Clay Today Exhibition Catalogues

The Hole NYC


Exhibition Catalogue

Clay Today at The Hole April 2018

Soft cover, 40 pages 

Essay by Kathy Grayson


Alice Mackler, Allison Schulnik, Aubry Broquard, Brie Ruais, Christian Vargas, Cristina Tufino, Dan McCarthy, Diana Rojas, Francesca DiMattio, FriendsWithYou, Gustav Hamilton, Heidi Lau, Jenny Hata Blumenfield, Jennie Jieun Lee, Jesse Edwards, Joakim Ojanen, Kate Klingbeil, Linda Lopez, Ling Chun, Rebecca Morgan, Rose Eken, Roxanne Jackson, Shinichi Sawada, Thomas Mailaender, Trevor Baird, Valerie Hegarty, Zimra Beiner

The Hole is proud to announce a comprehensive group exhibition of new ceramic works. Spanning the very emerging to the well-known, CLAY TODAY looks together at both the diversity of recent clay making and some shared tendencies.

Ceramic works have recently been getting a lot of play in gallery and museum exhibitions and fairs, staking a claim for being an important medium to look closely at right now. To say ceramic had been sidelined in recent decades would be too strong, but there is probably a reason that they just released VITAMIN C (clay and ceramic) this winter despite being most appealing vitamin to name in the book series that began in 2002. It has really come to the fore in the past five years: more and more artists are jumping in with both hands, more collectors are coveting clay and more galleries are hoisting these heavy works into the public view.

An ancient medium, some of the earliest human art is clay and yet it spent many centuries marginalized as craft. Sometimes, clay is a prep or a model for a more “important” medium like bronze; sometimes, clay is viewed as too functional to be very Fine, somehow separated even from the genre of sculpture. I’m more interested in examples of artists using clay to make something very contemporary and how they go about doing it and why. Many included artists are not formally trained in ceramic and instead discover it because of its ease and tactile satisfaction. While quite a few artists in this show focus almost solely on clay, many others are experimenting on the side of their main work which might be in another medium. There is room for both super skilled ceramic technicians and the self-taught.

In the 2010s, the piling up of clay steadied. Slick fabrication has perhaps created this backlash in favor of the handmade and unique, and seeing ceramics by older much-loved artists like Ken Price or Betty Woodman go around the world in traveling museum retrospectives probably emboldens young artists to test their hand. The mutability and adaptability of the medium could also be seen as a great choice in times of cultural upheaval (LOL but what art isn’t?). Or it could just provide a cave-man escape getting mudded up to take us away from all the glowing screens.

It’s hard to imagine an artwork more opposite to a digital creation than the stalwart and imperfect mounds of Alice Mackler (pictured above). Lumpy and evocative, her figures stand firmly embodied, planted on the lines of invisible exchange. Humorous, idiosyncratic and even elegant in a way, the glazed ceramics could definitely be seen as an antidote to photoshopped idealizations and evanescent digital bodies.

Pushing humor and idiosyncrasy even further would be Joakim Ojanen and his squid posse, Rebecca Morgan and her ugly pot people, Christian Vargas’ 200-member two-faced superhero army. FriendsWithYou’s Play-Doh-ish punk Bart Simpson has the defaced quality of a middle school desk while Theo Rosenblum places the most bizarrely enigmatic “King Carrot” in the middle of the gallery, epoxy clay painted in detail with acrylic paint.

Transforming clay into inventive new types of surface or incorporating irreverent materials into the work, we find the impossibly fuzzy Francesca DiMattio, whose tall vessel in Ming-vase colors confounds the medium: a mutating muppet engulfing and incorporating traditional porcelain objects. Linda Lopez makes clay look like a soft tendriled undersea creature, and Swiss artist duo Aubry/ Broquard affix ceramic to laminated panels, using clay as postmodernist collage.

Thomas Mailaender also cultivates the randomly juxtaposed with snippets of internet debris baked into lava slabs. Like Gustav Hamilton’s wall piece nearby–which will send you googling what Ernest Hemmingway and Genesee Cream Ale have to do with each other—the notion of making permanent in fire something culturally ephemeral has an inherent humor.

Then there are works that “immortalize” the everyday in clay: Rose Eken is not overly fussy in her recreation of objects in ceramic, here taking an evocatively impressionistic approach to horse stuff, from boots and whips to a bridle to a pile of poop. Diana Rojas sculpts her own exotic shoe collection as those sick Balenciaga Tripe S sneakers are just too expensive, while Jesse Edwards glazes realistic ceramic televisions with scenes of Morrissey and Alice in Wonderland, images burned into a screen permanently.

For ceramic as vessel, we have Jenny Hata Blumenfield assembling floppy failed pots into a wall piece with a silhouetted vessel overlaid. Trevor Baird contributes traditional enough vases but elaborately painted with comics and doodles, a sort of drawing/ceramic hybrid.

Clay can be inscrutably figurative as well– we find Dan McCarthy’s off-kilter face pot smiling damagedly at you, as do the beleaguered looking beauties by Jennie Jieun LeeCristina Tufino’s piece is literally a sphinx especially enigmatic behind giant sunglasses.

Elemental and embodied earthworks are a commonality here, including the ceremonial-feeling circle by Brie Ruais and the obese and intestinal Zimra Beiner work. Heidi Lau contributes a work evocatively titled “Seventh and Eighth Level of Hell” which looks like long-encrusted crab traps and dredged-up shipwreck. Shinichi Sawada exhibits two works that seem to be from a different millennium altogether – this Japanese artist presents intensely inventive, almost prehistoric looking ceramic. Valerie Hegarty has taken shipwreck debris very literally in the past, but here shows two ceramic landscape paintings in ornate frames distorted by time and memory.

In a kind of mythical realm pushing the glazes to their unicorn best are works by Roxanne Jackson and Kaley Flowers, creating works in ceramic that look like treasures from another dimension, like the detailed bowl filled with pearlescent pigments by Allison Schulnik. The fantastical exterior is contrasted with the physical reality of the glazes pooling inside the pot in a super thick, vitreous puddle. Kate Klingbeil’s dark fantasy scene of magical nudes depicts a fairy, nude apart from socks, caressing her own body as a woman admires her pet’s kill- a decapitated man’s head, freshly impaled by pegasus’ shiny horn.

I got fired up about clay watching the DESTE Museum’s presentation on Hydra by Roberto Cuoghi. Along the island slope, he built traditional kilns from various centuries, belching fire as the sun set, taking out molten crab sculptures and dipping them in stinky and steaming vats of glaze and mineral. The beautiful ceramic crustaceans were lovely when finished, but the hell-scape of their creation was the most memorable part. The alchemical physical transformation of the earth, the dirt around you, into something magical and permanent is what grabs me.

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