Clay Pride

The state of the art in contemporary ceramics is on display at the CU Art Museum.

In the much larger center gallery are the works of a quartet of artists, but your eye will be inescapably drawn to the piece by Walter McConnell. "Itinerant Edens: Perpetual Spring" is a two-part installation composed of a pair of floor-to-ceiling columns made of clear plastic sheeting. These columns act as a humidor for the wet-clay sculptures ensconced inside them. Within the larger -- and far more complicated -- of the two is a tremendous profusion of plant forms, including roots, stems, leaves and blossoms, all of which were flawlessly rendered using plaster piece molds. In the smaller column is the figure of a fairy-tale princess looking out into the gallery. I understand why using wet clay was intriguing to McConnell -- it tweaks the whole heritage of the medium -- but I think it's a shame that "Itinerant Edens" is temporary. The installation is wonderful, and the thought of it being rendered back into a formless lump of mud is very sad.

The middle gallery also displays pieces by the only participant in Dirtwho is doing old-fashioned vessels -- some of which are even functional. However, in a twist that seems in keeping with the mood of this show, the artist, New York's Ted Muehling, is not a potter, but a designer whose pieces are manufactured by Germany's Nymphenburg porcelain works. And, by the way, the Muehlings are exquisite.

Also in this center section are sculptures by Belgian-born Parisian artist Johan Creten, including a monumental figure titled "Why Does Strange Fruit Always Look So Sweet?" and "Le Arnie," an elegant installation of beehive-shaped forms on a wooden table. Next to the Cretens are the elegant conceptual pieces by another Belgian-born artist, Pieter Stockmans, who has worked extensively in Holland. Though Stockmans does make vessels -- he throws them himself, unlike Muehling -- he uses them as elements in conceptual installations rather than as utilitarian objects. Reflecting a similar sensibility to Foulem's, Stockmans's sculptures are hermeneutical, referring to blue-and-white Delftware from Holland, which itself derives from Chinese ceramic prototypes.

"Sample," by Annabeth Rosen, earthenware and 
metal.
"Sample," by Annabeth Rosen, earthenware and metal.
"Sample," by Annabeth Rosen, earthenware and metal.
"Sample," by Annabeth Rosen, earthenware and metal.

Details

Through March 19, CU Art Museum, Sibell-Wolle Fine Arts Building, University of Colorado at Boulder, 303-492-8003

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The last gallery is the largest, and it is here that the pieces by the final five Dirtartists are displayed, ranging from miniature figures to enormous installations. The miniatures by Saint Clair Cemin, a Brazilian who lives in New York, are really something else, and I absolutely love them. Highly abstracted and freely glazed, they are part of a tradition of figural sculpture that dates to the late nineteenth century.

On the floor in front of the Cemins is a piece by Wim Delvoye, a Belgian artist who, unlike Creten and Stockmans, still lives there. The piece, "Mosaic," was done in printed and glazed tiles and looks sort of like a Moorish pattern -- until you notice that the swirling lines are actually photographically accurate depictions of excrement. It struck me as being sort of gross and, worse, kind of dumb. I'm not as critical of the wall-mounted installation, "Mountain," by Sweden's Backa Carin Ivarsdotter, in which miniature slip-cast mountains are hung on a red painted ground, but it also left me pretty cold.

That's hardly how I felt about the magnificently baroque tile-based sculptures by Annabeth Rosen from California, which I think are very hot. Rosen starts with a tile slab and then builds up abstract forms in high relief. The resulting pieces are displayed horizontally, either individually or in groups. The largest assemblage of them is "Sample," in which the tiles are mounted on wire legs and then arranged in a large grid that seems to float above the floor.

The last piece in Dirt is "Coming Up for Air," a five-part sculptural group by Lawson Oyekan, a British-born artist who was raised in Nigeria. The totemic and phallic forms are suggestive of termite mounds, a natural occurrence in Nigeria. Interestingly, of all the work displayed, Oyekan's relates best to what's going on around here.

Speaking of which, it might have been nice to have some local content. Maybe Becker should have put the show together herself so that she could have included pieces by Chamberlin, Dickey and Quinn. Knowing their work as I do, they all would have fit in just great. It's really too bad, because had the three been in the show, Dirt would have been better and more relevant.

Sure, you'll go to CU's beautiful Boulder campus for all the booze and illicit sex, but you'll stay for the compelling BECAUSE THE EARTH IS 1/3 DIRT now at the CUAM.

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