Thursday, May 24, 2012

Discovering Art and Art History: Pottery with Jonathan Adler

large jade bird bowl, limited edition ceramic croccharade drape vase, capuchine large gourd, georgia vase  

When I was in undergrad I went through an obsessive ancient Greek sculpture and vase phase. I was so into it that I could go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and guess the time periods of the artwork correctly without looking at the labels. I knew which type of drapery was associated with each artistic period and what region it was from. Besides being generally impressed by the skill and sophistication of it all, I thought it was interesting that a lot of the sculpture and particularly the vases were decorative objects made for everyday and ceremonial use. Just like us today, many people then wanted to be surrounded by beautiful objects. Many of the vases made were designed and created by craftsmen. They were made in workshops and sold as craft. We look at them now in the museum setting and think about how precious they are (I mean anything that lasts +2,000 years is well-made in my book) but then they were part of people’s everyday life and culture. There is a blurred line here between artist and craftsman, art object and commercial object.

This leads me to Jonathan Adler. I had the pleasure of attending his lecture (and meeting him!) on Tuesday night at the Corcoran Gallery of Art and College of Art + Design. He spoke to a standing-room-only audience about his professional journey. If you aren’t familiar with his brand of decorative objects, I highly recommend you read his manifesto and bio ASAP. You will be laughing out loud. His “irreverent luxury” and making “happy” a brand were indeed inspiring. There were many take-aways for me but I kept coming back to this idea of art vs. craft as Mr. Adler’s career is founded on his insatiable passion for creating pottery.

He started his career creating pots for artistic consumption, “one of a kind” type objects that one might find at a local art fair. But he soon saw the value in producing his work on a grander scale, the opportunity in changing motifs with the seasons, and the challenge of mixing the creative with the sellable. Mr. Adler noted that his animal sculptures are best sellers and recommends to “anyone trying to do a business - do animals. People love them” :).

Throughout the lecture, Mr. Adler kept mentioning that during the course of his career he has dealt with the same aesthetic concerns of silhouette and proportion in his pottery (which he still does daily, literally hands on in the design process). He wants to liberate each pot from its raw form; to be “uncovered rather than created” as if it had always existed. He wants each sculpture to be perfect. Each new motif- inspired by everything from nature, shop mannequins, drapes, to precious pups-enlivens his passion to pull the perfect form from the mud. These concerns are those of an artist, no?

However, he creates decorative objects that we can use in our everyday life. Instead of plain ol’ salt and pepper shakers, how about one with a moustache? Instead of a glass vase, how about a porcelain one with a perfect geometric design? His designs are mass produced in workshops worldwide (mostly in Peru through Aid to Artisans), so are they still artistically valuable? I ask myself, would one of his Georgia vases one day end up in a museum representing our time and culture? Is a craftsman a purveyor of artistic aesthetic? Is a commercially successful potter speaking about his work in a historical museum ironic? Can there be a blurred line to art and craft in the contemporary world or is it something left in the past? What do you think? Tell me in the comments below…

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