Ceramic art often has a traditional connotation. The medium as an art practice fosters nostalgia. Like the myth of creation, the simple act of touching can be moulded into microcosmic paradigms of the worldly order. The art form came into existence with the notion of utility—it has a practical and logistical place in craft and design. Broadening the conventional frame of ceramics beyond material utility and cultural rituals, to a medium for conceptualising relevant social issues of gender, race, and issues of identity markers, the Deitch Gallery presents Clay Pop Los Angeles curated by Alia Dahl. The group exhibition comprises thirty-two artists, all based in the United States, who employ the material medium of clay to leave traces of their personal narratives. "Artists are taking a traditional medium and turning it on its head," the curator shares.
A translation of ceramics into pop culture icons has been a long practice on the American West Coast, specifically in California. Although referencing older generations of ceramic artists, the exhibiting creatives expand their practice to the everyday modern, commercial imagery, counterculture influences, African-American assemblages, and disneyfied modifications, to redefine the ceramic aesthetic. The latest works are euphoric and figurative, and facilitate a reimagination of clay's inherent utility. The glazes on these clay sculptures are colourful and vibrant and are inspired by movements from the 1970s, including Funk. Other influences include visuals from the Middle East, Africa, and Asia.
Some featured artists at Clay Pop Los Angeles are Seth Boggart, Stephanie Temma Hier, Sydnie Jimenez, Ruby Neri, and Bari Ziperstein. Boggart uses the medium of clay to sculpt books that are controversial and, in some cases, even banned, such as Hollywood Babylon. Hier uses her ceramic expertise to put forward an approach that no image or art installation exists in a vacuum, witnessed on display through a realistic matchbox titled One day let's Be a Pair of Trees. Jimenez creates figurative works with a distinct persona which makes evident their individuality, to tackle the fringed position of people of colour within popular culture rooted in white supremacy. Neri depicts the human body as a porous medium, her figurines embodying the emotional spectrum, spanning from pleasure to terror, and everything in between. Zipperstien experiments with materiality while promising conceptual depth—her practice confronts ideas of consumerism, propaganda, and the built environment.
Clay Pop Los Angeles offers an additional dimension to visual arts, in a digital world, where art can be coded or generated virtually by using artificial intelligence. The exhibition makes relevant the needed skills of dexterity and human capability for conceptualisation. The medium of clay is congruent with sapien-like tendencies—both are malleable and mortal. These similarities are reflected in ceramists' way of being, defined by a strong sense of the ceramic community emerging in Los Angeles, Long Beach, and Oakland. Nonetheless, experimentation with clay is an experimentation of the anthropological perception of a sustainable, inexhaustible resource.
A book with the same title as the art exhibition has been published by Rizzoli to archive and pervade this novel interpretation of ceramics. Sections have been assigned to each featured artist's practices, including a profile on their creative trajectory, photographs encompassing a 360-degree view of clay sculptures, and the ceramicists' biographies. The introduction describes the artists' interconnected community, while two comprehensive essays place their latest works in the context of the histories of pop art and ceramic art.
The exhibition marks a renaissance for interpreting clay as a medium for contemporary art to reify pop culture, beyond its cultural positioning in crafts. The display at the Jeffrey Dietch art gallery also transcends the idea of conventional white cube display techniques, with lilac walls bringing out a sense of playfulness and vibrancy. The curation of these pop art clay sculptures invites a new perception. The exhibition doors are open till 12th August, 2023.
'Clay Pop Los Angeles' is on view from June 24 – August 12, 2023, at the Jeffrey Dietch Gallery at 7000 Santa Monica Boulevard in Los Angeles.