Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Ohr you could look at this

I'm currently in a ceramics class that is probably my favorite class of all of my graduate school career. (And yes, I've been in long enough for this to qualify as a career.) Today, we discussed the Arts and Crafts movement in America and George Ohr got a small moment on the screen. I really enjoy the work of George Ohr. He was from Biloxi, MS, had a zany mustache, and really pushed the limits of clay. He also experimented extensively with glazes, searching for new colors, new textures, and moving away from the smooth artistic glazes of his contemporaries.

He was an arrogant man and believed no one could compete with his work. He would post signs in his shop and at exhibitions proclaiming his pottery the best in the world. He even made an umbrella stand and inscribed it to the Smithsonian, confident that the institution would want it. They have it in their collection now. He had a sexual element to many of his works, pushing boundaries of good taste for the late 19th century. Really, I think he was just Postmodern before there was such a thing. When compared to Howard Kottler's "Hole Grabber" there is a definite relationship. If you're in the Biloxi area, you should check out the Ohr-O'Keefe Museum to see more of his works.

Photo Credit: Ohr-O'Keefe Museum of Art

Monday, September 20, 2010

Fool the Eye

Should you wonder why I've suddenly upped my blog writing in the last few weeks, it's because I'm simultaneously avoiding writing my thesis and helping myself write my thesis. I'm avoiding, well, because that's just what I do. But I'm helping because somehow, these posts get my brain in the right place to crank out 4,000 words or so about a man, an exhibition, and a country on the verge of being wowed by studio craft.

Fool the Eye is the literal translation of "trompe l'oeil." It's one of my favorite art techniques. I've always wanted to attempt it, but lack of skill and direction hindered it in the past. It's going on the list of things to do later in life.

Lest you think this post is about musing of no coherent nature, direct your eyes back to the top of the page. This is an amazing piece of trompe l'oeil. I discovered it in my roam through the Luce Center last week and was instantly struck by it. I noticed it must be a pretty recent acquisition as its accession number is 2009.45. It's all clay. The corrugated cardboard: clay. The books: clay. The wheels: clay. Amazing, isn't it?

Unfortunately, this piece, titled Bookmobile, is so new that the Luce Center site tells you that research is being done on this piece and you should return later to learn more. I dug a little to find out about the artist: Sylvia Hyman. She works in Nashville, TN, and her work is all trompe l'oeil. I could write more, but others have done a much better job as you can read here.

I'm very interested in the books featured in this piece. There are several clay books, including Bernard Leach's, a copy of The Cat in the Hat, Plato, and Julia Child's French Cooking. Sadly, the picture doesn't show you several of the other books, one of which I recall is about music. I'm excited to learn more about this piece and why she chose to include these works.

For now, though I'll just be mesmerized by her skill.

Photo Credit: Smithsonian American Art Museum

Friday, September 17, 2010

My Plates

Yesterday, after what constitutes a marathon session of reading at the Library of Congress (for me, that's about 4 hours), I decided I need to to go to a museum and actually see objects rather than reading about them. After skimming furniture books, exhibition catalogs and reacquainting myself with Mark Del Vecchio's Postmodern Ceramics, I knew I needed to go to the Luce Center.

The Luce Center, located in the Reynolds Center (which also houses the entirety of SAAM and the National Portrait Gallery), is open storage for both fine art and craft. Honestly, I've spent very little time in the fine art section because that doesn't appeal to me on the same level. So, I wandered up to the third level to look for "my plates."

These aren't plates I made. These are the plates that pretty much changed my life and the whole trajectory of my graduate school career. I spent a semester learning about these plates, about their maker, Howard Kottler, and discovering the whole world of Postmodernism. I read Fredric Jameson--and for anyone who's ever read him, you understand exactly how hard that was. But that's beside the point.

These plates are clever. Incredibly so. Kottler takes porcelain blanks, like you would find at a production factory, and applies decals to them. When he originally began his work, he used both porcelain blanks and commercially available decals. (My favorite part is that this process is called decalcomania.) These particular plates, as you can see above, take Thomas Gainsborough's "Blue Boy" and do humorous, if not dark, things to him. The one above is probably one of my favorites called "The Ambitious Resident." The repetition of the carriage, which came from a standard catalog of decals is combined with the special-ordered Blue Boy decal. The boy is chopped up in perfect pieces, but his expression doesn't change and he doesn't seem phased at all by this change. He also isn't going anywhere. What are his ambitions if he has no horses and can't even seem to pull himself together to have his entire body at least in one carriage? Kottler's other pieces probe in the same ways. "Would Blue Boy" is probably my second favorite from the set, but I encourage you to check out the pieces for yourself.

Photo credit: Smithsonian American Art Museum

Monday, September 13, 2010

I continue to eat my words

I decided to take a risk this final semester of graduate school and take a furniture course. I figured that if it was 20th century furniture I would be okay, since I do love some good design and my good friends, Charles and Ray Eames were 20th century designers. For my course, we took a field trip to the Knoll factory in East Greenville, PA, this past Friday and I was completely wowed.

Their museum, while small, contains their iconic pieces from the Knoll Studio collection, as you can see above. You walk in and are immediately greeted by a number of chairs and a handful of tables that speak volumes about mid-century Modern design. As you move through the room, you see more pieces that tell the story of how it progressed and how Knoll worked to be at the forefront of design and innovation. But the best part: you can sit in almost every single one of these pieces. Please name another museum where you can do that.

We then were given a tour of the factory, and while factory work is usually not at the top of my list of jobs I'd like to have, this one could be a contender. The factory is well-lit, open, comfortable, and every single person we talked to seemed excited and happy to be there. They were more than glad to tell us what they were doing and show us how they make their furniture. We were even allowed to touch the fabric that goes on the Life chair! Other employees from the engineering and marketing sides talked to us, and I got the overwhelming impression that Knoll works incredibly hard to be at the forefront of good design.

The most amazing thing they've come up with in the last year is the Generation Chair. It's a chair that borders on being intuitive, and as soon as I sat in it and realized the potential, I was sold. You can sit in it like a normal chair at your computer. Sit in it sideways. Sit backwards. Lean on it. Push it around. Basically, it does everything I've ever wanted a chair to do. Visit this site to learn all about how amazing it is.

Now, if only I could afford it...