under the table 2012

under the table                                                     
Fort Worth Contemporary Arts November 3, 2012
ben brandt/ kate gilmore/ fabio j. fernández and tom lauerman/ mathew mcconnell/
jeffry mitchell/ kristen morgin/ thomas müller/ akio takamori

I have a love/hate relationship with clay. I love to hate it and I hate that I love it. But I do LOVE it. Ayumi Horie’s cups, Ken Price’s sculptures or Ai Weiwei’s Sunflower Seeds remind me that I am a loyal believer. Several years ago Christina Rees asked me to curate a “ceramics” exhibition for her gallery, Road Agent. I cringed at the thought of addressing a material fraught with so much debate. Clay is a medium that encompasses high and low, excellence, and quite frankly a lot of crap. I am an artist and support artists based on their integrity and intelligence not discipline. So when Christina asked me again I said yes, hoping to speak for not only myself but also other artists who use clay in the way that I do.  I support ceramicists, sculptors, photographers, videographers, or interdisciplinary artists that don’t want to be defined by one camp and instead use clay as part of a wider conversation.

The premise of this exhibition comes from Mike Kelley and Paul McCarthy’s video Heidi (1992). The opening sequence has 2 puppets debating the paradigm of subversion through the phrases “on the table” and “under the table.” This show starts from an understanding that on the table is kitsch and under the table references perversion. These puppets became a starting point for a discussion about clay’s potential and place as a material within the contemporary art world.

Many artists today are working with clay. As a consequence, there is an interdisciplinary bleed between ceramics, photography, drawing, video and sculpture that can seem dirty, frightening or dangerous to those who need the clear-cut boundaries of media specificity. While ceramics has been equated with kitsch, because of the historical judgment of craft as a lower art form, I see the artists in this exhibition using clay to reference perversion. Not only as a base material that is dirty, abject, or crude but they also have a sensitive, and sometimes funny, use of technique, context and content.

Thomas Müller and Kristen Morgin challenge expectations of how ceramics should look and be used. Müller objectifies language in 1000-point Helvetica bold. Slip cast and fragile it’s intentionally put in harms way. Morgin breaks the rules by making ruins of cultural nostalgia, resisting permanence with objects that are unfired, suggesting impermanence and decay.

Akio Takamori, with the most traditional use of the medium, plays with history by mixing disciplines. A large-scale photograph transforms a precious figurine into a portrait of importance.

Kate Gilmore and Ben Brandt use clay as a prop for absurdity – nothing is made but actions. Gilmore references its domestic history with a physicality that wears gender over its material weight. Brandt awkwardly wrestles with history through a Picasso/Serra look-a-like.

Sculptures in Love With Architecture (a collaboration between Fabio J. Fernández and Tom Lauerman), is a series of small-scale pieces filled with references to the history and humor of architecture and contemporary art. To make diminutive forms embody such massive structures and a traditionally masculine history, takes skill, intelligence, and balls.

Jeffry Mitchell and Mathew McConnell make objects. Mitchell’s sculptures look toward decorative and outsider art. Seemingly heavy-handed, they are actually delicate statements that allude to gender, sexuality and faith. McConnell’s objects question the validity of art. Highly crafted and layered with historical references, his work digs in and gets dirty, asking the bigger questions, trying to make sense of our world.

The artists in this exhibition make work under the table. They are all subversive perverts in one-way or another and as they say in the South “Bless their Hearts”.

Photography: Kevin Todora
Glasstire.com, Katie Geha, clay:media not specific, november 22, 2012
Ceramics Art and Perception, Collette Copeland,under the table, Issue 94.