In case super-slick technology and mass-produced products make you crave a little human touch, swing by the Institute of Contemporary Art and take your fill of finger marks, hand-lettered signs and claymation-esque film.
Three concurrent shows — “Dirt on Delight: Impulses That Form Clay,” “Touch Sensitive: Anthony Campuzano” and “Joshua Mosley: dread” — maintain a magnetic sense of tactility, making visible the work of the artists’ hands. The delightful variability and irregularity that comes with hand-creating objects emerges in the diverse assortment of works that range from functional teapots to abstract sculptural vessels to illegible bulletin board posts. (Unfortunately, the fourth ICA show, the ramp project “Third Space” by Odili Donald Odita, while vibrant and soaring, seems far too impersonal and stylized in relation to the other shows and, therefore, curatorially out-of-place.) Below are descriptions of 10 particularly eye-catching and tactile pieces, in no particular order.
No. 1: “Shinnecock Pots” by Beverly Semmes. The surface of the meter-high vessels shows every evidence of human hands — grooves where fingers pushed and pulled the wet clay, smudges and smears. Ms. Semmes often adds extra handles, their superfluity suggesting the spaces where many hands could grasp. Then, as if to offset the overstated human presence, she paints the vessels the brightest fluorescent red, a thoroughly artificial color, smacking of neon lights and food coloring.
No 2: “Red River” by Peter Voulkos. Clay has never seemed heavier, denser, more clay-like. The tower of roughly formed blocks contains none of a vessel’s lightness, no openness. The solid mass bears down upon itself with unglazed surfaces, the plain clay bearing scratch marks and indentations with rough smears of glaze aggressively marking the facets. This is raw material, primal energy.
No. 3: “Zyko” by Ken Price. In contrast to Mr. Voulkos’s mass, Mr. Price’s minute detail occupies another extreme. His melded tubular forms — faintly figurative, but mostly cellular — have intricate surfaces that pull the viewer in to examine the whirl of colors. By applying dozens of layers of paint and then sanding the surface smooth, Mr. Price reveals delicate organic patterns so tiny they seem impossible.
No. 4: “Cenote” by Kathy Butterly. Ms. Butterly revels in dichotomies and paradoxes: a geode growing out of a pedestal, a vessel collapsing into ruin, opposite textures, complementary colors, a mysterious diving-board-like rectangle jutting into the abyss, a string of pearls. The textured moss interior perfectly challenges the slick, muscle-colored exterior while the small sculpture manages to balance vulnerability with a commanding presence.
No. 5: “Trophy Busts” including “Chemo I” and “Chemo II” by Robert Arneson. The self-portrait maquettes come across as anti-trophies in their painfully expressive distortions of Ms. Arneson’s head, commemorating loss rather than success. In “Chemo I” and “Chemo II,” the destructiveness of disease is evident in the squashed and gouged torsos, while the other figures recall emotional distress with scratched and worn surfaces.
No. 6: “Vase (Blue & Gold)” by Jane Irish. Another lover of paradox, Ms. Irish constructs pseudo-Rococo vases and urns with modern-day imagery. Instead of precise detailing, the decorative stripes and curls are obviously hand-painted with irregular edges and crooked lines. The sketchy narrative scenes within the cartouches are borrowed from Vietnam-era antiwar posters, showing scenes of battles and fighting soldiers, rather than traditional Rococo images of cherubs or relaxing peasants.
No. 7: “Agee Manufacturing Co. (Winter Catalogue)” by Ann Agee. The overflowing table of the artists’ “wares” takes the style of Meissen porcelain figurines but modernizes the characters and the morals. As at a store, there are multiples of many of the sculptures, but instead of having mass-produced uniformity, each repetition is unique, as though the story changes slightly each time it is told.
No. 8: “Greatest Show in the World” by Anthony Campuzano. Text-artist Mr. Campuzano avoids the regularity of a printing press in his hand-lettered drawings and paintings. The faux-stencil type in “Greatest Show” references the performance motivations of Lenny Bruce and Tiny Tim with Barnett Newman-like vertical strips of text and color. Between the strips, graphite hatchmarks further reveal the artist’s hand at work creating irregularly shaded backgrounds.
No. 9: “Gimme Shelter” by Anthony Campuzano. In another piece in Mr. Campuzano’s show, Rolling Stones lyrics are carved into the fibers of a worn red, orange and pink beach towel, the letters intersecting with the woven flowers and stripes. Handiwork meets commercial production; a message of apocalypse meets an emblem of frivolity.
No. 10: “dread” by Joshua Mosley. Before they were bronzes, the five sculptures on display were clay models, digitally scanned by the artist to create the animated figures in the six-minute film, complete with narrative soundtrack and philosophical allusions. Although technically not claymation, the film retains the feeling of hand-built characters and stop-motion movement as the figures move awkwardly, more slowly than the surrounding rustling leaves. The artist’s direct control over minute details shines through the technological process.
By: Melinda Steffy, for The Bulletin, March 4, 2009