“Melting Point” at the Craft and Folk Art Museum

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Cheryl Ann Thomas, “Spring,” 2015, colored porcelain. Courtesy of the artist; photo: W. Scott Miles

Cheryl Ann Thomas, “Spring,” 2015, colored porcelain. Courtesy of the artist; photo: W. Scott Miles

The inaugural edition of the clay biennial, titled “Melting Point” is a survey of sorts, tracking the recent trajectory of innovations in what is perhaps the most elemental of artistic materials. The exhibition itself, is divided in three thematic units — from the ground floor up: New Sociopolitical Interpretations, Ephemerality, and Anti-Disciplinary — all concepts that invoke a break with the traditional norms and expectations surrounding the earthy media. However, many of the 22 artists on view illustrate the futile nature of categorization with works that defy even these broad definitions. 
 
Throughout the exhibition, many of the artists interrogate social concerns, disseminate political ideologies, and explore the limits of the material through the elemental motif of the vessel. Case in point, a series of installations by LA-based Wayne Perry from the lobby and winding the up the staircase consist of unfired clay, transforming a media which might literally last millennia to an inherently transient material. The pots are stacked against one another in a corner, found clinging to the edges of consecutive stairs, and suspended from wires. Perry relates this nontraditional staging, removed from any pedestal, with those devalued in contemporary culture. On the second floor, Emily Sudd’s vertically sliced specimens reveal found ceramics objects that the artist inserted into thrown vessels before refiring the works. The results are an amalgamation of new and old, hand-made and mass-produced, questioning the distinctions and valuations between the two. Reaching back to the prehistoric coiling technique, Cheryl Ann Thomas pushes her material to the point of collapse, or rather, beyond it. The large-scale sculptures appear as if caught in a process of slowly melting. In reality, the works are multiple vessels fused together, the result of meticulous exploration of the medium’s ability to withstand, or not, the intense heat of multiple firings and the force of gravity. In response, the original forms collapse and envelope one another. Formally evocative, they are a dichotomy of fragility and strength, fusing notions of artistic skill with the unpredictable element of chance.

Originally published in ArtScene (April 2018) and www.VisualArtSource.com.

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