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Indepth Arts News:

"USA Clay: Recently Acquired Ceramics"
2001-03-09 until 2001-07-15
Smithsonian American Art Museum and the Renwick Gallery
Washington, DC, USA

The exhibition features 95 ceramic artworks by 87 artists, ranging from functional wares to conceptual sculptures to folk art to works that emphasize particular techniques and aesthetic approaches.

We are delighted to showcase the diverse ways clay has been used by artists over the last 50 years, said Elizabeth Broun, the museum's Margaret and Terry Stent Director. 'USA Clay' also provides us with a wonderful opportunity to show recently acquired ceramics.

In developing this exhibition I wanted to include some potters whose work is not ordinarily seen in a museum, in particular those potters working in well-established traditions whose work is intended to be used, said Kenneth Trapp, curator-in-charge of the museum's Renwick Gallery. Such a goal, however, never precluded my interest in artists who are recognized as major figures in studio ceramics.

The artworks in USA Clay represent a small fraction of the work being done in clay by contemporary artists. The museum acquired more than one-third of the objects in USA Clay in 2000 and this year. Attention was paid to most aspects of claymaking including function, tradition, technique, form and finish, glazes, color and inspiration from other cultures.

Karen Koblitz's Orvieto Red Rooster Lunette, with its vibrant colors and classic motifs, is indebted to the majolica tradition of Italy, as is Connie Kiener's Eating on the Fly.

In Ecology Krater II (Out Biking with Aunt Samantha), Michael Frimkess takes a venerable ancient Greek form, a volute krater, and updates it in scale and subject. Scenes from modern life of east Los Angeles unfold around the vessel.

Steeped in Japanese traditions, Fance Franck's Large Rectangular Vase (John the Baptist), is glazed with a classic Japanese tenmoku (black and brown). The piece is carved to appear to be wrapped, as if it will be presented as a gift.

Both tradition and innovation are on display in USA Clay. Brother Thomas Bezanson's vessel, Large Vase, is a perfect example of a classic form, while Rick Dillingham takes a common object and transforms it into a graceful vessel with sweeping lines in his Gas Can. This piece brings to mind the adobe architecture of New Mexico, where Dillingham lived for many years.

Humor is an element in a number of works in the exhibition. Patti Warashina's Convertible Car Kiln has golden flames licking at the electric blue seats of a car that could exist only in the artist's imagination. Waiting for Master by Howard Kottler is an attentive, but cartoonish dog with a surface that appears to be gilded lacquer that then can open like a puzzle-box to reveal a landscape.

The infinite possibilities of clay as a material, from rough to refined, can be explored in USA Clay. Margaret Boozer revels in the earthiness of terra-cotta in her Eight Red Bowls, while Kurt Weiser creates elegant porcelain teapots covered in intricate patterns inspired by nature.

Steven Montgomery's Static Fuel uses clay as an end to achieve a powerful artistic statement. The sculpture appears to be a rusting V-8 engine, but on closer inspection it is clear that the painted clay is intended as a metaphor for decay and the cycle of life.

Some artists in USA Clay are more interested in function and the use of their pieces. Washingtonian Jill Hinckley creates one-of-a-kind porcelain teapots for Teaism in Washington, D.C., and the husband-and-wife team Catherine White and Warren Frederick of Warrenton, Va., make unique plates for the Japanese restaurant Omen in New York City.

Other local artists represented in the exhibition are Margaret Boozer, Robert Devers and Winnie Owens-Hart. Work by Robert Arneson, Ken Price, Peter Voulkos, Beatrice Wood and Betty Woodman are also included in USA Clay.

A video titled Art of Craft: Clay, an educational tool produced by the Renwick Gallery and VideoArt Productions, will premiere with the opening of USA Clay. The seven-minute video features USA Clay artist Connie Kiener working in her studio in Portland, Ore. Art of Craft: Clay is the fourth in a five-part video series exploring different craft media and was made possible by the James Renwick Alliance.

The exhibition was organized by the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum. A free illustrated brochure, written by Trapp, accompanies the exhibition.

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