Over the last 25 years, Linda Leonard Schlenger has amassed one of the most important collections of contemporary ceramic art in the country. The Ceramic Presence in Modern Art: Selections from the Linda Leonard Schlenger Collection and the Yale University Art Gallery (New Haven, CT., September 4, 2015–January 3, 2016 ) comprises over 80 carefully selected ceramics from the Schlenger collection by leading 20th-century artists who have engaged clay as an expressive medium alongside a broad array of artworks created in clay and other media from the Yale University Art Gallery’s permanent collection.
Above image: Ruth Duckworth, Untitled, ca. 1993. Porcelain, 7 1/8 x 9 3/4 x 4 1/2 in. (18.1 x 24.8 x 11.4 cm). Linda Leonard Schlenger Collection. © Thea Burger
The Ceramic Presence in Modern Art focuses on the work of 16 artists who have at times or throughout their careers chosen clay as their medium: Robert Arneson, Billy Al Bengston, Hans Coper, Anthony Caro, Ruth Duckworth, Robert Hudson, John Mason, Jim Melchert, Ron Nagle, Magdalene Odundo, George E. Ohr, Kenneth Price, Lucie Rie, Richard Blake Shaw, Toshiko Takaezu, and Peter Voulkos.
Their ceramic objects are displayed side by side with more than 200 modern and contemporary artworks in other media by artists including John Chamberlain, Bruce Conner, Helen Frankenthaler, Philip Guston, Hans Hofmann, Edward Kienholz, Franz Kline, Willem de Kooning, Joan Mitchell, Isamu Noguchi, Jackson Pollock, Martin Puryear, Mark Rothko, Edward Ruscha, Ursula von Rydingsvard and Mark di Suvero.
The effort to more fully integrate ceramics into the history of art responds to recent shifts in approaches to both making and exhibiting artworks. In the last decade, ceramics have become commonplace in contemporary art, created by both artists with academic training and those who are new to the medium. Simultaneously, ceramic artists such as Mason, Voulkos, and Price have gained renown among wide public audiences.
“These developments have grown out of a larger dissolution of boundaries and hierarchies in the visual arts, where artists bear less allegiance to any particular historical medium or tradition, opting instead to use whatever materials best suit their ideas at a given moment,” explains Sequoia Miller, Graduate Research Assistant, Department of American Decorative Arts, ph.d. candidate in the History of Art, Yale University, and co-curator of the exhibition. “Museums have followed this lead by beginning to incorporate a wider range of art- works and disciplines into both permanent-collection installations and special exhibitions.”
CFile Editor, Garth Clark, who will review this exhibition after viewing it in late October and after reading the accompanying book when it is published, writes:
“There is no question about the beauty of the installation and the exceptional quality of Linda and Don’s coalition. I know most pieces in this show intimately. Not just from visits to their home, but from previous homes going back three decades. What is less clear is how deeply the curatorial concept deals with connecting the dots between blue chip modern art in other media and ceramic work. Is this wallpaper or a moment of epiphany for ceramic scholarship?
“With the exception of Ken Price, they are not peers, yet. Would the work shown on its own have made a stronger point? But that is a debate for scholars. This is a remarkable opportunity. I cannot remember when last such a great group of ceramics from the modern movement were on view, and do see this show.”
An excellent program of gallery talks and lectures supports the exhibition. On November 13th, one has the rare treat of hearing the imminently witty Irving Blum in conversation with Linda Schlenger. Blum was one of the earliest champions for ceramic art in the early 60’s in Los Angeles. The Ferus Gallery launched the careers of John Mason and Ken Price alongside an artist who had never before had a solo gallery show, Andy Warhol.
Wednesday, September 9, 12:30 pm — The Materials of Sculpture with Sequoia Miller, ph.d. candidate, Department of the History of Art, and Graduate Research Assistant, Department of American Decorative Arts, Yale University Art Gallery
Wednesday, December 9, 12:30 pm — California Clay: Crucible of Sculpture, Art, and Exchange with Sequoia Miller.
Thursday, September 24, 5:30 pm — Artists Respond: Martin Puryear, Ursula von Rydingsvard, and Erwin Hauer in conversation with Jock Reynolds, the Henry J. Heinz II Director, Yale University Art Gallery. Generously sponsored by the Hayden Visiting Artist Fund.
Thursday and Friday, November 12–13 — Ceramic Presence: Conversations on Making, Looking, and the Museum.
Thursday, November 12, 5:30 pm — Opening Keynote: The Ceramic Presence in California. Artists John Mason and Jim Melchert, in conversation with Neal Benezra, Director, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and Jock Reynolds. Reception to follow.
Friday, November 13, 5:30 pm — Closing Keynote: Observations from the Field: Exhibiting and Collecting Ceramic Sculpture. Art dealer Irving Blum and collector Linda Leonard Schlenger, in conversation with Jock Reynolds and Sequoia Miller Registration is required for additional symposium events. For a full program or to register, visit the art gallery here. Generously sponsored by the Friends of Contemporary Ceramics.
Love contemporary ceramic art? Let us know what you think of this exhibition in the comments!