Beth Cavener Stichter- On Tender Hooks

Well dear readers, what to do, what to do...

As I mentioned on Friday, Mrs. Rose and I went on a secret mission over the weekend. Our mission was to get down to the city (NYC) to see the new Beth Cavener Stichter Show-"On Tender Hooks" at the Claire Oliver Gallery. 

We did make it down, and had some adventures and some great food. If anyone is looking for real Chinese Pulled noodles and Dumplings I have a recommendation for you. But the auspices for our trip was to see the show.

I've been debating how I want to talk about this show,  I could write formal review, but that is not my style, or the style of the blog. I think that the personal response (rather than the objective) must be disclosed for a review to be honest. The fact is that there is no way to look at something without confronting ones own experience. So I think I am going to just write and see what comes out, format be damned. So, I have consumed the lovely latte that Mrs. Rose made me, I have put on some Fugazi and cranked it up. I'm itching to go.

Why would I write this review? There is something personal that I don't talk about much on the blog. That is that although I live the clay life style and I am obsessed with ceramics. I'm not actually interested in talking about it. Maybe I am just old and sour, but I am much more interested in the discussions that surround ceramics. Clay is easy, life is hard.

That is why Cavener Stichter's work appeals to me. I had mentioned before that I came across her work at NCECA a few years back. When I first saw the work the only thing that ran through my mind that was clay related was "Holy Shit, she made those out of clay" that's about it. There was no deeper consideration to the meaning of clay behind her work. it was just sculpture. The medium was irrelevant. Much in the same way that we don't consider that most Bronzes were at one time clay sculptures. There is no reason to consider the medium it is just that. it is the medium, not the message.

Why it was important to go see this show was for that very reason. Cavener Stichter's work is being displayed in the Claire Oliver Gallery. This is a big deal. This is a gallery in Chelsea, Chelsea is THE art neighborhood. Because of that ceramics are almost never seen there. So it left me to wonder, why is Cavener Stichter breaking through this glass ceiling? Why is this show all but sold out? Why, when discussing the show with my friend Sam Harvey who owns the Harvery/Meadows gallery (a well respected ceramic gallery in Aspen). He expressed frustration that they could not even get Cavener Stichter work in their space?

I have an answer.

Cavener Stichter may be the best ceramic artist working today. 

I say this with much trepidation, I am not one to fall head over heals for an artist. I have seen enough good and bad work in my day to be cynical about everything. Yet, I feel no impulse to do so with this work.  Not that the attempt was not made by Mrs. Rose. Who while discussing the show said that she liked the work but she thought it was relying to much on poking people. That shock value had more place then metaphor in the work.  While I could not disagree with her on the approach I had to challenge her on the intent. 

The reason I have to comes down to is the eyes. 

It drives me crazy to state things so simply. As a persons who always argues content over technique, it is the eyes that convinced me. 

I have seen a lot of figurative sculpture and what always leaves me cold is that there never seems to be a way to portray the eyes. Painting looks fake and carved look dead. Yet, Cavener Stichter creates eyes that stare right back at you. With the look of an dying animal, questioning your intentions, accepting their fate. She creates work that imparts responsibility for your responses on you. It sounds like a simple thing to execute...but I rarely see it done right. Cavener Stichter executes this perfectly.

I could talk more about technique, but all that needs to be said is that her methods are impeccable. the combination of almost impressionist bodies and yet, hyper realistic details like faces and (human) genitals. She is smart enough to includes historical references to things like the Meissen animals, but it really comes across as a smart nod and not a "I'm so clever" wink

They are exquisite, but my only complaint about the show is that the published statement relied too heavily on clay talk. If we as ceramicists are to move forward, we need to stop this conversation from going public. It is fine if it occurs within our circle, but the public does not care about it. To the degree that I believe it turns them off. If the work is strong as this is, the method is irrelevant, even as technically stunning in detail and scale as is Cavener Stichter's work.

I could attempt to dissect the imparted content, but I don't believe that there is really a point. Cavener Stichter is smart enough to craft work that although pointed, is mature enough to leave it the viewer to construct interpretation. It is not as simplistic as "We are all animals" the animals function simply as the medium. Cavener Stichter history with biology and animals, seem to give her a solid, sympathetic, yet pragmatic relationship with her subjects. Imparting both sympathy and apathy about her subjects. Whether Goat, Rat or Capybara the animal is portrayed as victim and conspirator in the work. Very much like the cat in the tree "Well, now I'm here, how the hell do I get down?" 

As I say to students, great work only leaves you with more questions, if you are providing the answers through your work, you fail.

I think I am going to leave it there. I'm not sure if I want to go farther. I say this because as I stated before the response to art is definitely subjective. Cavener Stichter my just be my favorite ceramic artist working today. 

But I can't say... too many questions. 

 The show is only up until December 5th, so if you can get to the city I can not recommend highly enough that you get there. Maybe you will disagree with me, but  what would be the fun if we all got along.

Claire Oliver 513 West 26th Street, New York, NY 10001 / Tel: 212.929.5949 


Jesse Lu said...

I think you hit the nail on the head. With everything you said. The conversation shouldn't go public, Stichter may be the best contemporary artist working in ceramic, and she is incredibly smart.

I am totally jealous you got to see the show.

cindy shake said...

Thank you so much for posting this show and the new work of Cavener Sticher. I had seen only a couple pieces by her and fell in love with their raw sensuality. There is not only an anatomical edge to her work but flying bravery. Wow.

Jaimianne said...

When your friend had mentioned that she thought Stichter was doing work out of shock value, I completely disagree. I find the work to be very emotional, not disturbing and there is absolutely a difference. Maybe because I am young and see many artists my age cross boundaries purely for reaction and crying for attention. Instead I see Stichler's work as an expression or display of emotion in a profound way. It is undoubtably sublime in it's beauty.

Jason Fasi said...

Some of the most beautiful sculptural work I've seen in any medium. The execution of the anatomy, the textures, the expressive faces and postures...wow!

Melinda E. Welch said...

Thank you for the post, it is great to see her new work. She continues to grow as an artist. I was fortunate to attend one of her workshops in the spring in Kentucky. I was totally mesmerized by her technique and she challenged me to think beyond slip and glaze as the only way to treat ceramic surface.

HJ said...

Fugazi - Yes
Cavener Stichter - No

"...she challenged me to think beyond slip and glaze as the only way to treat ceramic surface."

Please see either of Jane Perryman's books, "Naked Clay" or "Smoke Firing," and you can get plenty of ideas on how to treat the ceramic surface. Sorry, there aren't any french kissing goats with erections in either book.