Yale University recently wrapped up a survey of contemporary ceramic art, all drawn from one of the most important collections in the country. The Ceramic Presence in Modern Art (New Haven, Connecticut, September 4, 2015 — January 3, 2016) brought together more than 80 objects from the Linda Leonard Schlenger collection. For the last 25 years Schlenger has amassed what curators called “one of the most important collections of contemporary ceramics in the country.”
Some of the biggest names in the field were represented, including Peter Voulkos, John Mason, Jim Melchert, Ken Price, and Lucie Rie. Yale showcased works from its own collection in the show, including pieces by Willem de Kooning, Isamu Noguchi, Hans Hofmann, Mark Rothko, and Edward Ruscha. All told, the exhibition comprises 233 works. The show was curated by Sequoia Miller, a doctorate candidate of art history and Jock Reynolds, director of the Yale University Art Gallery.
The curators state that although many of the ceramic works exhibited were lauded within the studio-craft movement, they’re only now coming to be recognized as integral to the wider field of contemporary art. To fill the show out with a little more context, the curators included examples of other contemporary artwork from the same period, including painting, sculpture, and works on paper. The goal was to “reexamine the position of postwar ceramic sculpture within the context of contemporary art” and to highlight the affinities between the different works.
Writing in her review for HyperAllergic, Sarah Archer states that the exhibition title is a nod to a 1961 essay by Rose Slivka titled “The New Ceramic Presence.”Archer describes the essay as an often-cited “lightning rod that sharply divided the ceramics world when it was published.” Slivka argued that people should embrace new ceramics, such as the work of Voulkos. She described these sculptural works as “the act of beauty as creative adventure” and “energy at work.” Traditional potters were horrified at the time.
Those who follow the dialogue about ceramics in fine art are noticing familiar themes by this point: the narrative that fine art ceramics were once shunned but are now coming into their own. Archer described a show that acknowledges that theme, but would rather examine it from a different angle. She said that while it’s difficult to organize a show of this nature without “a tired, familiar chestnut lurching into the room,” the exhibition sidesteps that obsession with hierarchy with “more finely articulated concerns.” The exhibition instead focuses on shared theoretical approaches, personal connections between artists from different media and formal characteristics that unite some of the works visually.
Yale accompanied the exhibition with a 192-page catalog, available here. The catalog features an essay on George Ohr by John Stuart Gordon.
What do you think of Yale’s survey of contemporary ceramic art? Let us know in the comments.