Exhibition explores the often-overlooked role of ceramics in 20th-century art

“The Ceramic Presence in Modern Art,” a new exhibition re-examining the contributions made by artists working in clay during the second half of the 20th century, will be on view at the Yale University Art Gallery Sept. 4-Jan. 3.

Subtitled “Selections from the Linda Leonard Schlenger Collection and the Yale University Art Gallery,” the exhibition features more than 80 objects by 16 artists who have at times or throughout their career chosen clay as their medium. The Schlenger Collection is considered one of the most important assemblage of contemporary ceramics in the country.

Although critically lauded within the studio-craft movement, many ceramic pieces are only now coming to be recognized as important and integral contributions to the broader history of modern and contemporary art, note the exhibit organizers. The Yale show juxtaposes objects from the Schlenger collection with celebrated paintings, sculptures, and works on paper from the gallery’s permanent collection in order to highlight the formal, historical, and theoretical affinities among the works on view.

The effort to integrate ceramics more fully into the history of art is the result of recent shifts in approaches to both making and exhibiting artworks, explains doctoral student Sequoia Miller, a graduate research assistant in the Department of American Decorative Arts and co-curator of the exhibition.

In the last decade, ceramics have become commonplace in contemporary art, and ceramic artists such as John Mason, Kenneth Price, and Peter Voulkos have gained renown among wide public audiences. “These developments have grown out of a larger dissolution of boundaries and hierarchies in the visual arts, where artists bear less allegiance to any particular historical medium or tradition, opting instead to use whatever materials best suit their ideas at a given moment,” explains Miller. “Museums have followed this lead by beginning to incorporate a wider range of artworks and disciplines into both permanent-collection installations and special exhibitions.”

In addition to Mason, Price, and Voulkos, the exhibition includes works by Robert Arneson, Billy Al Bengston, Hans Coper, Anthony Caro, Ruth Duckworth, Robert Hudson, Jim Melchert, Ron Nagle, Magdalene Odundo, George E. Ohr, Lucie Rie, Richard Shaw, and Toshiko Takaezu. Their ceramic objects are displayed side by side with more than 200 modern and contemporary artworks in other media by artists including John Chamberlain, Bruce Conner, Helen Frankenthaler, Philip Guston, Hans Hofmann, Edward Kienholz, Franz Kline, Willem de Kooning, Joan Mitchell, Isamu Noguchi, Jackson Pollock, Martin Puryear, Mark Rothko, Edward Ruscha, Ursula von Rydingsvard, and Mark di Suvero.

Many of the artists working chiefly in ceramics were close friends and colleagues of artists working in other media, teaching, exhibiting, and collaborating with them. The works are grouped to underscore the correspondence of line, shape, and texture in these works.

“’The Ceramic Presence in Modern Art’and its accompanying catalogue and programming are the culmination of a great deal of research and close-looking,” says Jock Reynolds, the Henry J. Heinz II Director and co-curator of the exhibition. “This rich collaborative journey began in 2013, when I first met Linda Leonard Schlenger and encountered the breadth and remarkable quality of her collection. That fortuitous meeting, coupled with hours of subsequent conversation, bolstered our shared conviction that artworks created in all media can evoke equally complex and satisfying responses.”

The programming includes talks by practicing artists that “are sure to yield many interesting conversations among visitors, scholars, students, and artists as these objects are presented and reconsidered in the vital context of this teaching museum and the neighboring Yale School of Art,” said Reynolds.

The Yale University Art Gallery, located at 1111 Chapel St., is open to the public free of charge. Museum hours are Tuesday–Friday, 10 a.m.–5 p.m.; Thursday until 8 p.m. (September–June); and Saturday–Sunday, 11 a.m.–5 p.m. The gallery is closed Mondays and major holidays. For general information, call 203-432-0600 or visit the website at http://artgallery.yale.edu.

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Media Contact

Joellen Adae: joellen.adae@yale.edu, 203-432-0611