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clay sculpture : vessel reference

updated mon 16 jul 01


Snail Scott on sun 15 jul 01

At 12:45 AM 7/14/01 -0400, you wrote:
>In the galleries near my home there seems to be much trade in uninspired
>sculpture that references pottery forms. [However I am surprised that other
>sculpture is almost totally absent...?]

Many galleries which show sculpture prefer not
to include works in clay. There are a number of
reasons for this. One is the 'traditionalist'
notion that clay supposed to be a preliminary
phase, not the finished product. Another is the
lower price structure that clay sculpture
commands, compared to stone, bronze, etc. It
can take a while for a major sculptural work
to sell; meanwhile it takes up space, and for
what return? Also, clay is fragile. Perhaps
not more fragile than a lacy carving in
alabaster, but it may seem that way to many
dealers. Outside the traditional milieu, the
contemporary approach to sculpture often involves
issues of transitoriness (not an attribute of
fired clay!) or ongoing process, large-scale
installation works, found objects, and 'actual'
elements rather than sculpted ones. Free-
standing autonomous pedestal pieces are not
being sought out by galleries looking for
'what's new'.

There are people working in clay who work in
a contemporary manner, but they may not find
many venues to show in. Often, the galleries
which are most receptive to work in clay are
those which position themselves toward 'fine
craft', and they prefer to show work which
keeps at least a toe in the 'vessel' pond,
in keeping with their theme. Sculpture which
bears no reference to the craft traditions
of clay isn't what they're looking for, even
though such works may find limited welcome

So, that's why I think you are seeing so much
'vessel reference' sculpture in clay - it has
a home in the still-burgeoning fine craft
world, where works in clay which are 'about'
clay are directly sought out. Other clay
sculpture must fing a home in the much larger
world which includes all other sculpture in
all media and styles. There's a niche there
for everything, but it's not based on the
choice of clay as a medium, and can be tougher
to find for the artist and viewer alike.