By Pettus, Peter
New Criterion , Vol. 24, No. 10
"The Art of Betty Woodman" Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. April 24, 2006-July 30, 2006
Ad Reinhardt once said, "The one thing to say about art is that it is one thing." Betty Woodman's art is definitely not one thing. It is, in fact, about practically everything. She began as a typical studio potter in the 1940s, but the functionality of her work became increasingly subordinate to her expanding view of herself as an artist. Her work had become as much about sculpture and painting as about utility. In this, she was like many American potters who began moving away from the influence of Bernard Leach and the Eastern tradition he represented. Joining the world of contemporary art in New York, she was swept up in the exuberance of the so-called Pattern and Decoration Movement (Joyce Kozloff, Robert Kushner, Miriam Schapiro, et al.) which was then rebelling against the minimalist aesthetic. Ms. Woodman was in the right place at the right time to develop the flamboyant outburst of form and color that we see in this first major retrospective of her work.
The first view we get of Ms. Woodman's pottery constructions is in the entrance hall of the Metropolitan Museum. Here, in the various niches, we see four or five of her vases, each overflowing with the Met's legendary abundance of plant material. Especially created for this exhibition, they are certainly marvelous to behold. Constructed with a shaped panel of slab clay affixed to a thrown vase/column form, the colorfully painted and glazed objects expand out of their niches like the Verrocchio at Orsanmichele. (Well, sort of.) In the exhibit itself, there are dozens more of these vase constructions which constitute the signature product of her artistic melding of pottery, painting, and sculpture. A wall text tells us, "By 1983 ... I start to think of myself as an artist. Functional concerns have really become conceptual. Vases are now about vases." Leaving aside the question of what vases were about before they were about vases, we know what the point is here. Yet, upon closer inspection of some of these works, small doubts turn up. …