A new exhibition at the Yale University Art Gallery aims to recast the role of ceramics in the history of 20th-century art.
Bringing together over 230 objects in a variety of media — including ceramics, painting, sculpture and works on paper — The Ceramic Presence in Modern Art: Selections from the Linda Leonard Schlenger Collection and the YUAG argues that in the narrative of postwar art, ceramic works should be considered as influential as more traditional media.
“Ceramicists were thinking in similar ways as artists in other media,” said Sequoia Miller GRD ’18, who co-curated the exhibition with YUAG director Jock Reynolds.
The Ceramic Presence includes the work of 13 major ceramists and two collections — the gallery’s permanent holdings and those of Linda Leonard Schlenger, one of the most important private collectors of ceramics in the United States. A chance encounter between Reynolds and Schlenger sparked the exhibition’s concept, Reynolds said, adding that a symposium in fall 2014 brought together artists, curators and art historians to discuss the topic.
Natalie Sheng ’17, a History of Art and Economics double major, said she particularly enjoyed the exhibition’s treatment of ceramics as more than just a material used to craft functional objects, such as plates and bowls. Ceramics can also be used to create pieces that are abstract and expressive, she added.
Entering the exhibition from the early-20th century galleries, the first piece of ceramic art one encounters is a Peter Voulkos “stack,” which resembles a small tower, rendered in wood-fired stoneware. The Voulkos piece’s placement in relation to a Jackson Pollock painting on a nearby wall is meant to evoke the influence of Pollock on Voulkos, Miller explained. Miller added that one of the major themes of the show is to put ceramicists in conversation with their contemporaries working in other media.
“We’re very much hoping that viewers start to see them not as stand-alone objects but in conversation with one another,” Miller said.
Miller added that the exhibition aims to illuminate the relationships between works without employing unnecessary amounts of textual explanation. He noted that instead, the curators worked to group pieces in a way that highlights their formal and conceptual similarities.
Such a relationship, Miller noted, existed between a pair of watercolors by Hans Hofmann and a ceramic plate by Voulkos. Because these works feature the same vibrant colors and abstract shapes, viewers are able to easily perceive a visual connection between them even though they were made in wholly different media.
Aria Pearlman Morales ’18, who visited the exhibition, said that though she has little experience with art history, she found the exhibit accessible and educational.
The exhibition will remain on view through Jan. 3, 2016.