Sunday, July 26, 2009

A Visit to the Walker

It was one of those “tourist in our own home town” days. Lunch at the Malaysian restaurant Singapore on 26th and Nicollet, a stop at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts to see the new Pre-Raphaelite show featuring William Holman Hunt, a visit to the ‘Lectric Fetus, where I was sorry to see the jazz section so terribly depleted (I bought an Ahmad Jamal CD with a sideman playing the steel drum) and finally, a stop at the Walker Art Center to see the new pottery show, “Dirt on Delight.”

The Holman Hunt exhibit confirmed my view of how BAD the Pre-Raphaelite painters really are. Anachronistic themes (Camelot, Jesus in the Temple, etc), garish colors, phony poses, rosy-cheeked Palestinians and Egyptians—they would serve adequately as illustrations for children’s books (printed in China) but the combination of meticulous detail and utter lifelessness sets a benchmark against which all subsequent works and movements seem remarkably imaginative and daring. The black and white engravings were better than the paintings themselves.

The pottery show at the Walker, on the other hand, which the reviewers had made to sound dreadful, even in praising it, turned out to be sheer delight. As you walk into the room you’re greeted by an array of colorful sculptural blobs of clay, misshapen vessels, and rococo figurines sitting on tables, on stands, or on the floor.

Imagining that I would never have heard of any of the 22 artists included in the show, I roamed the room freely without bothering to read any of the plaques. And I saw the beauty of the clay, which gushes and oozes. I saw the genius of those who could bring the clay to life in little figures of people dancing together, laughing, or milking cows. I saw the remarkable incandescent red of one set of pots, sitting on the floor like a set of waspish paper lamps from IKEA, glowing with thermonuclear heat. And I saw the post-modernist classicist references of pots that combined whimsy, structure, and geology (see above). There were orifices (George Ohr) and incense-burners (Eugene Von Bruenchenhein), classical busts, mushed (Robert Arneson) and absurdist abstractions (Peter Voulkos).

(I got these names just now from the brochure, which is sitting here on my desk.)

And speaking of Peter Voulkos, we visited the traditional potter Otto Heino at his studio in Ojai, California, a few years ago, and he informed us with ill-concealed glee, “Peter Voulkos has huge warehouses filled with his pots in Los Angeles…and no one wants them. But I sell everything I can make!")

I don’t know if I would care to own any of the monstrosities on display in the Walker show. But wandering among them, I couldn’t help saying to myself, “Gee, this is fun!”

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