Wednesday, April 8, 2009

roberta smith, keynote extraordinaire.

Roberta Smith is , in my opinion, a very good art critic. She recently wrote about the Philadelphia ICA show, dirt on delight.

Huge props to her for approaching ceramics in the "art world" topic to start off the evening. It wasn't well received and 30-40% of the crowd walked out during her talk which made it a little awkward.

where the exodus happened.

I loved every minute of what she had to say because it was the UPenn senior critic jargon and I'm now far enough away from the grad school experience to understand what they/ she was saying.

She started off with something about understanding why the clay community is shunned by fine art. Cue for the masses to leave. It was awkward to say the least and I don't think a lot of people understood where she was coming from.

She didn't touch upon utilitarian work directly which caused more people to leave and approached the entire talk from the NYC perspective. This caused a lot of grumbling and ill feeling, at least to the crowd around me and it was very evident at the end during the Q & A session.

She spoke in great depth about the heavy hitters in the art world using clay as a medium, Julian schnabel, Koons, Pollock etc. Called Ken Price the pollock of the ceramic world. (oooh not so tactful roberta)

and then did an in depth review of the artists and art represented at the ICA dirt on delight show. She mentioned Jane Irish and my heart fluttered. Jane is the UPenn grad program coordinator and the only faculty member who was a fan of my work.

Roberta also spoke about object relationships to pedestals which is a topic near and dear to my very own breakdown of sanity and for the love of all things, I still cannot wrap my head around why this is so fucking important. I get the history of it but critics you need to drop it and move on. (sorry rant)

In regards to the ICA show she spoke about objects being poorly made and the use of clay by non ceramic artists as being unskilled approach and that skill is tied into craft. (whew that ruffled some audience feathers, cue stampede to get to the doors) She referenced the work that was non functioning, weird proportions, heavy, over glazed that is rampant. ie: sterling ruby

Roberta said a few "nice" things about ceramics like it's the only medium whee you are really touching the artists marks. She also understood and talked about misrepresentation of ceramics in fine art and how the ICA show was skewed, but that she loved it because it's a start and you gotta start somewhere. She drew parallels to the conceptual art movement that broke apart modernism and said she thought clay was entering the break through stage since todays artists are post material and that material does not dictate, pigeonhole anymore.

She ended the talk with the idea that we live in a visually illiterate nation and what the job of the critic is, also touched upon learning to listen to yourself, honing in on your gut reaction.

let's just say the Q & A was brutal.

my favorite quote of the night.

"If you make something and I can tell you what it is about, one of us is stupid."

here are some pictures!! way better than words :)





for ron


I would go back and title these pictures but i'm a little exhausted, maybe i'll fix it tomorrow.


Anonymous said...

Good for you for listening to the whole talk. It certainly sounded interesting.

Great photos too.

LaPellaPottery said...

Once upon a time, art was a means of communication to both the educated and the illiterate masses. Now we have so skewed the definition that it is only art if everyone stands around going, "WTF??" and pretending they get it. I'd prefer it if art actually communicated something.

Good for you for hanging in there!

lomaprietapottery said...

I was there and heard the talk. I also stayed to the end. Since I don't have your background, I will say that I understand your excellent summary of the talk a lot better than I understood what she was saying. Thanks for the excellent and very clear summary.

monica said...

Hey Terry! She was definitely all over the place and jumpy, but I just think she was so frazzled. I'm sure she's not used to people leaving when she speaks. I think she meant good things but some/most came out wrong. Obviously this is just my opinion but I think she was trying to say that ceramics is making a huge breakthrough into main stream fine art, it's unevenly represented now but it's a step and going to get better.

raymond said...

monica, I loved your eyewitness account here. I read roberta's review of 'dirt on delight' in the nyt and she's spot on, when she says, at the very end:

"It can't be said enough that the art-craft divide is a bogus concept regularly obliterated by the undeniable originality of individuals who may call themselves artists, designers or artisans. But this timely, satisfying show proves it once more. It also suggests that while ceramics is just another art medium, there is no art medium quite like ceramics."

monica, I think you would really love philip rawson's book, Ceramics -- it's about how we as people respond to clay objects in sensory ways, and how that's all wrapped up in our culture/history, etc. He wrote it back in dickerty ('84), and I'm surprised (like roberta is) that people still argue over 'is it art or is it craft' -- as if that's even the question. such a debate would never happen in places like japan!

I watched a documentary on philip glass last night and he would agree with roberta: [paraphrasing] "if you don't need a new technique to say something, then you're not saying anything new". he also says "music is an underground river; you know it's there even if you can't see it or say where it's going -- it only matters if you're listening to it."

pedestals? I think a lot of the confusion and noise about all this can be placed very neatly on a pedestal (to return the favor): a pedestal with a label that reads (and again returns the favor): HERE STANDS THE TYRANNY OF LABELS!

the ica show, dirt on delight, did not use pedestals. instead, it placed all the objects, quite democratically (and conveniently), on huge shared platforms. it was breathtaking what that did to the space, which allowed the objects to be entirely themselves -- and ourselves to be ourselves! (and, ultimately, for a gallery to be a gallery.)

Madmud said...

Thanks, Monica, for the excellent summary. (Also thanks to Raymond who wrote an interesting comment.) I have not been formally educated in ceramics, though am familiar with some of the fine art/ceramics "divide," so I probably would not have understood the talk had I attended! Does sound like some of the audience was predisposed to jump out at the least pretense. Looking forward to more reporting!!

Ron said...

Hey, I meant to comment back when you posted this but forgot to. Plus I needed to read it again. I'd like to find a copy of her keynote. Maybe it will be online at some point. Thanks for the pic! Totally cool rat plate, nibbled on no less. Look forward to hearing more. I'm soooooo excited about Penland.