At Your Service
February 4, 2016 — May 8, 2016
In the Main Gallery
Friday, February 5, 5:30 – 8:00 PM
The evening will also feature the opening of Found Subjects: Works by Sondra Sherman in the Front Gallery, Mixed and Mastered: Turntable Kitsch in the Artist Hall, and open studios by HCCC’s current resident artists.
Saturday, February 6, 4:00 PM
Houston Center for Contemporary Craft (HCCC) is pleased to present At Your Service, an exhibition that examines the plate as a cultural touchstone beyond its everyday utility. Curators Amelia Toelke and Niki Johnson join their own works with pieces by an international selection of artists in this stunning exhibition. Whether serving as the canvas for a large-scale painting, cast into three-dimensional sculptures, or transformed into willow patterned jewelry, the plates of At Your Service are both alluring and thought provoking. They cause us to reflect, from anthropological and art historical perspectives, upon the social, cultural, and utilitarian significance of the dishes in our own cupboards. Whether decorative, commemorative, or kitsch, the plates in this exhibition are more than surfaces upon which we serve food. In material culture, plates are alternately status symbols, commemorative objects, and functional household items.
The artists in At Your Service employ the plate as a medium in their creative explorations. Gesine Hackenberg cuts blue and white patterned discs from antique china plates, stringing them into necklaces or setting them in silver to make jewelry. Others repurpose the function of the plate, such as ceramicist and designer Molly Hatch, who paints scenes appropriated from historic prints onto grids of ceramic dinner plates. By transforming these plates from domestic objects into a large-scale painting, in Rigaud, Hatch challenges our familiarity with the plate and the print, creating an experience that brings the two mediums together. Her plate installations touch on the relationship between craft, the decorative arts, and the fine arts.
Sue Johnson’s The Incredible Edibles Series embraces the Rococo tradition of forming platters, tea services, and other dinnerware into the vegetables or animals they are meant to contain. In a society in which we rarely know the origins of our dinner, Sue Johnson’s slip-cast Lamb Stew, a TV dinner featuring a miniature lamb staring back from atop a formless mound of meat, is both humorous and alarming. Ceramicist Emily Loehle, in her series The Four Food Groups, calls attention to the content of the plate in a different way. Much like the nutritional pyramid, each of Loehle’s plates contains clusters of grocery items from the American diet: fruits and vegetables, meat, dairy, and grains. Slip-cast and glazed a uniform white, these floating still-lives protrude from the plates as ghostly shells of the mass-produced food we buy, calling attention to our choices as consumers.
Artist and curator Niki Johnson, in her work God & Country, gives new life to vintage plates. She carefully sandblasts the churches and buildings from each work, leaving behind voids framed by cumulous clouds and idealized nature. These plates raise our awareness as we begin to question the motivations behind this gesture. Niki Johnson, in her artist statement, remarks that her work has “focused on issues of fragility and fortification, recasting objects associated with house and home as symbolic agents of crisis.” Rather than a place, the plates in God & Country commemorate displacement, stemming from our desire to belong.
In choosing a medium as universal and quotidian as the plate, At Your Service curators Niki Johnson and Amelia Toelke have created an exhibition as unique as each visitor. Viewers will bring with them their own emotions, experiences, and cultural traditions involving the plate, furthering the dialogues begun by the show.
Photo credits: (1) Gésine Hackenburg, Kitchen Necklace, 2006. Old and antique earthenware, thread. Photo by Corriette Schoenaerts. (2) Jeremy Hatch, Untitled (Haufbrau House), 2015. Porcelain. Photo by the artist. (3) Molly Hatch, After Rigaud:Versailles Orangerie (detail), 2013. 78 hand-painted earthenware plates with underglaze and glaze. Photo by John Polak. (4) Niki Johnson, God & Country, 2012. Altered commemorative plates. Photo by Jim Escalante. (5) Sue Johnson, Turtle Soup, from the Incredible Edibles, Black Set, 2007. Slip-cast vitreous china. Photo by JM Kohler Art Center/Arts Industry Program. (6) Sue Johnson, Lamb Stew, from the Incredible Edibles, Black Set, 2007. Slip-cast vitreous china. Photo by JM Kohler Art Center/Arts Industry Program. (7) Sue Johnson, Pork and Beans, from the Incredible Edibles, Black Set, 2007. Slip-cast vitreous china. Photo by JM Kohler Art Center/Arts Industry Program. (8) Sue Johnson, Blue Plate Special (Dory with Dirty Rice), from the Incredible Edibles, Black Set, 2007. Slip-cast vitreous china. Photo by JM Kohler Art Center/Arts Industry Program. (9) Sue Johnson, Mac & Cheese TV Dinner with Fawn, from the Incredible Edibles, Black Set, 2007. Slip-cast vitreous china. Photo by JM Kohler Art Center/Arts Industry Program. (10) Emily Loehle, Food Group Plates, 2013. Ceramic. Photo by the artist. (11) Beccy Ridsdel, Art or Craft? Dish with Bunnies, 2014. Porcelain. Photo by the artist. (12) Amelia Toelke, Light and Shadow (detail), 2012. Altered plates and faux gold leaf. Photo by Jim Escalante.