Nasher Sculpture Center To Host ‘Return To Earth’ September 21

Pablo Picasso, “Flowers in a Vase (Fleurs dans un vase),” 1951–53, painted plaster, terracotta and iron; 301/8 by 20¼ by 17¼ inches. Raymond and Patsy Nasher Collection, Nasher Sculpture Center. —David Heald photo

DALLAS, TEXAS — In conjunction with the museum’s tenth anniversary, the Nasher Sculpture Center will present “Return to Earth: Ceramic Sculpture of Fontana, Melotti, Miró, Noguchi and Picasso, 1943–1963,” on view September 21–January 19. This is the first exhibition to explore the increase in interest ceramics received from artists of the avant-garde during this period.

“We are experiencing something of a renaissance in clay sculpture,” notes Nasher Sculpture Center Director Jeremy Strick. “A number of younger artists are exploring the medium, while midcareer artists who work primarily in ceramic are finding increasing recognition. ‘Return to Earth: Ceramic Sculpture of Fontana, Melotti, Miró, Noguchi and Picasso’ demonstrates that the roots of radical expression in clay go deep into the history of modernism, and that in the immediate postwar years key artists produced works in that are as extraordinary and surprising as they are little-known.”

Responding to a variety of personal impulses and historical circumstances, Lucio Fontana, Fausto Melotti, Joan Miró, Isamu Noguchi and Pablo Picasso produced significant bodies of work in fired clay that engaged the material in inventive and radical ways, and often challenged the traditional boundaries between sculpture and ceramics.

The Nasher’s exhibition will offer an in-depth look at this subject through nearly 80 ceramic works from American and European public and private collections, ranging in scale from the intimate to the monumental. In contrast to these artists’ work in other media, their pursuit of ceramics has for the most part received scant attention, particularly in the United States.

World War II imposed significant disruptions and displacements on each of these artists, and clay offered them a way to reground themselves while moving their art forward. Fontana, who had sought refuge from the war in his native Argentina, returned to Italy and began a radically new path in ceramics and clay related to his burgeoning ideas about Spatialism. Melotti, who stayed in Milan, emerged from the conflagration to become one of the primary proponents of architect Gio Ponti’s populist agenda making high modernism an accessible part of everyday life.

Miró, who had returned to France at the outset of the Spanish Civil War only to be forced back to Spain by German bombs, longed to establish roots and dreamed of a large studio in which to pursue his expanding artistic interests and efforts to move beyond painting.

For Noguchi, who voluntarily spent seven months in a relocation camp for Japanese Americans in Arizona after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, ceramics became a medium through which to explore the Japanese side of his cultural heritage. During the German occupation of Paris, Picasso decamped to the south of France where he enlivened a quiet industry of potters, reconnecting with his bohemian roots and pursuing a more seamless integration of art and life that offers an unexpected precedent for avant-garde modes prominent in the later 1960s and 1970s.

Despite their disparate contexts and circumstances, the artists featured in “Return to Earth” were drawn to clay as much for its immediacy and tactile responsiveness as to its commonplace status, metaphorical associations and broader cultural implications.

Organized by the Nasher Sculpture Center, “Return to Earth” is curated by Nasher Sculpture Center Chief Curator Jed Morse. It will be accompanied by an illustrated scholarly catalog and plans are under way for a symposium to be held at the museum during the exhibition.

The Nasher is at 2001 Flora Street. For information, 214-242-5100 or www.nasher.com.

Photo: Isamu Noguchi

Isamu Noguchi, “The Policeman,” 1950, Seto stoneware, 133/8 by 8¾ by 51/8 inches. Photo ©The Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Garden Museum

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