Academic Shows That Made Me Curse With Joy: Artists’ Books at TWU; Ceramics at SMU

by Betsy Lewis February 8, 2013
Out of the Sky # 16  copy

Werner Pfeiffer, Out of the Sky (detail)

The formats are traditional and the originality is through the fucking roof. Artists’ books at Texas Woman’s University; ceramics at SMU. Artistic boundaries are pushed and plundered. Academia. Who knew.

The artists’ books show, called Seductive Alchemy, has 98 (!) pieces by more than 70 artists, many of whom specialize in this format.

The artist roster at the SMU show is comprised entirely of ceramics professors in the state of Texas, and all of this work is heading to Houston next for the 2013 National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts (NCECA) conference.


Macy Chadwick, Cell Memory

 Seductive Alchemy: Books by Artists

Artists’ books have their origin in the medieval Book of Kells; William Blake made them an art form; Ed Ruscha made them popular in gas stations. Can a magazine be an artist book? Does the apostrophe go before or after the second letter s? There have been fistfights over these questions, but still no answers.

The variety of form and execution over 98 pieces is staggering. White gloves are provided to interact with the work (though several pieces are behind glass). Curator Ruth Rogers divided this massive exhibition into thematic categories: communication/alienation, gender politics, inner landscape, memory, natural world and place, visual text, world conflict, generous muse, revisioning science and heritage.


Nicole Morello, Save Antarctica

Out of the Sky (edition of 12, 2006) by Werner Pfeiffer in the “world conflict” section, is an unimpeachable work in three parts: The small book is a list of victims; the medium-sized book is called Out of the Sky: Remembering 9/11 and formats its text into a columnar, tower-like shape on the page; and the large book  is not quite a book, but rather two sculptural columns of thick cardboard replicating the twin towers, occupying the center of the gallery space. Tangled faces, limbs, body parts, airplane parts and a single American flag are inked onto the bottom halves of the towers in thick, simple cartoon outline, with the names of those who died listed on the top halves, written sideways, written upwards. Wow.

Other books have handmade boxes to protect the fragility of delicate papers, or separate, unbound sheets presented as a calendar. Some contain poetry with images, some are all text, some have no text at all. The top edges of Nicole Morello’s accordion-style Save Antarctica (edition of 30, 1998) are lined with tiny cliff-dwellings penguins. It’s a lot to explore, and no matter how long you stay, you’ll wish you had more time to wade through the luscious depths of each tome.


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Colby Parsons, Stove (2012)
This is a wall-mounted ceramic with video projection and, having seen it, I am now insane.

 From Yellow Clay to Black Gumbo: Earth Movers in the Lone Star State

Ceramics date back to the Mycenaean Greeks, and are strangely all over Dallas right now (SMU, Barry Whistler Gallery, big Nasher opening and probably more of which I am unaware). Curator Brian Molanphy joined the SMU ceramics faculty in 2011, and though still newish to town, has fully embraced Texanism with this Tex-celebration of his art.

This exhibition mixes solid traditional pieces with transformative adventures in using ceramics as one element of a larger multimedia work (and by that I mean video, from Colby Parsons and, separately, Annie Strader and Matthew Weedman—mind.fucking.blowing.ceramics). Like the artists’ books show, the range of work in this exhibition is remarkable. Gnarled in light, a bowl of tiny trinkets, a giant crazy cloud-man alcoholic, and an in-fucking-sane wall-mounted pot of boiling water. It makes me curse for emphasis: fucking (place adjective here). Abstract textures, dynamic forms, repurposed termite-eaten ash wood with a soul and then something wildly different a few steps away. I worried I might be bored by this show, and that was dumb. These artists are at the top of their game, pushing boundaries in their medium and putting the twenty-something scenesters to shame.

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David Bogus, Menemsha (2012)

The ceramicists exhibiting in the Pollock Gallery are Merrie Wright (UT-Tyler), Patrick Veerkamp (Southwestern), Annie Strader (Sam Houston State), Colby Parsons (TWU), curator Brian Molanphy (SMU), Paul McCoy (Baylor), Virginia Marsh (University of Dallas), Louis Katz (A&M-Corpus Christi), Steve Hilton (Midwestern State), Dan Hammett (University of Dallas), Juan Granados (Texas Tech), Ovidio Giberga (UT-San Antonio), Barbara Frey (A&M-Commerce), Piero Fenci (Stephen F. Austin), Nick J. de Vries (University of Houston-Clear Lake), Angela Carbone (Texas A&M International University-Laredo), Vincent Burke (UTEP) and David Bogus (Texas A&M International University-Laredo).

Juan Granados, Otro Reflejo, 2011

Juan Granados, Otro Reflejo (2011)

Eat a hearty meal before you see these shows, you’re going to be a while.

This blog is called “Don’t Look. Okay Look.”

Seductive Alchemy: Books by Artists
Texas Woman’s University, Denton
Through February 15

From Yellow Clay to Black Gumbo: Earth Movers in the Lone Star State
Pollock Gallery at SMU
Through February 16


Betsy Lewis is a Dallas writer who curses in cursive.



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1 comment

Ben February 12, 2013 - 12:04

There’s a closing reception at the Pollock Gallery for “From Yellow Clay to Black Gumbo” on Saturday, February 16th from 5-7 pm. Some of the artists will be in attendance.

This will be the last time to see the show in Dallas before it travels to Houston for the NCECA conference.


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