Weekly Update – ICA’s Dirt on Delight is sexy and great

This week’s Weekly has my review of Dirt on Delight at ICA. Below is my copy with some pictures.

Robert Arneson
Robert Arneson
Lustred Rose, 1966
glazed ceramic
29×60 1/2 x 28″

From earthly delights in clay to pithy word art and a cerebral video animation, ICA’s Spring shows are bon bons of creamy goodness, crunchy ideas and beautiful packaging.

Kathy Butterly
Kathy Butterly speaking about her sexy pots at ICA’s opening.

The big downstairs show, Dirt on Delight, commands attention by sheer volume of gorgeousness on display.  The survey of sculptural clay brings together 22 artists breaking ground in the traditional craft material.  While you may think of clay as a woman’s art, this show — almost evenly divided between men (12) and women (10) — demonstrates how clay draws all makers to its primordial squish and its promise of magical transformation from dirt to glazed, painted or patinated delight.

Ann Agee
Ann Agee
Agee Manufacturing Co. (Winter Catalogue), 2008
glazed porcelain and wood table
table h?x48x96″
What ICA curators brought together, in a show that will travel to the Walker Art Center this summer,  ranges from fussy to brute:  From Ann Agee‘s delicate porcelain figurines that are updates of Royal Doulton collectibles to Sterling Ruby‘s Giacometti-like skeletal forms in tantric poses.
Kathy Butterly
Kathy Butterly’s pots are body-referencing and autobiographical.
Throughout, the works by early 20th Century masters (many of them dead now) echo through time with work made today.  Ken Price‘s biomorphic blobs, heavily painted and sanded to reveal deep pockets of color and mystery, are placed near Kathy Butterly‘s pinch-pot-like wonders.
Ken Price
Zyko, 2008
painted clay and wood pedestal
part 1 7×25 1/2 x 12″
part 2 8 1/4 x 25 1/2 x 36″
Butterly’s humble and sensuous pots with their blush pink colors and lady-like touches (“Cenote” wears a string of pearls) are Beauty to Price’s Beast.
Robert Arneson
Robert Arneson
John Figure 1965
glazed stoneware
35×60 1/2 x 28″
Or maybe Robert Arneson is the Beast.  The California clay funk-master’s works broadcast pleasure and a kind of untamed life force.  The tiny and tortured self-portrait busts – reminiscent of old master heroic busts – are both ego-mocking and life-questioning, and full of energy.
Robert Arneson
Robert Arneson
Trophy Busts (1978)
glazed porcelain
7 3/4 x 4 1/2 x 3″
Arneson’s lusty and lumpy Gold Lustred Rose (top image) and his  John Figure, a life-sized stoneware “john” with a female torso on top –-are the 3-D equivalent of R. Crumb‘s sexy and primal cartoons.Paul Swenbeck
Paul Swenbeck
Mandragora, 2008
Egyptian paste, glazed terra cotta clay, paint and resin
3 pieces, 12 x 12 x 14″ each

It’s great to see local artists Jane Irish and Paul Swenbeck included in this mix.  Irish makes dreamy gold-trimmed vases that parody the Rococco age.  Onto the works the activist artist paints scenes of political turmoil, injustice and human rights violations—speaking truth to power in a sly package.

Jane Irish
Jane Irish’s rococco pots with political content

Swenbeck’s Salem witchcraft-inspired sculptures have been sited – appropriately — next to outsider artist Eugene Von Bruenchenhein’s homemade crowns and vessels.

Sterling Ruby Blue Angel
Sterling Ruby Blue Angel
Like the other groupings of objects in this show the pairing  of these unique works makes sense.  This big show raises issues about beauty, craftsmanship, decoration and the importance of clay in art’s future.  It’s truly a delight.Paul Swenbeck
Paul Swenbeck talking about his works.

Ann Agee speaking
Ann Agee speaking about her work.

Nicole Cherubini speaking
Nicole Cherubini speaking about her work.

Betty Woodman speaking
Betty Woodman speaking about her work.

In the upstairs galleries, Joshua Mosley‘s “dread,” a lyrical disquisition on God and Anthony Campuzano‘s “Touch Sensitive,” an installation of word pieces concerning human foibles both speak eloquently on important issues and deliver their message in engaging open-ended dialog with the viewer.  More on them soon.

Dirt on Delight, to June 21. Institute of Contemporary Art, 118 S. 36th St. 215 898 7108.