Rebecca Warren: At the Renaissance Society, University of Chicago

Article excerpt

AT "CRITICAL: SANTA FE", THE NCECA SYMPOSIUM last fall, Roberta Smith claimed that ceramics is "the new video"--the medium that many artists want to explore. The British artist Rebecca Warren could be seen as evidence, since she engages ceramics from outside the craft field. But engage it she does. Her body of work is in the lineage of Andrew Lord's, which was met with such hostility from craftspeople when it was introduced to America 30 years ago. Warren, likewise, gives no evidence of craft or skill. She just pushes clay around and loosely paints it.

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But she dazzlingly conveys touch. This show of 15 works (which were clustered like social groups in the Society's airy garret gallery) included eight masses of unfired clay plopped on white-painted pedestals and two tall unfired clay 'figures' on plinths. (There were also four sculptures of steel planks and one cubic bronze that must have started with palpitated clay.) The figures, Culture (2008) and The Other Brother Part Two (2010), look like a blend of early modernist sculpture, mid-century biomorphism and garden topiary. They have curves that suggest head, bosom and buttocks but also other less-specific lumps. The two were placed far apart in the open room but stood out from their surroundings so emphatically that a tension carried across the distance, as if they were a couple separated after a fight. Both are unpainted, and their dull-white plaster-like surfaces are absorbent and unsensuous, giving them an air of unfinished studio process.

Presumably the same clay is used for the smaller, less-defined masses. But in these works the surfaces are animated by extensive finger marks (an intimate effect), by irregular contours that evoke flesh or landscape (a medium-distance effect) and by flat paint that emphasizes texture and abstraction (a distant effect). …