For the past fifty years, Robert A. Ellison Jr. has quietly and intuitively built one of the most significant assemblages of nineteenth-, twentieth-, and twenty-first-century ceramics, all the while observing and investigating the creative possibilities and ambitions of the humblest of materials: clay. Shapes From Out of Nowhere, published on the occasion of an exhibition highlighting a recent transformative gift of 125 works to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, beautifully presents this deeply personal pursuit and is a fitting coda to his commitment to sharing these works with the public. This extraordinary donation, the accompanying exhibition, and this illuminating book document the vision and passion of this singular collector and his focus on the exploration of shape and form in clay throughout the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.
Shapes from Out of Nowhere, and the exhibition of the same title, document Ellison’s journey of discovering and collecting. The stirrings of abstract expressions in clay only begins in the 1940s, decades after Ohr’s anomalous creations, with pivotal works by Danish artist Axel Salto. The following decade erupts with artists disrupting convention, including Katherine Choy and Peter Voulkos, both of whom responded to and embraced the freedom found in clay. Broad in scope, the collection reconsiders the established timeline of twentieth-century ceramics and provides a more accurate and fuller picture, one that situates a number of artists engaged in deconstructing the vessel form in the 1950s and 1960s, eschewing the precise symmetry of the wheel for the possibilities of hand building. This international story is told through ceramists well known for their breakthroughs, and it also introduces under-recognized and marginalized artists who transformed—and continue to expand—the possibilities of the medium. This ongoing progression is manifest through examples that span in date over the last half century and up through the present with work by Kathy Butterly, Elisa D’Arrigo, Anne Marie Laureys, and Aneta Regel, women who are actively pushing clay in new and uncharted directions.
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