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February 12, 2010 to May 3, 2010

Convergence: Pottery from Studio and Factory

Now over a century old, the rift between studio pottery and industrial design has become so entrenched that their practice can seem completely antithetical. The rhetoric of the arts and crafts movement demonized industry, strongly questioning the integrity of designers who did not produce their own work. Despite the influence of the Bauhaus ideal, in the U.S. industrial design was considered the realm of businessmen and “stylists” rather than artists. By the postwar period most academic ceramics programs were deeply committed to the crafts movement’s individualist ethos. As a result of this ideological divide, the education of potters and designers continues to be conducted in radically different contexts. Potters and industrial designers, who share a great many artistic, practical, and social concerns, will almost never cross paths in their professional lives.

Yet the line between industrial and studio production has never been all that clearly drawn, and in recent years it has become increasingly blurred. The current generation of studio potters is less bound by ideology than their predecessors, and techniques like slip-casting and airbrushing have long been basic to many potters’ studio practice. Rapid developments in prototyping technology and small-batch production, along with a tremendous expansion of the market for design and the increasing success of niche marketing, have created surprising new opportunities for making and selling objects of all kinds.

This exhibition explored the results of these changes in contemporary ceramics, focusing on functional pieces that cross, expand, or confuse the boundaries between industrial design and studio production. The works on view encompassed mass-produced and limited edition objects by well-known designers, short-run “boutique” ceramics commissioned for high-end retailers, objects produced on a contract basis by independent designers, and the work of studio potters who embrace industrial techniques or the aesthetic of industrial design.

Tags: ceramics, design