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Press release


November 24, 1998 - May 30, 1999
Lila Acheson Wallace Wing, Design and Architecture Gallery

Clay into Art: Selections from the Contemporary Ceramics Collection in The Metropolitan Museum of Art brings together 61 ceramic pieces from the Museum's collection that capture an unprecedented period of creativity in ceramics and demonstrate the dramatic breadth of styles that emerged during the latter half of this century. The exhibition will include works by an international group of ceramists, from conceptually traditional vessel forms such as teapots, bowls and vases, to unconventionally monumental sculptures. This is the fourth exhibition in the Department of 20th Century Art's continuing series of shows that feature works executed in one medium.

More about the Exhibition
After World War II, artists working in ceramics were keenly aware of and worked side by side with Abstract Expressionists, Pop artists, and Color Field painters. In the United States — where the drip paintings of Jackson Pollock, the intensely colored canvases of Mark Rothko, and the energetic and gestural work of Willem de Kooning, among others, provided a sense of freedom and experimentation to artists whose chosen medium was clay — Peter Voulkos emerged as a pioneer of experimentation. His influence as a teacher and mentor can be seen in the works of such artists as John Mason, Stephen DeStaebler, Ken Price, and Ron Nagle — all represented in this exhibition — and in those of many others who continued to investigate new ways to make ceramic art.

Continually breaking new ground and developing new approaches to clay, some of these artists reinterpreted traditional forms, on occasion adding humor or social commentary in the process; some developed a painterly method in which the ceramic surface became a canvas; some took the object out of the utilitarian realm altogether and made it pure sculpture. In these ways, ceramists successfully bridged the gap between craft and sculpture and between decorative and fine art.

The Objects: A Highlight
Throughout the last three decades, ceramists have felt increasingly liberated from any pretense to make objects of usefulness. Whereas Rudolf Staffel's works appear to be vases or containers, his "light gatherers" are non-utilitarian experiments in translucency and the ability of porcelain to hold and transmit light. Humor, irony, and social commentary are all salient results of the art of Ron Nagle, Richard Notkin, Howard Kottler, Adrian Saxe, and younger artists such as Nicholas Homoky and David Regan. Saxe alludes to the decorative arts of diverse cultures and historical periods to make witty, edgy objects such as Untitled Mystery Ewer (CAS), which makes reference to traditional 18th- and 19th-century porcelains but is undercut by a pervasive humor.

Some ceramists of this era found inspiration in trompe l'oeil painting and realism. In Richard Notkins' Barrel Cup and Saucer, the gilded teacup ironically sits on a saucer of urban detritus, provoking more serious thoughts of social status and social justice.

Another manifestation of the post-war spirit of experimentation with clay was the painterly approach used by such artists as Michael Lucero and Rudy Autio, who began to use the surface of the pot to "paint" scenes in bold, Matissean colors.

Related Programs
Educational programs organized in conjunction with Clay into Art include lectures, gallery talks, films, and family programs. Among the lectures are Clay into Art: A Panel Discussion between Artist, Curator, Collector, and Dealer will take place on Sunday, December 6, at 3 p.m. in the Museum's Grace Rainey Rogers Auditorium. Art Craft, and Influence: The Experience of a Contemporary Ceramic Artist, a lecture by Magdalene Odundo, will take place on Saturday, December 5, at 5 p.m. in the Uris Center Auditorium.

Exhibition Publication
Contemporary Ceramics, Selections from The Metropolitan Museum of Art, a fully illustrated catalogue ($14.95) by Jane Adlin, Research Associate in the Department of 20th Century Art, will accompany the exhibition. It will be available in the Metropolitan Museum's book shop and on the Web Site Shop for $10.00. Publication of the catalogue has been made possible by Friends of Contemporary Ceramics.

The Curators
The exhibition is co-curated by J. Stewart Johnson, Consultant for Design and Architecture in the Museum's Department of 20th Century Art, and Jane Adlin.

October 29, 1998

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