Beginning in the 1960s, collectors Garth Clark and Mark Del Vecchio assembled over five decades an unparalleled collection of modern and contemporary ceramics, focusing on objects that individually and collectively challenge traditional expectations of the medium. In 2007 the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
, acquired this landmark collection, giving the museum one of the most important collections of post-World War II ceramics in the world. From March 4 to June 3, 2012, the MFAH will present the exhibition Shifting Paradigms in Contemporary Ceramics: The Garth Clark and Mark Del Vecchio Collection, celebrating the museums acquisition of the Clark/Del Vecchio collection and presenting it on a large scale for the first time.
Organized by Cindi Strauss, MFAH curator of modern and contemporary decorative arts and design, Shifting Paradigms in Contemporary Ceramics will reveal new research in the field and present clay art in a new light. The exhibition begins with a brief overview of ceramic history and types as seen through the collectionfunctional forms, vessels, and sculpture comprise this section. The main thrust of the exhibition follows; specifically, redefining ideas about the vessel and sculpture through dynamic and unexpected works such as a porcelain carpet displayed on the gallery floor; objects by famed artists who were not trained in ceramics, like Arman and Claes Oldenberg; and a mixed media/video work by Barnaby Barford. In addition, five immersive room-sized, ceramic installations will create unique environments within the exhibition. Seminal ceramic artists such as Peter Voulkos, Ron Nagle, Beatrice Wood, Akio Takamori, Betty Woodman, and Adrian Saxe will also play a major role in the exhibition as will emerging artists such as Beth Cavener Stichter, Reinaldo Sanguino, Michael Geertsen, and Aoki Katsuyo, among others.
In their collecting, Garth Clark and Mark Del Vecchio have focused on truly innovative examples in the field, said Cindi Strauss, MFAH curator of modern and contemporary decorative arts and design. The extraordinary range of ceramics on view will span nearly 60 years and five continents, demonstrating to the public the rich and inexhaustible possibilities of the medium.
The organizing principle of Shifting Paradigms rests on two ceramic traditions, the vessel and the sculpture, and will showcase permutations of the two over time and across the globe. Vessels range from the sculptural to the ornamental to the narrative. Untitled Vase/Stack (1969-71), a distinctive work comprised of wheel-thrown sections that were later assembled and manipulated, is by Peter Voulkos, renowned as one of the first American ceramists to challenge the primacy of the functional pot. Ron Nagle is represented in the exhibition by Cardworthy (2001), among other pieces, a sleek earthenware vessel glazed in high-gloss colors that exemplifies his mediations on the cup form. A 1998 work by Belgian ceramicist Piet Stockmans is comprised of a three-by-three foot wood box that contains 625 individual porcelain cups. And Armans Four Stages of Conversation (1994) displays an assemblage of earthenware teapots, both whole and disassembled.
Many of the abstract and representational sculptures expand the potential of the art form through engaging material, formal perspective and inspired scale. The New York Times called Viola Freys figurative sculptures among the underappreciated wonders of late-20th-century art; her Esther Williams and Deborah Kerr at the Beach (1975) will be on view. Ken Price is considered to be one of the most important ceramic sculptors of the 20th century, as part of an avant-garde circle in L.A. in the 1950s that revolutionized ceramic sculpture by focusing on abstract form. Prices Chinese (1984) combines smooth geometric elements with rocky outcroppings more evocative of clays primal side, and the shape, colors and patterns in this piece reflect the artists interest in the Sung Dynasty (960-1279). Jean-Pierre Larocques work expresses the human or animal condition, as in his figurative Head (1996), with its gash for a mouth. Barnaby Barford twists preconceived notions of ceramic figurines in Oh please can we have it mummy (2006), featuring three painted figurines of the McDonald family, each staring longingly at a cow while standing under McDonalds golden arches. Christine McHorse innovates within Native American pottery traditions, as seen in her elegant micaceous clay sculpture Untitled (1996), which expands on regional Pueblo customs by incorporating contemporary subject matter, methods and motifs.
Both parts of the exhibition present room-size installations. In the vessel section, Denise Pellitiers For Mary/Vapours/Lake (2000-05) consists of a thousand white-ceramic vessels that hang from the ceiling; Marek Ceculas clever Porcelain Carpet (2002) consists of nearly 200 decorated plates that lay across the floor in imitation of a Persian carpet. The Phenomenology of Ten Vessels (1998-99), a minimalist installation by Edward Eberle, pairs porcelain vessels, each with the name of an alchemical element printed on it (Acid, Carbon, Ether, Lead, Urine, H20, Mortar, and Pestle), with screen prints depicting and describing the objects. In the sculpture section, and concluding the show, are two additional environments. Elise Siegels Into the Room of Dream/Dread, I Abrupt Awake Clapping (2001) features androgynous, identical ceramic figures seated in matching wooden chairs in a loose circle. With their mouths agape and heads collectively swiveled toward the door of the gallery space, they give the unsettling impression that the viewer has disturbed them in some activity or intimate conversation. Japanese artist Katsuyo Aokis installation consists of six ornate, Rococo-style pieces, made of molded porcelain and ornamented with scroll flourishes and naturalistic designs. Viewed together, Aokis objects suggest associations with Western fairy tales, histories and myths, but leave any narrative ambiguous.
The Garth Clark and Mark Del Vecchio Collection
Garth Clark writes in the catalogue: Building the collection has taken me and Mark Del Vecchio five decades, across five continents, and through hundreds of potteries and sculptors studios, museums, and collectors homes
We have been present on occasions when the paradigms have shifted, and at times, it was putting our shoulders to the wheel that helped them to move. This makes our collection different than most.
The collection encompasses an international roster of established and emerging artists with a specialty in the ceramic arts, as well as painters and sculptors who also worked in clay. The artists are from the United States, England, Canada, Ethiopia, South Africa, Japan, China, Taiwan, Mexico, Uruguay, Argentina, France, Spain, Italy, The Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Poland, Denmark, Sweden, Latvia, Hungary, and Turkey. A diverse range of aesthetics is represented, from abstract and sculptural forms to narrative works. Installations, prints and drawings by many of the artists, and a group of objects whose roots are in industrial design, are important subsets to the overall collection. The core of the collection comprises American material that traces the aesthetic and technical developments of the past four decades through in-depth representation of artists such as Ralph Bacerra, Marek Cecula, Ken Ferguson, Anne Kraus, Ron Nagle, Richard Notkin, and Beth Cavener Stichter. Important works by Laszlo Fekete, George Jeanclos, Kitamura Junko, Geert Lap, Bodil Manz, Lawson Oyekan, Richard Slee, and Akio Takamori are also represented.