Scholarship and exhibitions of Ohr’s work emerged in the ’70s and ’80s; in 1978, the first solo show was held at the Mississippi State Historical Museum in Jackson, Mississippi, and books were published, like The Unknown Ohr: A Sequel to the 1973 Monograph (1986) by Robert W. Blasberg and The Mad Potter of Biloxi: The Art and Life of George E. Ohr (1989) by Garth Clark, Robert A. Ellison, Jr., and Eugene Hecht.
By the mid-1970s, the vessels had made their way into New York shops, and
were among early collectors. Johns even included depictions of the pots in his paintings, giving Ohr valuable art-world exposure at his Leo Castelli Gallery exhibition in 1984. Other collectors and institutions soon followed.
Nearly 90 years after Ohr’s death, the Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art, a Smithsonian affiliate institution, opened in 2010, in a gleaming $25 million Frank Gehry building. (Its name refers to former mayor of Biloxi Jeremiah O’Keefe and his late wife Annette, in whose honor he had gifted $1 million to help fund the original museum.)
Unlike Ohr, the living artists in Clark’s show, “Regarding George Ohr” at the Boca Raton Museum of Art, have seen marked success during their lifetimes, and many show with prominent
galleries. But like Ohr, many are the subject of ire among traditional ceramists. “They are all very contentious figures,” Clark offers. “The ceramics community has a very difficult time with the informality of these works.”
He points to Peter Voulkos, who gained visibility in the mid-1950s, but was attacked for his (supposedly) poorly made works, which he often made holes in. Some five decades later, Sterling Ruby was met with similar criticism. “There’s a kind of conservative expectation about ceramics,” Clark offers.
But the way that Ohr fought against the conservatism certainly played a role in paving a way for ceramic artists of present. “He was very conscious of the work and its quality; he was prescient in that he could see into the future and understand where things would be,” Clark explains.
“Ohr said that ‘eventually the nation will build a temple to my genius,’ which was very laughable at the time,” Clark adds. “And then one of the top architects in the world ends up doing that. It’s a fascinating story.”