Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Porcelain Pleasure


Tsehai Johnson's Exploding Carpet, Wall Shift #1 (Green), and Pattern Control

An artist and their work are two separate entities. The artwork should communicate on its own some of what the artist feels or intends to say.  Sometimes what is more important is what is not communicated, and what the artist says may be more interesting than what they are making and vice verse.  Some of the critical discourse that surrounds Tsehai Johnson’s porcelain objects and installations categorize the work as having a feminist agenda. There is a history of female artists being pushed in the direction of social and politically based feminist art that have a different idea of what their art means to them. Part of this push begins with educators, and the institutions ability to label, categorize and elevate its own political and social agenda. It continues through the artist’s career with positive feedback by historians, critics, curators, and galleries that think that art without a social or political agenda is not good art.

Jeff Koons' Michael Jackson & Bubbles, and Puppy. Disney's Mad Tea Party ride 1960.

For me looking at Tsehai Johnson’s ceramics does not bring any of the baggage to mind that seems to enamor, engulf, and drive the international art world. Her objects are slick succulent and lustfully dripping pieces of eye candy. Each work is the desired transformation of an ordinary domestic everyday pattern or object into a more nonfunctional piece of pop art consumable. For this reason parallels can be drawn to Jeff Koons sculptures but with the dark abstract undertone that haunts Alice in Wonderlands tea party. 

Eva Hesse's Repetition Nineteen III, 1968
Repetitive and process installations that require multiple pieces date back to the advent of 1960’s minimal and conceptual art as evinced in the work of Eva Hesse. Minimal and conceptual art focused on the object, space and tactile quality of the object in and of itself questioning the very foundations of art. It lacked the narrative depth and context to daily life that Johnson’s work imbues. More recently artists that share similar mediums and/or content with Johnson are Betty Woodman, Shalya Marsh, and Dalia Berman.

Betty Woodman, Metropolitan Museum of Art exhibit, and Balustrade Relief Vase #70-1
Shalya Marsh and Dalia Berman exhibit.

In the gallery and hopefully in someone’s home these fantastical objects have crossed over from Neverland to become part of our everyday world. Johnson’s work is grounded in representation because it looks like something that we are familiar with but not the same. They are beautiful liquidic objects frozen in time and space for our enjoyment. This may be the only intention that her work has to achieve. To look any deeper could be a detractor and disservice to the simple fact that her ceramics and their display are innovative, beautiful and perceptually challenging. 

Tsehai Johnson's Field #10, Cup 4, and Spill 4.  

Tsehai Johnson shows at Plus Gallery, Denver.

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