Who knew porcelain bleeds and ceramic can be sliced? Reader Alert: this post contains gore.
The recent exhibition at the Museum of Arts and Design (NYC at Columbus Circle) was titled “Body and Soul: new international ceramics.” I call it “Porcelain Terrors.”
Three life-size children, shiny white, greeted me. A boy and a girl appeared to be begging on their knees in front of another girl. Was it a game, a new form of “Mother, May I”? Then I walked around the standing girl and saw the gun she held behind her back.
The show, which closed a week ago, was a Hall of Mirrors made personal by human figures martyred to cultural violence, anxiety, and fears. The 25 artists show, once again, that art with meaning reveals us to ourselves.
Also, that beauty can be an exquisite door to ugly truths. That’s why I, for one, need it. It is a conversation of deeper measure than politics as usual, reality shows, casual flirtations, fast foods, and implanted prejudices. It talks to me where I live, fret, and need answers.
An artist told me decades ago, if a painting doesn’t come off the wall and hit you behind the knees, it’s not good enough. My definition is gentler: good art either has to hit you behind the knees or play your heart like a stringed instrument. Audible gasps are good.
In the show porcelain heads were chopped off and ceramic hearts and intestines pulled out. Such fine materials, such lamentations.
China skulls were sliced by fine china plates. Lust and gluttony were glazed. Much piercing was done. See “The Volunteer” (below) for surgical procedures.
Another exhibition was on view, and will be until June 1. “Out of Hand: Materializing the Postdigital” shows objects of various materials made by 3-D printers. To me, the objects lacked heart and soul not to mention blood and guts. They felt like next-generation decoration, furniture, and clothing, which, in fact, they were. Harbingers of our future.
Not incidentally, 3-D printers already manufacture real guns that look like the one behind the girl’s back.
That is, the first show showed the violent subset of our propensities while the second supports our propensities for pretty things and/or power. That said, a friend of mine adored the 3-D show, and you may, too.
(More 3-D pieces, besides this lace chair, are shown below. Note the black lace dress especially.)
The thrill, or shiver, for me, however, was “Body and Soul” because it showed who we are, how we kill each other, how we use each other, and how we consume each other, and how we want to be consumed. I was not printed by a 3-D printer. I am flesh.
Titled “Broken,” a collection of delicate English women with names like “Claire,” once exquisitely dressed and coiffed as figurines, held up their slit wrists, offered viewers their heart or head or guts – all with sweet smiles. Always in petticoats, sometimes with hats.
A dinner party turned into a bacchanal of sex, food, lust, gluttony. Louis XIV, or your neighbors? A reality show, or secret fantasies? More than indigestion is at stake here.
A woman of indeterminate age stood naked and vulnerable with pumped-up lips slavered in lipstick, turning innocent self-conscious beauty into something sexually grotesque, and common place.
One skull was sliced by fine china plates, another woven through the eye sockets by a cheap oversized bead necklace. We live, we decorate, we die.
The ceramics of men touched me immensely, wounded as they were, strong men, warriors, fighters made of fragile materials that, like them, could be broken easily. A man hauled his idealized sleeping woman on his back, a boxer was cut, St. Sebastian in a hoodie was tied to a chair surrounded by flattened porcelain penises, a man with a mirror in his face burst his heart.
Why is this mesmerizing? Literally, you see, it is beautiful. Exquisite surfaces, delicate colors. And you see through it to what we see on television and in our media of what we do to each other, our collective and individual stupidities that result in inner and outer devastations.
Yet, there are artists in every culture who turn that into something so poignant that our humanity is restored. They return us to feeling and caring. Their art gives us hope by making us honest, by not letting us get away with it.