Ceramists have been carving and cleaving their material for centuries. But the status of ceramics in the worlds of contemporary art and design has taken some time to be secured. Perhaps this is due to the connotations of ceramic pieces as craft objects, or simply functional items; or perhaps because working with clay has frequently been viewed as a feminine practice, with female artists often overlooked. Now, though, contemporary ceramics seems as hot as the fire of the kiln, with women like Brie Ruais and Rachel Kneebone deservedly in the spotlight, and the sculptures of artists like Sterling Ruby, Ai Weiwei, or Rosemarie Trockel—to name just a few—again situating clay within the realm of contemporary art. As Francesca Gavin has highlighted, it is clear that ceramists are breaking out of simplistic molds, a current vogue that may have to do with a reassertion of tactility and the handmade in a digital world, as a counter to the machine-made or ephemeral quality of digital art.
Whatever the medium’s backstory, the international array of ceramists to be presented at this year’s The Salon: Art + Design fair goes to show how both established and emerging ceramicists sit side-by-side, with historic, modern, and contemporary works alike brought to the attention of art and design lovers and collectors. We see not only 21st-century artists whose work demonstrates how far the transition from craft to cutting-edge has come, but figures from the medium’s history, who are key to understanding the evolution of clay today.
One such formative figure is Lucie Rie (Galerie l’Arc en Seine), a major artist of the Studio Pottery movement in the 20th century. Rie’s glazed earthenware predates the innovations of Danish artists Lone Skov Madsen and Turi Heisselberg Pedersen (J Lohmann Gallery), who have been exploring form systems and surface textures in their series of vessels and vases since the ’80s and ’90s. Pedersen emphasizes the negative space surrounding the object, and reaches towards architectural references with her curvaceous Balustrade Vases II (2014)—forms you will want to hold on to.
At Hostler Burrows, following the gallery’s recent all-female show “Six Women,” female ceramists take center stage. Kristina Riska’s monumental urns nod to the sacred vases of ancient epoques, now made minimal. Maren Kloppmann’s Wall Pillow Stack II (2014) is a prime example of ceramics as minimalist art—a succession of identical shapes, satisfyingly chunky and material, the elliptical shape of the pillows’ sides casting shadows on the wall.
L.A.-based Gallery Seomi shows multiple pieces by Korean potter Lee Hun Chung, who revives ancient Asian techniques (that can also be witnessed in the work of Ogawa Michiko, practicing since the ’80s and presented by Joan B. Mirviss) through his modern-day vision. Here the artist favors silvery greys, aqua and light bronze glazes in a calm set of objects. Chung’s combination of the more rustic moldings of clay with the firmly urban material of concrete (see Dark Concrete Bench, with its polished corners) epitomizes the interplay between the traditional and the present-day in clay.
Visit The Salon: Art + Design Fair 2014, New York, Nov. 13–17.