Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Review: Object Factory: The Art of Industrial Ceramics

All the conventions of ceramics you know get thrown and spun around in this exhibit. More craft than trade, Object Factory: The Art of Industrial Ceramics http://collections.madmuseum.org/code/emuseum.asp?emu_action=advsearch&rawsearch=exhibitionid/,/is/,/472/,/true/,/false&profile=exhibitions

at The Museum of Arts & Design in New York City ( until September 13) splices traditional forms with clever visual puns in some cases. In others, industrial designers find new applications for new and versatile ceramics. Come with a sense of humor.

The introduction describes how artists and designers are collaborating with the industry in ways that enhance and subvert the industrial process.

Perhaps the most patent example of this subversion is the the tea set, Spanish Lace, by Edyto Cietloch. The vessels are carved into filigree screens that imitate Spanish lace. Not, obviously, intended for pratical use of any kind, the functional objects turn into art objects. We might question everyday reality by extension.

For more on twists on expectations, look at 5.5 Designers Ensemble Cremiers Coulage no. 2 et no. 4. A sauceboat has some strange hitchhikers, the kind we usually try to keep out of the sauceboat. By having these little guests collect at the top, as if they were the sauce, the artists play with enticement and repulsion. What is food, and what is not get lumped together with the gravy.

Following this questioning of reality theme is the dinner plate series by Robert Dawson entitled Willow Pattern with Uncertainty. The name says it all. Reminiscent of Bleed Pattern English China Trade ware of the 1700's, the floral scene becomes blurry for two thirds of the plate. The effect is a little cinematic and definitely not the way to show off your fine China. The seeming embodiment of China itself is depreciated by this parlor trick, and the art of porcelain becomes the art of the gallery.

Blurring boundaries between objects is what Gesine Hackenberg does with jewelry. In Spoon Set a jewelry ensemble takes the form of the eponymous title. In the artist statement, Hackenberg says, "Occasionally the realm of jewelry and commodities shift together very closely...By using materials, shapes, fragments, and typical patterns out of another daily context as a base for my jewelry, I transfer their meaning and emotional impact in my works." The craft of porcelain merges with the perhaps more rarefied art of jewelry. Industrial design and fine arts cross-fertilize eachother.

Then there are moments when fine arts lock horns with commercial design. In Jo Meesters Ornamental Inheritance, http://www.jomeesters.nl/home.php series the lower portions of vases carry traditional Dutch Delft floral patterns. About midway up flowers recede in favor of a contemporary industrial landscape, replete with McDonalds monopoles instead of marigolds, airplanes, turbine windmills instead of traditional ones, and what looks to be the CN Tower in Toronto. The play on old vs. new, and high culture vs. low is humorous and dignified at the same time.

Paul Scott http://www.cumbrianblues.com/exhibitions.html pushes Meester's idea to the limit. In Scott's Cumbrian Blue[s] series the English countryside of traditional table settings is given a new and candid interpretation. In After the By-Pass a bucolic village is interrupted by tourists on the motorway. Barsbacke 2 substitutes a factory for the English manor house. In Foot and Mouth No. 5 the expected grazing cattle are instead the victims of foot and mouth disease. A bulldozer is assembling them for disposal, as a funnel of smoke belches for its sacrifices. This is a far cry from dinner in polite society. This removes the gentile manners of the dining room and invites controversial discourse. The title may also suggest diner's putting their feet in their mouth as a result.

One gallery in the show omits the tongue-in-cheek (let alone the foot-in-mouth) puns. The mood is serious for serious applications of technology to industrial ceramics. Elisha Tal's, Eyal Cremar's, and Danny Lavie's Nomad series features toaster, kettle, and pitcher. Conductivity of heat with ceramics to this extent was not possible until this point. Ami Drach's Hot Plate extends its heating element over the surface of the plate depression. The artist refers to it as a conductive silkscreen. Here is the marriage of function and design at its height. The function is the design.

The Kyocera knives and cleavers series prove that ceramic cutting tools can now be as sharp as metal. It is cutting edge technology of today.

Of course, visual puns are what give this show its artistic edge. You may want to linger a bit at Khayasar Naimanan's Incognito (Hidden Wealth project) http://www.designmuseum.org/__entry/71239?style=design_image_popup What is going on here is really a challenge to the decorum of the dining ritual. The designer creates the usual floral design and flip-side hallmark, but it is reversed...flowers on dish bottoms and hallmark on dish surfaces. While keeping the decorum of centuries of fine dining, Naimanan disrupts diners' complacency just a tad. Maybe it is enough to make us reconsider the daily customs we take for granted. Or maybe it is just a clever way to inteject an artist's touch into useful objects.


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Stuart Kurtz

August 4, 2009

Stuart Kurtz is a free-lance arts, travel, issues writer at http://www.stuartkurtz.blogspot.com/ He is available for hire at decophile@hotmail.com

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