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New York Ceramics Fair Special Exhibitions Where Historic Art and Contemporary Articulation Collide
January 6, 2013  | 

Past as Prologue in contemporary ceramic arts frames the presentation of two extraordinary special exhibits at the 2013 New York Ceramics Fair taking place in the ballroom of the Bohemian National Hall at 321 East 73rd St. between First and Second Avenues, January 23-27. 

Both exhibit curators will also speak as part of the Fair’s lecture series.

Mounted by internationally renowned ceramicist and scholar Michelle Erickson, one exhibition presents works Ms. Erickson created during her Ceramics Residency at the Victoria and Albert Museum, in London, from July to September, 2012.  The V&A article announcing her residency acknowledged Erickson’s worldwide recognition “for her mastery of lost ceramic arts during the age of exploration and colonialism. Her contemporary work makes use of these arcane ceramic techniques to create historical narratives about political, social, and environmental issues – both past and present.”  

At the beginning of her Ceramics Residency at the V&A, Michelle Erickson wrote; “The opportunity to practice my art in the midst of 5000 years of clay traditions represented in the V&A’s collections is akin to getting the keys to the world’s ceramic candystore. I can only hope that access to masterworks by artists such as Lucca Della Robbia, Bernard Palissy and John Dwight will lead me to hidden technological secrets used by the legendary elites of ceramic art.”

The journey to London actually began in 2010, when Erickson and Rieno Liefkes, senior curator of Ceramics and Glass at the V&A, met at the American Ceramics Circle conference hosted by the Chipstone Foundation in Milwaukee. The V&A was just completing the reinstallation of its Ceramics Galleries and following Erickson’s presentation on making North Carolina Moravian Pottery, Liefkes asked Michelle if she would consider a residency in the V&A’s new studio within the Ceramics Galleries “making rooms.” During her summer of 2012 residency, Erickson’s studio was in the new V&A Ceramics Galleries and provided her access to the V&A's extensive collections (which include her work); curatorial and conservation expertise.  She held Open Studios sessions when Museum visitors spend time in the studios to see for themselves the Residents at work. She also worked on the development of three scholarly video presentations about historical ceramics technology, produced by the V&A in conjunction with the Chipstone Foundation of Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  She also was swept far enough into London’s Olympic Fever to seriously explore the arcane connection between the pattern and relief on the Nike trainers featured at Olympic Track and Field events and on 18th Century English white salt glaze sauce boats.  Erickson’s exhibit will include several pieces created during her residency, among them a work tentatively titled “London Soul,” a green ware piece featuring the five Olympic rings, each in a pattern created from the sole of one of the five trainers given her by the Nike Olympic Track and Field Innovation Group.  Talk about “product placement.”

The other special exhibit,COVET in Reprise, presents the works of leading contemporary ceramicists assembled by gallerista and curator Leslie Ferrin, reprising a highly successful project produced by Ferrin and ARTBerkshire in the summer of 2012; COVET Art & Objects. COVET, a summer-long series of exhibitions and events across the Berkshires, focused on the direct relationship between contemporary artists and historic art work in museum collections.  COVET at the New York Ceramics Fair will include works by Christa Assad, Michelle Erickson, Molly Hatch, Giselle Hicks, Sergei Isupov, Frances Palmer, Mara Superior and Jason Walker.

COVET in Reprise was originally inspired by conversations between Museum of Fine Arts Boston curator, Emily Zilber and designer/artist Molly Hatch about the direct relationship between contemporary artists and historic artworks in museum collections.  That conversation focused on the powerful John Singer Sargent family portrait of the Daughters of Edward Darley Boit, 1882 hanging in the newly opened American Wing at the Museum of Fine Art.  The Sargent work is positioned between two large 19th century Japanese porcelain vases also featured as content in the painting.  The concept of the relationship between two and three dimensional works launched Hatch’s current series that use prints and drawings drawn from various museum collections as source material for installations of multiple ceramic plates and silhouette paintings that join sculptures with works on paper.  

Ceramics artists working with Leslie Ferrin and ARTBerkshire to present COVET created new works referencing artwork and collections based at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY; the Frick Collection, New York, NY the Sterling and Francine Clark Institute, Williamstown, MA; the Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, MA; the Berkshire Museum, Pittsfield, MA; Smith College Museum of Art, Northampton, MA among others.

Stephen Bowers, for example, decorated both “Staffordshire Dogs” and human skull forms with patterns based on historic Willowware designs and Mara Superior’s highly complex economic and political parody “Tulip House” includes representations of Ming Dynasty chargers signifying the great wealth of early Dutch tulip growers. 

“One of the strongest trends in contemporary art today,” Ferrin said, “is the reinterpretation of history as presented through modern ideas.  Through the COVET project, our exhibition and public programs provided an opportunity to inspire the creation of new artwork while simultaneously forging new relationships between museum curators and contemporary artists.” Ferrin’s Ceramics Fair lecture will continue COVET’s original dialogue with a panel discussion with artists involved in the project  Michelle Erickson, Frances Palmer and Mara Superior.

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