Gallerists have two choices when they exhibit highly-decorative art: they can either be very minimal or super maximal. In the case of Elisabeth Kley’s exhibition Ozymandias (New York City, January 9 – February 14) Canada gallery opted to do both. A white cube and hanging wallpaper at the entrance to the space doubles the impact of Kley’s highly-polarized work.
Kley’s solo exhibition was her first with the gallery. It included works on paper, wall painting, and ceramic pieces, all of which referred to the Wiener Werkstätte Studio Craft and their history of excessive decoration.
Kley takes her title from the famous Percy Bysshe Shelley poem of the same name about a ruined monument to a long forgotten despot (“Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!… The lone and level sands stretch far away”). The poem is set in an unnamed strange locale and its themes include hubris and the inevitable decline of empire. It may seem apt, given the current political climate, to consider history as a series of blustery strongmen who naturally fall into the abyss of time. Kley, on the other hand, offers joy instead of pontification. Here we have unabashedly extravagant designs both mysterious and inviting, weightless manifestations of the past. It creates the impression that the traveler in the poem salvaged some artifacts from the “colossal wreck” of Oxymandias’ kingdom.
Kley’s current black and white ceramic vessels and drawings are inspired by Islamic, Byzantine and Asian historical ornaments and can be described as somewhere between all-over paintings and decorative sculptures. Repeated bold calligraphic patterns are filled with life giving symbols and designs including flower petals and leafy tendrils.
The vessels are made from hand rolled coils and fired in an electric kiln in her studio. Decorations are applied using homemade underglazes with wax resist and sgraffito. The artworks are not only beautiful to look at but are also made with an artisan’s care and ingenuity. Dripping glazes reveal an appealing unfussy temperament, and forms sometimes seem to imply bulbous fruits like pomegranates or flowers. Although she sometimes renders traditional motifs directly, Kley’s works are rarely strict copies. Instead, they are personal inquiries into visually pleasurable shapes, colors and patterns. Each piece is unique, but also seems to be part of a larger whole.
Elisabeth Kley lives in Manhattan and works in Brooklyn. Her solo and two person exhibitions include translucent threads of dawn at Regina Rex (with Conrad Ventur); A Sign of Eternal Beauty at GAVLAK Palm Beach (with Florence Derive); Large Red Lotus Sun with Yellow Face at 39 Great Jones, The Queen’s Feathers at John Tevis Gallery, Paris; Peacocks and Bottles at the Georgian National Gallery in Tbilisi, Republic of Georgia; and Momenta Art. Kley’s work was recently included in Jack Pierson’s Tomorrow’s Man 2.
Text (edited) and photographs courtesy of the gallery and the artist.
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