How Japan’s Best Ceramists “Listen” to Clay

Kohyama Yasuhisa, “Wind (Kaze)” (2004), stoneware, Shigaraki clay with natural ash glaze, 19 1/2 x 21 1/2 x 3 1/2 inches. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, gift of Halsey and Alice North, 2015 (photo by Richard Goodbody)

Japan has long been a center of ceramic excellence, but in the 20th century many of its celebrated traditions began to change. An engaging new book, Listening to Clay: Conversations with Contemporary Japanese Ceramic Artists (Monacelli Press, 2022) by Alice North, Halsey North, and Louise Allison Cort, reveals the people, places, and moments behind this seismic shift. The book’s lively, in depth interviews with 16 of the country’s most revered living ceramists, along with five influential dealers of Japanese ceramics, shed light on how the Japanese clay worker went from shokunin (skilled production craftsperson) to sakka (fine artist), transforming the country’s culture and society in the process.

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Building an Art Community From the Ashes of Destructivism

Raphael Montañez Ortiz, “Henny Penny Piano Destruction” (1966-98), destroyed piano. The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, gift of the artist (all photos Ela Bittencourt/Hyperallergic)

When it comes to self-destructive games, the artists loosely grouped around the 1960s movement Destructivism pulled no punches. At the 1966 Destruction in Art Symposium (DIAS) in London, for example, Yoko Ono performed her legendary “Cut Piece,” in which the audience could cut off her clothes with scissors; police repeatedly intervened in DIAS, citing complaints of explosions, animal sacrifice, and other scandalizing acts; and prizes went to artists injured in happenings — one with an axe, another from a fall while staging a piece, yet another when a bomb prematurely exploded in his hand.

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Human Ears and Animals Emerge from Dense Fields of Porcelain Foliage Sculpted by Melis Buyruk

“Blooming Light” (2022), porcelain, 18k gold decorated lightbox, 100 x 100 x 12 centimeters

Cradled within wooden boxes, leaves, blossoms, animals, and the occasional bit of human anatomy form the dense topographies of Melis Buyruk (previously). The Turkish artist blends various organic elements into sprawling, monochromatic works made of porcelain that are mesmerizing in intricacy with slightly unearthly undertones. In multiple recent works like the “Blooming Light” and “Golden Bloom,” for example, a single ear appears amidst the mosses and foliage, embedding the fragmented human body part within the largely floral ecosystem.

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Gleaming Sculptures by Ann Carrington Examine the Underbelly of Historical Extravagance

Detail of “Madame Moulliere” Image © Ann Carrington

In The Netherlands in the 17th Century, a Golden Age was in full swing. The economy of the Dutch Republic, as it was then known, was flourishing as Antwerp and other ports became important hubs for the commercial shipping trade, importing and exporting textiles, spices, and metals, and the cities’ populations swelled. Elaborately detailed oil paintings depicting food on the table or incredible flower arrangements were popular additions to wealthy merchants’ homes, yet a more ominous genre of still-life painting also emerged amid this period of immense growth.

Known as Vanitas, the paintings brim with symbolism intended to emphasize the futility of earthly pleasures and the pointlessness of seeking wealth, power, and glory. When British artist Ann Carrington visited the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, she described in Architectural Digest that “looking at those pictures of half-consumed food and fading flowers, I realized that one of the only things that could have survived to today was the silverware, and I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be fun to try to make something out of that?’” The works in her Bouquets series (previously) combine hundreds of kitchen utensils into extravagant floral sculptures.

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A Diverse Array of Textures Cloak Abstract and Figurative Ceramics by Artist Carlos Cabo

Image © Carlos Cabo

More than form or color, texture is what preoccupies Carlos Cabo as he sculpts. The Spanish artist, who lives and works in Salinas, is drawn to the tactile qualities of clay and the possibilities inherent in its malleability. Texture “is what gives (a work) personality, what individualizes it, and essentially differentiates it from other similar pieces,” he says. “I would dare to say that the texture is more than the skin of the piece. It is the representation of its genetic code.”

From masses of the natural material sourced from the countryside, he shapes tall, slender figures wearing pocked gowns, abstract pieces that twist upward, and minimal owl-like creatures, some with sleek feathers and others with rough, bumpy plumage. Each ceramic piece is carefully molded, fired, and covered in terra sigillata, the lustrous clay slip coating that functions similarly to a glaze while not masking the texture of the sculpture’s surface.

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‘It’s Important to Leave Something for the People of Venice’: Why Artist Bosco Sodi Is Letting Locals Take His Biennale Art Home

Installation view of “Bosco Sodi: What Goes Around Comes Around” at the Palazzo Vendramin Grimani, Venice. Photo courtesy of Kasmin, New York; Axel Verwoordt, Antwerp; and König, Berlin.

When the Venice Biennale closes in November, artworks from hundreds of artists will be packed up and shipped back to countries around the world. But a little piece of the contemporary-art circus that brings so many jet-setting art collectors to the Italian city will stay at the lagoon thanks to Bosco Sodi.

That’s because the artist is giving away one of the artworks in his exhibition “Bosco Sodi: What Goes Around Comes Around.” Venetian residents will be able to take home the small 195 clay spheres that surround a giant one in Noi Siamo Uno, an interactive display on view beneath a Murano glass chandelier at the Palazzo Vendramin Grimani.

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Clusters of Diaphanous Textile Sculptures by Mariko Kusumoto Evoke the Ocean Floor

Japanese artist and designer Mariko Kusumoto (previously) shapes gossamer coral and sea creatures from soft fibers like polyester, nylon, and cotton. Embedded with tiny ripples or airy pockets, the standalone sculptures and wearables are translucent renditions of lifeforms, and their delicate compositions correspond with the fragility of the subject matter.

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Mesmerizing Human Faces Emerge From Carefully Sculpted Metal Wires

Human faces come to life in the industrial sculptures of Darius Hulea. The Romania-based artist uses iron, stainless steel, brass, and copper as the materials for expressive portraits inspired by history and mythology. Inspired by the sketches of old masters, Hulea translates the quickness and fluidity of drawing into three-dimensional forms.

Despite the rigidity of his medium, his portfolio of sculptures displays a looseness and spontaneity not often associated with metal. Many of Hulea’s pieces take on the form of a man with long hair and a beard, and he weaves the wire together to mimic the appearance of long, unruly locks. The density of numerous individual wires creates an interesting texture reminiscent of hair blowing in the wind.

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Lynda Benglis Basks in the Light of Her Art

Lynda Benglis, “Yellow Tail” (2020), Everdur bronze (golden), 53 x 96 x 74 inches, edition of 6 (all images © Lynda Benglis/Licensed by VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY; courtesy the artist and Blum & Poe, Los Angeles/New York/Tokyo, all photos Josh Schaedel)

LOS ANGELES — In Lynda Benglis’s latest exhibition, Excavation at Blum & Poe, the sensuality of her sculptures is as seductive as ever, but the forces of gravity that defined her seminal poured latex and polyurethane pieces are traded for lightness. The large bronze sculptures, accompanied by a room of small ceramics, are spiral bursts that further the artist’s inquiry into the “gestural and the knot” as they investigate negative and positive space. This explanation conveys the formal concerns but not the energy of the works, and the sense of ecstatic motion that they capture.

The large sculptures result from a process of 3D scanning the small ones, creating foam models, and then casting the bronze using the lost-wax method.

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Fierce and Fantastical Experiments in Ceramics 

Roxanne Jackson, “Indigo Kush” (2016), ceramic, glaze, luster 13 x 20 x 12 inches

TORONTO — When ceramic artists place their hands in clay, they are echoing an expressive gesture that has been with humanity for some 20,000 years. With all that in mind, you might think there is no new ground for contemporary ceramicists — but, as Earth Oracles proves, nothing could be further from the truth. The group show at Mayten’s features 15 artists, each of whom has taken their ceramic practice in a unique and groundbreaking direction.

“Coming from Iran, we had clay and ceramics for thousands of years, not only for functional purposes, but artistic purposes,” said Mayten’s co-founder Farnoosh Talaee, who co-curated the exhibition with participating artist Lindsay Montgomery.

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