Not to brag or anything but we figure that we’ve seen at least 80 – 100,000 artworks or images of artworks in our lifetime.
How did we get to that figure? Well, if you accept that a special exhibition has on average 100 objects, and you go to at least 40 shows a year, that’s already 4,000 objects. Then there’s the permanent collection spaces, say those have 15 to 50 pieces per room, and there’s at least 10 rooms, so that is anywhere from 150 to 500 items…Now of course, we’re also saying that we’ve spent more than 3 seconds on each object wherever it is displayed, examining and filing away images, questions, comparisons to other works and so on. And this has been over many years, in cities and towns across the world, not to mention in chapels, churches, cathedrals, galleries, and public areas like streets and subway stations. Then there’s the books…now that’s worth a good 3,000 images a year, easy. And studied in some depth as well, don’t forget.
We’ve embraced everything: adoring Impressionism (French and American), ancient artifacts ranging from Sumerian to Mesoamerican, Northern Renaissance (actually, that’s still a favorite), all the -isms and strange international art groups that lasted only a year or two, and finally, an acceptance that there were very few surprises left in our knowledge of the world of artistic endeavor.
And then we discovered contemporary ceramics.
Here is a field that consistently pushes and strains against the physical and chemical boundaries of creation. Its practitioners accept that although planning is essential to make an object match an idea, the element of surprise is always present, ready to improve or destroy their efforts. Nowhere is this clearer than in the latest show at Lisson Gallery, ‘Masaomi Yasunaga: Looking Afar’, where the ceramics simultaneously refine and demolish the rules of earthenware itself. Yasunaga’s technique is a blend of control over materials combined with the unique aspects of each firing event, subject to weather, temperature, placement in the kiln, etc. These objects, created using clay slip, rocks, minerals, and glass powders are a departure from standard pottery shapes and decoration, with an exuberantly tactile surface that also acts as the framework for the piece itself.
Another aspect of contemporary ceramics is the way shaping clay seems to tap into the human desire to tell stories of all kinds, giving form to visions of the world as it is or might be. One artist who uses narrative to contextualize his pieces this way is Sakari Kannosto, a Finnish artist whose works and installations examine the relationship between humans and nature. His new show at HB381, ‘Children of the Flood’ imagines the outcome of a natural catastrophe that forces humans to mentally and physically evolve to live within an ocean environment. Kannosto’s thoughtful approach to the practicalities of such a situation are leavened with empathy and humor, allowing viewers to reflect on the myriad possibilities of adaptation in a changing world.