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Beginning in the 1960s, collectors Garth Clark and Mark Del Vecchio assembled over five decades an unparalleled collection of modern and contemporary ceramics, focusing on objects that individually and collectively challenge traditional expectations of the medium. In 2007 the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, acquired this landmark collection, giving the museum one of the most important collections of post-World War II ceramics in the world. From March 4 to June 3, 2012, the MFAH will present the exhibition Shifting Paradigms in Contemporary Ceramics: The Garth Clark and Mark Del Vecchio Collection, celebrating the museum’s acquisition of the Clark/Del Vecchio collection and presenting it on a large scale for the first time.
Organized by Cindi Strauss, MFAH curator of modern and contemporary decorative arts and design, Shifting Paradigms in Contemporary Ceramics will reveal new research in the field and present clay art in a new light. The exhibition begins with a brief overview of ceramic history and types as seen through the collection–functional forms, vessels, and sculpture comprise this section. The main thrust of the exhibition follows; specifically, redefining ideas about the vessel and sculpture through dynamic and unexpected works such as a porcelain “carpet” displayed on the gallery floor; objects by famed artists who were not trained in ceramics, like Arman and Claes Oldenberg; and a mixed media/video work by Barnaby Barford. In addition, five immersive room-sized, ceramic installations will create unique environments within the exhibition. Seminal ceramic artists such as Peter Voulkos, Ron Nagle, Beatrice Wood, Akio Takamori, Betty Woodman, and Adrian Saxe will also play a major role in the exhibition as will emerging artists such as Beth Cavener Stichter, Reinaldo Sanguino, Michael Geertsen, and Aoki Katsuyo, among others.
“The acquisition of the visionary Garth Clark and Mark Del Vecchio collection, in 2007, was a major coup for the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston,” said Gwendolyn H. Goffe, interim director of the MFAH. “With their eye for excellence and the knowledge of true scholars, Clark and Del Vecchio created a collection that represents an entire era of ceramic art and is unrivaled on many fronts—in the roster of the artists, the outstanding examples of their work, and the history and documentation that accompany them. Their passion for the artists and their work shines through every aspect of the collection and through their continuing generosity to the museum.”
“In their collecting, Garth Clark and Mark Del Vecchio have focused on truly innovative examples in the field,” said Cindi Strauss, MFAH curator of modern and contemporary decorative arts and design. “The extraordinary range of ceramics on view will span nearly 60 years and five continents, demonstrating to the public the rich and inexhaustible possibilities of the medium.”
The exhibition opening weekend coincides with the annual Ruth K. Shartle Symposium at the MFAH on Saturday, March 3 at 1 p.m., featuring a roundtable discussion and lectures by the curator, collectors, and leading scholars in the field.
A 504-page catalogue co-published by Yale University Press will accompany the exhibition, providing an overview of both the exhibition and the collection itself. This major publication offers an in-depth look at the artists, movements and innovations that shaped the field internationally and presents new perspectives on ceramic art.
The organizing principle of Shifting Paradigms rests on two ceramic traditions, the vessel and the sculpture, and will showcase permutations of the two over time and across the globe. Vessels range from the sculptural to the ornamental to the narrative. Untitled Vase/Stack (1969-71), a distinctive work comprised of wheel-thrown sections that were later assembled and manipulated, is by Peter Voulkos, renowned as one of the first American ceramists to challenge the primacy of the functional pot. Ron Nagle is represented in the exhibition by Cardworthy (2001), among other pieces, a sleek earthenware vessel glazed in high-gloss colors that exemplifies his mediations on the cup form. A 1998 work by Belgian ceramicist Piet Stockmans is comprised of a three-by-three foot wood box that contains 625 individual porcelain cups. And Arman’s Four Stages of Conversation (1994) displays an assemblage of earthenware teapots, both whole and disassembled.
Many of the abstract and representational sculptures expand the potential of the art form through engaging material, formal perspective and inspired scale. The New York Times called Viola Frey’s figurative sculptures “among the underappreciated wonders of late-20th-century art”; her Esther Williams and Deborah Kerr at the Beach (1975) will be on view. Ken Price is considered to be one of the most important ceramic sculptors of the 20th century, as part of an avant-garde circle in L.A. in the 1950s that revolutionized ceramic sculpture by focusing on abstract form. Price’s Chinese (1984) combines smooth geometric elements with rocky outcroppings more evocative of clay’s primal side, and the shape, colors and patterns in this piece reflect the artist’s interest in the Sung Dynasty (960-1279). Jean-Pierre Larocque’s work expresses the human or animal condition, as in his figurative Head (1996), with its gash for a mouth. Barnaby Barford twists preconceived notions of ceramic figurines in Oh please can we have it mummy (2006), featuring three painted figurines of the McDonald family, each staring longingly at a cow while standing under McDonald’s “golden arches.” Christine McHorse innovates within Native American pottery traditions, as seen in her elegant micaceous clay sculpture Untitled (1996), which expands on regional Pueblo customs by incorporating contemporary subject matter, methods and motifs.
Both parts of the exhibition present room-size installations. In the vessel section, Denise Pellitier’s For Mary/Vapours/Lake (2000-05) consists of a thousand white-ceramic vessels that hang from the ceiling; Marek Cecula’s clever Porcelain Carpet (2002) consists of nearly 200 decorated plates that lay across the floor in imitation of a Persian carpet. The Phenomenology of Ten Vessels (1998-99), a minimalist installation by Edward Eberle, pairs porcelain vessels, each with the name of an alchemical element printed on it (“Acid,” “Carbon,” “Ether,” “Lead,” “Urine,” “H20,” “Mortar,” and “Pestle”), with screen prints depicting and describing the objects. In the sculpture section, and concluding the show, are two additional environments. Elise Siegel’s Into the Room of Dream/Dread, I Abrupt Awake Clapping (2001) features androgynous, identical ceramic figures seated in matching wooden chairs in a loose circle. With their mouths agape and heads collectively swiveled toward the door of the gallery space, they give the unsettling impression that the viewer has disturbed them in some activity or intimate conversation. Japanese artist Katsuyo Aoki’s installation consists of six ornate, Rococo-style pieces, made of molded porcelain and ornamented with scroll flourishes and naturalistic designs. Viewed together, Aoki’s objects suggest associations with Western fairy tales, histories and myths, but leave any narrative ambiguous.
The Garth Clark and Mark Del Vecchio Collection
Garth Clark writes in the catalogue: “Building the collection has taken me and Mark Del Vecchio five decades, across five continents, and through hundreds of potteries and sculptor’s studios, museums, and collectors’ homes … We have been present on occasions when the paradigms have shifted, and at times, it was putting our shoulders to the wheel that helped them to move. This makes our collection different than most.”
The collection encompasses an international roster of established and emerging artists with a specialty in the ceramic arts, as well as painters and sculptors who also worked in clay. The artists are from the United States, England, Canada, Ethiopia, South Africa, Japan, China, Taiwan, Mexico, Uruguay, Argentina, France, Spain, Italy, The Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Poland, Denmark, Sweden, Latvia, Hungary, and Turkey. A diverse range of aesthetics is represented, from abstract and sculptural forms to narrative works. Installations, prints and drawings by many of the artists, and a group of objects whose roots are in industrial design, are important subsets to the overall collection. The core of the collection comprises American material that traces the aesthetic and technical developments of the past four decades through in-depth representation of artists such as Ralph Bacerra, Marek Cecula, Ken Ferguson, Anne Kraus, Ron Nagle, Richard Notkin, and Beth Cavener Stichter. Important works by Laszlo Fekete, George Jeanclos, Kitamura Junko, Geert Lap, Bodil Manz, Lawson Oyekan, Richard Slee, and Akio Takamori are also represented.
About the Collectors
Garth Clark is an internationally recognized scholar, author and collector of modern and contemporary ceramic art. He has written or contributed to over three dozen books, including Shards: Garth Clark on Ceramic Art; Gilded Vessels: The Life and Art of Beatrice Wood, and The Artful Teapot. Among the many honors and awards accorded him are the Mather Award for art criticism given by the College Art Association, the Art Critics Award of the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Art Book of the Year Award from the Art Libraries Society of North America for his volume on George E. Ohr.
Mark Del Vecchio was a founding director and partner of the Garth Clark Gallery for ceramic art in New York City, together with Garth Clark. Del Vecchio has been an influential dealer in ceramics for over 30 years and is the author of the critically acclaimed book Postmodern Ceramics. He received the American Craft Museum’s Visionaries Lifetime Achievement Award, and was co-chair of the organizing committee for the 1999 Ceramic Millennium Leadership Congress in Amsterdam.
This exhibition is organized by the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. Generous funding is provided by Friends of Contemporary Ceramics.
Upcoming Exhibitions at the MFAH
Dutch and Flemish Masterworks from the Rose-Marie and Eijk van Otterloo Collection November 13, 2011-February 12, 2012
Revelation: The Major Paintings of Jules Olitski February 12–May 6, 2012
Elegant Perfection: Masterpieces of Courtly and Religious Art from the Tokyo National Museum February 17-April 6, 2012
Egyptomania February 19-August 5, 2012
Utopia/Dystopia: Construction and Destruction in Photography and Collage March 11–June 18, 2012
Elegance and Refinement: The Still-Life Paintings of Willem van Aelst March 11–May 28, 2012
About the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
Founded in 1900, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, is among the ten largest art museums in the United States. Located in the heart of Houston’s Museum District, the MFAH comprises two gallery buildings, a sculpture garden, library, theater, two art schools, and two house museums.The encyclopedic collection of the MFAH has some 63,000 works and embraces the art of antiquity to the present.
MFAH Communications: Mary Haus, Dana Mattice and Lisa Sursavage; (713) 639-7554
Images top to bottom:
1 and 2: Aoki Katsuyo - Predictive Dream
3: Ron Nagle - Cardworthy