5 Must-See Ceramics Shows You Can View Online

Artsy Editorial
Apr 28, 2020 7:37PM

Installation view of “Nature/Nurture” at Ferrin Contemporary, 2020. Courtesy of Ferrin Contemporary, North Adams, Massachusetts.

While galleries have temporarily closed worldwide due to COVID-19, we can still get inspired by the work of contemporary artists. As part of Artsy’s Art Keeps Going campaign, we’re featuring exhibitions that you can access via Artsy, with insights from the artists and our writers. This week, we’re sharing a selection of shows featuring ceramics at galleries from Los Angeles to Helsinki.

Alex Anderson

Gavlak, Los Angeles

Alex Anderson, installation view of “Little Black Boy Makes Imperial Porcelains” at GAVLAK Los Angeles, 2020. Courtesy of GAVLAK Los Angeles


The title of Alex Anderson’s current show at Gavlak, “Little Black Boy Makes Imperial Porcelains,” is a provocation. The 30-year-old Asian- and African-American artist uses the fraught, overlapping identity politics of ceramics to explore his own identity. The show finds Anderson dragging the white monolith of Westernized sculpture into a realm of colorfully violent deconstruction.

The historical connotations of ceramics—of colonial appropriation and Orientalism, of bright white forms extolling the Western ideals of beauty—are exploded and reformed here, streaked with gold luster and blackface. The works, like the show, are titled with a venomous wit: Stop Cooning (2019) shows a rodent being impaled by the pure golden gaze of a severed head, and Losing Face (2019) sees a blank white visage slip down a vanity painted with a minstrel caricature. One particularly powerful piece, 2020’s Achilles, sees a disembodied white hand holding a black baby’s lone leg over a pool of gold in the manner of its titular hero.

Anderson’s pieces destroy the monumentality of sculpture, pointing with derision at the ways that white Western society dresses up its violence and fetishization in pale porcelain. By breaking those staid forms and dressing their remains in violent rictuses and flowing gilded streams, Anderson is able to make physical the volcanic history always bubbling beneath ceramic skin.

—Justin Kamp

See the show on Artsy.

Johannes Nagel

Officine Saffi, online only

Johannes Nagel’s intentionally imperfect ceramic works look almost as if they were made biologically; their raw, expressive forms appear more akin to alien fungi than vases. “Most objects are somehow vessels, pots,” the artist writes on his website. “What else are they? The attempt to confuse the connotations that technology and materials provoke.” His online show through Milan’s Officine Saffi, “Studio Visit: Johannes Nagel,” showcases some of Nagel’s recent experiments in creating these organic containers.

White Dripping Vessel (2019) is the most physical of the bunch. Its round, plaster-white, gourd-like base is punctuated and pierced by dozens of small dowels that are caked with matte porcelain. Incongruously stacked on top of it is the vessel’s mouth—wide with a paper-thin rim and loosely decorated like a Greek amphora with glossy technicolored glazes and drippy black outlines. The artist’s hand is visible in every inch of the work.

In order to create such gestural, surprising pieces, the German artist uses an age-old technique known as sand casting. This method utilizes sand mixed with a binding agent to create a pliant, shapeable mold. Nagel carves into this substrate directly before pouring in liquid porcelain. By working this way, the artist is able to produce spontaneous, spur-of-the-moment shapes and textures that would be nearly impossible to create through more conventional procedures. “The handling of the material and the methods of making volume and shape are improvised,” he explained. “I dig, I stack, I find, I paint on.”

—Shannon Lee

See the show on Artsy.

Arlene Shechet

Pace Gallery, New York

Arlene Shechet’s work invites us to consider what’s hidden below the surface. The multidisciplinary artist creates theatrical works that display both a mastery of technique and a playful approach. Shechet’s first solo exhibition at Pace Gallery, “Skirts,” brings together contrasting materials and ideas to examine the contradictions existing within society.

In Touching Summer (2020), rust-colored ceramic cylinders and painted hardwood come together to form a totemic structure that resembles an ogling face. Deep Dive (2020), with its tree-like base, explodes with color as it ascends. Atop a platform made of steel and wood, there’s a yellow-and-blue glazed ceramic piece that resembles a crystal you might tote around for positive energy.

In a recent video on Pace’s website, Shechet explained the important dynamic between her sculptures and their audience. The works, fixed in place, lead the viewer to move around for a closer look, encouraging a sort of dance. “I’m working with a kind of seduction,” Shechet said in the video. “I know everybody is going to sneak a touch.” Even when seen online, Shechet’s works still possess that same allure.

—Daria Harper

See the show on Artsy.

Kristina Riska

Galerie Forsblom, Helsinki

With soft curves and bulbous protrusions, Kristina Riska’s ceramics evoke female silhouettes and Comme des Garçons couture. A representative piece, exactmarkings (2020), resembles a whitewashed, finely patterned dress with ballooning sleeves, a gathered torso, and a long straight skirt.

For her first solo exhibition at Galerie Forsblom, Riska—one of Scandinavia’s most lauded contemporary ceramic artists—took inspiration from a psychiatric hospital just off Finland’s coast, on Seili Island. Until 1962, the staff effectively imprisoned female patients in its wards. As Riska explained, women could be committed for reasons that, in 2020, sound sexist and terrifying. “You could be hospitalized for being too rebellious: locked up for many years in a house on an island in the middle of nothing,” she said. “I felt strongly that I owed these women at least a thought in my works.”

This interest fits neatly in Riska’s practice: Natural forms and the human body fascinate the artist. At Galerie Forsblom, two vessels from her “bodyinside” series (2020) are on view alongside the works about female confinement. Many are hollow, a detail crucial to Riska’s practice. She describes these openings as “black holes”—voids that suggest the unknown, even as they create biological and cosmic associations.

—Alina Cohen

See the show on Artsy.


Ferrin Contemporary, North Adams, Massachusetts

Installation view of “Nature/Nurture” at Ferrin Contemporary, 2020. Courtesy of Ferrin Contemporary, North Adams, Massachusetts.

For “Nature/Nurture,” Ferrin Contemporary director Leslie Ferrin brought together a diverse group of 12 female artists to consider the role that gender plays, directly or indirectly, in their practices and careers. The show was organized in conjunction with Forefront 2020, a two-day exhibition and symposium highlighting women in the visual arts on MASS MoCA’s campus (the event has been postponed, and its new dates are to be determined). “Nature/Nurture” calls to mind the age-old debate, but here, the concepts of nature and nurture aren’t pitted against each other. The artists were encouraged to express how their experiences as women have shaped them and their work.

Anina Major’s practice is driven by a desire to protect her lineage—she weaves clay together, as her grandmother wove palms, in an effort to create objects that will carry on traditions and educate future generations of women. In works such as Hybrid Gourd (2019), she makes permanent the woven palms of her Bahamian roots.

While Major looks to past generations of women, Crystal Morey looks to a past chapter in art—18th-century painting and sculpture. She creates porcelain figures of some of the most reproduced images in art history, like Venus, the Three Graces, and Leda and the Swan. The twist? Most of these idealized female bodies have animal heads. Howling wolves and wrinkled rhinoceroses have smooth, curving hips and coyly gestured feminine hands to highlight the relationship between humans and our increasingly vulnerable environment. By adopting the archetypal female form, Morey calls to mind the various images of women painted and sculpted in fecund forests to signify the urgency of protecting that landscape and its inhabitants.

—Sarah Dotson

See the show on Artsy.

Artsy Editorial