Mash-ups of then and now, high-class and low, industrial and artisanal are the way we live now. In a world awash in visual info, it’s impossible to ignore what’s already been done. So it’s no surprise when artists embrace the past and fuse it into their own work as several have done in shows running through Nov. 9 at the Northern Clay Center and Minneapolis College of Art and Design.
‘True North’ at Northern Clay Center
Intended as a cross-continental survey of contemporary Canadian ceramics, “True North” takes a sharp look at the terrain and includes work by just nine artists.
Given Canada’s sheer size, nine seems like a very small subset of the nation’s ceramists. And yet, each of the nine is so distinctive and the work so accomplished that the show makes a persuasive case that these 42 pieces are truly representative. Kudos to the curators for tight editing and to the exhibition designer for a light, bright, inviting display.
Tapping into the history of their media, these Canadians demonstrate impressive technical prowess as they experiment with glazes, manipulate traditional forms (figurines, vases, urns) and sculpt in clay.
Léopold Foulem uses figurine molds and china-painting techniques to produce oversexed Adonis figures with Oscar Wilde-style hair and gaudy codpieces that wink naughtily at their coy forebears. Brendan Tang perfectly replicates ancient Chinese glazes and vase designs, but then uses plastic fittings to attach them to motor parts and quasi-industrial apparatus.
Michael Flaherty nods to pioneer days by sticking floral decals on ceramic antlers that dangle from well-weathered barn-wood frames. Rory MacDonald abandons glazes entirely, preferring to cover his big porcelain urns with curvaceous designs in bright blue chalk. And Alwyn O’Brien uses thin ribbons of porcelain to essentially draw loopy, sagging vases and urns in 3-D.
By contrast, Bruce Cochrane sticks close to tradition in turning out handsome wood-fired stoneware casseroles, teapots and geometric tureens. Robert Archambeau likewise demonstrates mastery of traditional chino, celadon and salt-fired glazes applied to tableware and bottles. The abstract wall sculptures of Xanthe Isbister suggest body parts and crumpled paper, while Amélie Proulx’s mixed-media installation (steel, porcelain, nylon rope) calls to mind a conceptual scale in which language and literature hang in the balance.
A companion show covers more than 40 years in the career of Walter Ostrom, a professor emeritus of ceramics at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design. On the evidence of the 56 platters, vases, flower bricks, soap dishes and jardinieres on display, Ostrom is a living history of all things clay, from tin-glazed earthenware to stoneware, porcelain and commercial decals. There’s a playful quality in the leaves and flowers he painted onto basket-shaped vases and the visual jokes he’s layered under the glaze of plates. Enjoy the work, as Ostrom obviously has throughout his long career.
Jerome Fellows at MCAD
Picked from 232 applicants, the five “emerging” artists in the MCAD show got $10,000 each from the Jerome Foundation plus a catalog, an exhibition and studio visits with national critics and curators.
The term “emerging” is inherently odd in application to artists, implying that they’re blinking in the light after groggily coming out from hibernation or popping abruptly into view like crocuses on spring lawns. Neither metaphor seems apt for photographer Pao Houa Her, who has had several shows in the Twin Cities as well as New York and California, nor for Robin Schwartzman, whose clever Pop-style sculptures have been included in Walker Art Center’s mini-golf course among other sites.
Never mind. Emergent or merely up-and-coming, the five are a diverse lot and the MCAD show is more a snapshot than a portrait of them and their work.
Big, colorful and easily recognized, Schwartzman’s sculptures are the most accessible. A master artificer, she’s concocted a huge red “arrow” that looks like an antique roadside sign directing drivers to an “Oasis” theme park whose only remains are a disassembled giraffe and a waterfall that tumbles into a feedlot water tank. The parts are expertly executed and amusingly displayed.
Printed on newspaper and displayed like hanging calendars, Her’s photos document the mundane lives of Hmong emigrants like herself who are caught between traditional cultural values (costumes, pageants) and contemporary American life.
GraceMarie Keaton is working the awkward edge between photography and painting, making elaborate still-life collages of photographs of cutup paintings, then rephotographing and mounting them to Plexiglas, or cutting up pixilated photos and gluing the parts like mosaics on canvas. While overworked, the results have a certain eye appeal.
Both Nate Young and Kjellgren Alkire produced performance-related installations. Young’s is a sensory-deprivation black room in which solitary viewers hear a whispered word whose meaning contrasts with the dour circumstances.
Alkire built a minimal theater set (windmill tower, pulpit, rusty lawn chair, milkbox) in which he staged an opening-night performance that involved making a lot of drawings, which he then clipped to the wall with clothespins.