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Nasher Sculpture Center presents exhibition of ceramics by artists of the avant-garde
Pablo Picasso, Fish on a Sheet of Newspaper (Poisson sur feuille de journal), 1957, 12 9/16 x 15 3/8 in. (32 x 39 cm). White earthenware, with clay attached, impressed with newspaper type, painted with oxides, glazed; incised, glazed. Private Collection.
DALLAS, TX.- Held in conjunction with the museum’s 10th anniversary, the Nasher Sculpture Center presents Return to Earth: Ceramic Sculpture of Fontana, Melotti, Miró, Noguchi, and Picasso, 1943–1963, from September 21, 2013 through January 19, 2014. This is the first exhibition to explore the phenomenal increase in interest ceramics received from artists of the avant-garde during this period.

“We are experiencing something of a renaissance in clay sculpture,” notes Nasher Sculpture Center Director Jeremy Strick. “A number of younger artists are exploring the medium, while mid-career artists who work primarily in ceramic are finding increasing recognition. Return to Earth: Ceramic Sculpture of Fontana, Melotti, Miro, Noguchi, and Picasso demonstrates that the roots of radical expression in clay go deep into the history of modernism, and that in the immediate postwar years, key artists produced works that are as extraordinary and surprising as they are little-known.”

Responding to a variety of personal impulses and historical circumstances, Lucio Fontana, Fausto Melotti, Joan Miró, Isamu Noguchi, and Pablo Picasso produced significant bodies of work in fired clay that engaged the material in inventive and radical ways, and often challenged the traditional boundaries between sculpture and ceramics. The Nasher’s exhibition offers an in-depth look at this subject through nearly eighty ceramic works from American and European public and private collections, ranging in scale from the intimate to the monumental. In contrast to these artists’ work in other media, their pursuit of ceramics has for the most part received scant attention, particularly in the United States.

World War II imposed significant disruptions and displacements on each of these artists, and clay offered them a way to reground themselves while moving their art forward. Fontana, who had sought refuge from the war in his native Argentina, returned to Italy and began a radically new path in ceramics and clay related to his burgeoning ideas about Spatialism. Melotti, who stayed in Milan, emerged from the conflagration to become one of the primary proponents of architect Gio Ponti’s populist agenda making high modernism an accessible part of everyday life. Miró, who had returned to France at the outset of the Spanish Civil War, only to be forced back to Spain by German bombs, longed to establish roots and dreamed of a large studio in which to pursue his expanding artistic interests and efforts to move beyond painting. For Noguchi, who voluntarily spent seven months in a relocation camp for Japanese-Americans in Arizona after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, ceramics became a medium through which to explore the Japanese side of his cultural heritage. During the German occupation of Paris, Picasso decamped to the south of France where he enlivened a quiet industry of potters, reconnecting with his bohemian roots and pursuing a more seamless integration of art and life that offers an unexpected precedent for avant-garde modes prominent in the later 1960s and 1970s. Despite their disparate contexts and circumstances, the artists featured in Return to Earth were drawn to clay as much for its immediacy and tactile responsiveness as to its commonplace status, metaphorical associations, and broader cultural implications.

Organized by the Nasher Sculpture Center, Return to Earth is curated by Nasher Sculpture Center Chief Curator Jed Morse. It will be accompanied by an illustrated scholarly catalogue and plans are underway for a symposium to be held at the museum during the exhibition.

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