do stories lose significance the retelling? Is this responsible for the confusion in the assemblage of objects?
The car, Sweet and Low Down (2005), and the piano, Piano Forte (2004), take this idea and push it into territories with a little more heft than pop culture. The car (classic, but rotting) appeals to our cultural fascination with automobiles and it invites me to think about all the ways the romance has bled out that idea in the century that followed. The piano seems to represent culture itself. Seeing it this way makes me imagine of a time, maybe not so far in the future, when these ornate instruments— imbued with a lot of cultural weight and love— are all falling apart in abandoned buildings, their original meaning slowly evaporating after the culture that birthed them disappeared.
The Renwick states of Morgin:
Kristen Morgin takes an unconventional approach to ceramics, using her Trompe l’oeil sculptures and assemblages to explore personal nostalgia, obsolescence, and the American dream. Her works, ranging in scale from recreations of full-size cars and orchestral instruments to tiny knick-knacks and toys, appear as found objects but are in fact raw, unfired clay. Substituting paint and collage for the gloss of traditional ceramic glazes, Morgin achieves a garage-sale aesthetic in which thrift-store heroes like Popeye and Mighty Mouse preside and vintage playthings find new meaning. The sculptures represent a poignant investigation of the value of the old in a world intent on the new, invoking a sense of bygone innocence, loss, and isolation.
Kate Sierzputowksi of This is Colossal dug into the material and how it relates to the theme:
Morgin keeps her pieces unfired to retain the natural texture and look of the clay, a material that changes drastically once altered by fire. Like the objects that they imitate, her sculptures are meant to eventually crumble, possibly holding an even shorter lifespan than what they resemble. The content of these works focuses on fantasy versus reality, highlighting celebrity and beauty that has long past, created by a material that is not what it seems.
The theme and raw clay work together to create something that is almost an illusion even though it has materiality (for a moment). But both illusion (memory) and matter share similar fates. Everything is subject to this law: your childhood memories, inventions that defined modern life for billions of people and every song you’ve ever heard.
Bill Rodgers is the Managing Editor of cfile.daily.
Do you love or loathe these works of contemporary ceramic art? Let us know in the comments.
3 thoughts on "Exhibition | Kristen Morgin’s Decaying Pop Culture at the Renwick"
Her work is so poetic and moving. She. enlists the stark beauty and essence of clay. This work must be experienced in person.
Thanks for covering the show. Really remarkable work.
Ruth F Greenberg
what a fantastic show, I love the exploration and iconography she chose, thank you for covering this on cfile!