Nouveau Moche Pottery: Jonathan Kaplan

By Merino, Anthony | Ceramics Art & Perception, September 2011 | Go to article overview
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Nouveau Moche Pottery: Jonathan Kaplan


Merino, Anthony, Ceramics Art & Perception


CANADIAN SOCIAL CRITIC MARSHALL MCLUHAN coined the phrase "the media is the message". This declaration is not as simple as it seems. The word media means so many things that trying to force it into single meaning is like carrying Jell-O[TM] with rubber bands. The plurality of meanings makes this phrase a conceptual master key for the two major movements of Modernism. Define media as the material from which objects are forged--the statement embodies the reductionism of orthodox Modernism. Critics like Greenberg, Fried and Krause all propose that the role of the artist is to make the essential qualities of the material opaque to the viewer. Change this definition of media to mean the social institutions that celebrate the object and the meaning changes. McLuhan's dictate embodies the conceptual ground of subversive movements like Dadaism and Pop-Art. Consider that print, broadcast, theatre and the Internet are all distinct media. They do not differ in their primary function: to deliver content to an audience. Their unique mechanics distinguish these media. The creation of objects for display in authoritative institutions (such as galleries and museums) is just another tradition. Jonathan Kaplan's recent works of pottery, Nouveau Moche, reflect this tradition. He merges his own cultural history with forms and motifs appropriated from Moche Pottery to create his art. In doing so, Kaplan illuminates the ramification of McLuhan's statement.

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The most immediate influence on Kaplan's work from his own cultural history is Pop-Artist Andy Warhol. Conceptually, both artists build on the same historical source: the Dadaist art movement. They adhere to and diverge from this precedent in similar ways. The Dadaist asserted that the crucial element in turning objects into art was the identification of an object as art by an authoritative institution. The best known Dadaist artist, Marcel Duchamp, created the world's most famous ceramic art piece, The Fountain, a graffiti scrawled urinal. The work offered was not visually appealing, well designed or remotely uplifting. The only thing that made this work art is that it was shown in a gallery and later in art history texts. The subject (urinals) was not normally associated with art. Use of subjects not normally associated with fine art creates the most obvious link between Duchamp and Warhol. Kaplan uses fish and birds for his images while Warhol made thousand of images of soup cans and celebrities.

Kaplan and Warhol, however, veer away from Duchamp on different aspects. First of all, Duchamp's Readymades are not representational. The wine rack he places in a gallery not only looks like a wine rack, it is a wine rack. Relative to this, there is a formal difference. Furthermore, Duchamp shows The Fountain on its side so that any quality of proportion is obliterated. His works have little or no visual appeal. On the other hand, Kaplan and Warhol conceptually create depictions of beautiful objects. A consistent source of this beauty is imperfection. For example, each takes what would be considered flaws in the manufacturing process to generate beauty. Warhol's silkscreen reproduction of Leonardo da Vinci's Last Supper (and his use of streaks and light spots) create beauty. This dynamic also plays out in Kaplan's Gone Fishing, a pitcher form with a stirrup handle dissected by a slipcast fish. It is where the glaze drips, pools and pulls from the body of the form that makes it far more beautiful than a uniformly glazed version of the same object.

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