One thing hasn’t changed in the roistering, shape-shifting art world: Clay exhibits, like those on view at the Clay Studio, are a celebration of the material’s great diversity.
From traditionalists making cups and bowls that look like they’re from 1940 to clay sculptors making conceptual pieces, you’ll find it all in the associate artist and the graduate student exhibits. Pieces sit side by side on pedestals in a seemingly happy terra-cotta democracy.
Twenty-five of 40 associate artists who share a communal space in the Clay Studio’s second floor have pieces in the big “Associate Artists” show. While you might expect a stylistic or uniform aesthetic to result from people working so closely together, it’s not the case here. These associates are loners, each working their own subject and aesthetic. The resulting exhibit has works that range in inspiration from Venus of Willendorf-primal to Warhol pop and mainstream crafts.
The commonality here is size. Most of the works are small (pedestal-sized) or if large, like Diane Marimow’s totem Cheers, composed of modular objects grouped together.
The functional works stand out for their humility and authority. They’re also gorgeous. Larry Spitz’s Closed Form, a zebra-striped plug of a piece, is a sculptural form whose function is meditative.
Sunya Webber’s sinuous Untitled Raku vase is likewise a thoughtful work that’s a reverie on ancient times and peoples.
Lynne Dorman’s Mod Dish Set is too gorgeous to use, but I could easily sit and contemplate the porcelain set. Its bright-hued colors and stripped-down aesthetic references East and West along with communal meals from time immemorial.
Carole Sivin’s sculptural wall pieces Cat Heads, with their rough hewn, bug-eyed charm, are both shamanist and funny.
Jeanne Waldowski’s Threesome, three tiny pink and green objects that look like they could’ve been made by a kindergartner, are delicious.
Michael Clemmons’ Blackamoor Than Thou, a half-man/half-angel on a found pedestal that looks like a music-box base, is an altarpiece I would’ve loved to see spin and play music.
The works by 14 artists in the “Graduate Student” exhibition mirror those in the “Associate” show with plates, vases and bowls beside clay figures and mixed-media installations. Dylan Beck’s Wal*Art#2 stands out as a sculptural clay hybrid. The Tyler grad fashioned a series of clay multiples into a cameralike oculus with a void at the center. On its surface, the work references geometric abstract art, yet its mandalalike form is ancient and its evocation of the rosette recalls architectural decor. Like Beck’s work in his M.F.A. show at the Icebox this spring, this piece points to an artist who’s thinking outside the traditional clay footprint.
Derek Reeverts’ Predator and Beau Raymond’s The Patriarch are in a long line of figures that walk the line between kitsch and serious.
When I think of exciting clay works I think of West Coast greats Robert Arneson and Ken Price. Neither of these two shows is exciting in the way Arneson and Price are exciting. Both left me feeling like clay’s potential was greater than what was on view.
I hadn’t been to the Clay Studio since they took over Nexus’ space on Second Street, so I was curious to see how they’ve installed themselves in the co-op gallery’s digs. Now you enter the studio through the old Nexus gallery and walk straight into a gift shop, behind which is an exhibition space.
Putting the shop first initially threw me off, but on second thought it’s right to put the mostly functional, saleable objects first, which is what most people want when they think of clay. Then they get to expand into the material’s diversity as they expand into the space.
“Fifth Annual Marge Brown Kalodner Graduate Student Exhibition” and “Assocate Artists Group Exhibition”
Through July 27.
1400 N. American St.; 139 N. Second St.