Galleries

Playful, Sinister, and Simple Ceramics

by Ben Valentine on October 19, 2012

Clayton Bailey, “Hyperthermian Bottle Bloated Plus Skull” (1993) (all photographs by the author for Hyperallergic)

Just north of UC Berkeley’s campus, hidden away in a small patch of woods, is the Berkeley Art Center, currently showing the exhibition Local Treasures: Bay Area Ceramics. Wanting to know more about the Bay Area’s art scene — craft included — I felt compelled to visit. The beautiful, small building has quiet grounds sprinkled with larger ceramic works. The current show includes eleven artists working in clay, with pieces ranging from simple functional pots to complex installations. The exhibition is an eclectic grouping of artists who most likely wouldn’t be shown together if not for the local theme.

Upon first walking into the gallery space, I noticed Clayton Bailey’s playful and often deformed semi-functional vessels. “Hyperthermian Bottle Bloated Plus Skull” (1993) was one of my favorites: its sheen, coupled with the infected-looking surface and skull and crossbones, makes for a very hazardous feel. I’d love to use these jugs for daily chores, adding a little humor and play to the otherwise mundane routines of life.

Wanxin Zhang, “Special Ambassador” (2011)

After examining Bailey’s work, I looked around to take in the entire space and was confronted by a more sinister and contemporary version of a terracotta warrior. It is Wanxin Zhang’s ”Special Ambassador” (2011), standing larger than life with an imposing presence. I don’t know who this character is or what it’s meant to be an ambassador for, but whatever or wherever it is from, I don’t want to be a part of it. I was reminded of the infamous clown-clad serial killer, John Wayne Gacy, who wore similar face paint.

Jon Gariepy, foreground: “Silence” (2012); background left: ”Requiem for an Early Departure” (2012); background right: ”Genesis of a Dirty Deal” (2012)

Jon Gariepy shows a meticulous attention to detail in creating his ceramic boats; “Silence” (2012) is riddled with miniature destruction. His paintings recall Anselm Kiefer, whose moody assemblages and installations often incorporate wartime and nautical imagery. Gariepy’s works as a painter and a ceramic artist are equally powerful; I’m glad the curator chose to show both. Of all the art on view, I spent the longest time with Gariepy’s, studying both the details of the boats and the mood of the installation as a whole. I’d like to see an entire gallery dedicated to him.

Annabeth Rosen, clockwise  from top left: “White Stripe Pile” (2012), “Stripe Tube” (2012), “Stump” (2012), ”Burble” (2012)

Annabeth Rosen’s installation was similar Gariepy’s but more abstract. I particularly enjoyed her painting “Stripe Tube,” because it felt the most balanced and allowed my eyes to wander over all of the detail and texture. “White Stripe Pile” has a few glaring, tree trunk–like cross sections that were distracting. I was interested in Rosen’s piles of pots held together by rubber on rigid stands, but I didn’t know what to make of them. The piles felt old, as if recently unearthed by an archeologist, yet the metal stands and rubber are very contemporary. I don’t think this juxtaposition in materials was especially successful.

Usually such a big range of work would bother me, but for this show, it was the strong point. The Bay Area houses such a wide variety of artists that to be more selective would have been disingenuous. I liked seeing functional pots next to conceptual art; it reminded me more of my home, where I proudly display both, than a museum, where the two rarely mix.

Local Treasures: Bay Area Ceramics continues at Berkeley Art Center (1275 Walnut Street, Berkeley) until November 18.

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