Monday, February 22, 2010

Less Is More Ain't Easy ( for me )

Here is a shot of the final result of that batch of slip handprint cups whose beginnings I showed a few weeks back, stating that I would give them a simple glaze. As we can see, I couldn't leave well enough alone and added a bunch of colors and such. Dipping the rims and partially obscuring the handprint is probably the silliest among these flourishes. Anyway, I think I will remake them and try to exercise a little restraint when I get to the glaze room.

Anat Shiftan @ Greenwich House Pottery

This show at the Jane Hartsook Gallery at GHP consists of wall tiles, still life groupings of ceramic shapes, and ceramic pieces that lie flat and abound with pulsating organic shapes. The tiles have mostly floral motifs; the still life pieces are quiet and contemplative, and are made up of simple fruit, vessel, or flowering shapes that can be unglazed, glazed in a nearly identical matte, or a combination of two colors. The separate elements are constructed from either porcelain, paper porcelain or stoneware. The work sends forth a cool detachment, and the Hartsook Gallery space participates nicely. Shiftan currently heads the ceramics department at SUNY New Paltz.

The most exciting thing about the show, for me, was her use of cut up kiln shelves for these tiles. These may have been some type of industrial-grade shelf, about three inches thick, which gave the feeling of a painting on stretcher bars. The drawing is all in a fairly charged cobalt blue, and the line is more consistent than varied, but they are bold and not too flower-catalog illustrational-feeling. I love the no-warpage, no surprises, no nonsense solution of the kiln shelves.

Monday, February 8, 2010

A few more photos

Not that I think these pictures came out terribly well, but I thought I would tantalize you with just a few more images from the ISAW show discussed below.

NYU Institute for the Study of the Ancient World Exhibitions

Institute for the Study of the Ancient World

This exhibit is so multi-faceted that I think I had better limit myself to posting photos and discussing just one aspect of the works on view: the shapes, possible functions and dazzling inventiveness of surface decoration on the many ceramic pieces encountered here.

The Institute for the Study of the Ancient World at NYU is a brand-new entity, and just admitted its first crop of PhD candidates in Fall 2009. It is housed in a historic townhouse at 15 E. 84th Street, a scant pebble's throw from the Met Museum. A huge endowment by Leon Levy and Shelby White is the basis for its existence, and there was, and perhaps remains some controversy clouding NYU's acceptance of this largesse, since some antiquities in the Leon Levy Foundation are accused of having been looted, or obtained questionably.

The exhibition spaces on the ground floor are modest in size, but pretty accessible, with the majority of the large ceramic works displayed encircled by a perimeter barrier only, and not fully enclosed in cases. This presentation, I think, aids in the appreciation of the unbelievably complex slip decorations that cover the vessels.

The artifacts resulting from excavations in the Danube River Basin, primarily in Bulgaria, Romania and Moldova date from the Fifth and Fourth millennia, b.c. As such, their unique relevance stems from the fact that an Early European Civilization, pre-dating the Egyptian was virtually unknown. Belief was that a simplistic, unorganized society without hierarchical distinctions or complex rituals or ceremony was about all that settled these regions.

The large size and varied, high-energy shapes of the pots suggest that there may have been some kind of ceremonial, or presentation aspect to their use. There is a kind of beautiful, deliberate fineness to the surfaces, and the way they are broken up into overlaid fields of abstract decoration that don't just follow along the contours of the pots themselves is just a huge revelation. The line quality is fluid and bold, and I can't help thinking how much fun it must have been for these potters to devise and carry out these decorations.

The pair of conjoined drinking vessels must surely have had a ceremonial function, and I am deeply intrigued by the large, shallow decorated bowl containing figurines of a man and woman huddling together, or perhaps making their way through what might be a stylized depiction of an inhospitable, vast landscape.

This show continues to April, and if you can get to it, try and see it.

Robert Ellison Collection

Here are a few photos from the newly installed American Wing at the Met museum, where the Robert A. Ellison collection of art pottery has found a new home as a promised gift. The pots range in date from about 1876-1956 and seem to represent nearly every strain of decorative, art, and studio pottery in the U.S. during that time. There are numerous works by George Ohr, the "mad potter of Biloxi", and here one can start to grasp why he is considered such a touchstone for the idea of the clay object as art object. His works are thrilling, magnificently unconventional, and risky-feeling. They do not tend to be large, but they are no end of surprising. The potters of Greenwich House were given a tour led by Alice Cooney Frelinghuysen, who curated the installation.