Thursday, October 27, 2011

David Smith: Ceramics by Twelve Artists

How did David Smith get to paint the exquisite nude on a plate that is in our current auction (David Smith Plate with Nude 1964 Porcelain, Estimate:  $35,000-50,000)? In December of 1964 the editors of Art in America posed a compelling question to their readers, "What would happen if a group of prominent American painters and sculptors were asked to work in ceramics?" Painter Cleve Gray had been invited earlier to provide the answer by enlisting a dozen artists to make ceramics. Richard Anuszkiewicz, Milton Avery, Leonard Baskin, Helen Frankenthaler, Seymour Lipton, James Metcalf, Louise Nevelson, Ben Shahn, David Smith, and Jack Youngerman all participated. Forty works, the fruit of several kilns, were exhibited at the Federation of Arts Gallery in New York under the auspices of Art in America from November 30 through December 11, 1964. Thereafter the show traveled to museums across the U.S.

 David Smith Plate with Nude 1964 Porcelain, Estimate:  $38,000-50,000

Visitors to the exhibition were able to see what these well known artists would do, metaphorically speaking, with a ball of clay. Most selected plates as their format (which allowed for easy replication as the project criterion was that all objects were to be made in affordable editions of 12 to 40 priced from $25 to $900 each). Smith’s plates are hand painted and unique. Ceramics by Twelve Artists was part of an ongoing program at Art in America, enlisting artists to explore all kinds of new media and crossover design areas. With various "project directors," the magazine featured coin and stamp design by artists as well as experiments with the then new printing technique of photo-offset lithography. Ceramics was the next fringe activity to be investigated. 

 Helen Frankenthaler, Glaze Painting on a Kiln Shelf, 1972.  

Gray turned for assistance to his friends Gloria and David Gil who ran Bennington Potters in Bennington, Vermont, a modest but energetic enterprise producing ceramics in a designer-craftsman milieu. This was an easy project for the Gils in one sense. Many of the players were already part of their social circle, which centered on their close friend David Smith or those from Bennington College's art department. This group included Anthony Caro, Kenneth Noland, Jules Olitski, Bernard Malamud and Paul Feely. Smith loved coming to the pottery, something he had done ever since he and the Gils began their friendship in 1951. As a mid-westerner with a strong work ethic he enjoyed the productivity he witnessed in this small but dynamic operation. Despite his frequent visits, Smith had never worked in ceramics until Gray proposed the project. 

Left to Right, Helen Frankenthaler, David Gil and David Smith 194 Bennington Pottery, Vermont.

The late David Gil continued to work with artists, drawing them into the ceramic medium and producing major murals with the likes of Larry Rivers and Romare Bearden and other pieces with Frankenthaler and Jenny Holzer. 

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