Regarding George Ohr: Contemporary Ceramics in the Spirit of the Mad Potter brings together 24 unique, major works by the iconoclastic, Biloxi-born “mad potter” George Ohr (many not exhibited in public before) along with objects by 18 international contemporary artists working in the same avant-garde vein. These artists similarly exemplify the medium’s cutting edge while providing an illuminating bridge to greater understand Ohr’s work within a contemporary context. Selected artists include Glenn Barkley, Kathy Butterly, Nicole Cherubini, Balbak Golkar, the Haas Brothers, King Houndekpinkou, Takuro Kuwata, Anne Marie Laureys, Gareth Mason, Ron Nagle, Gustavo Pérez, Ken Price, Brian Rochefort, Sterling Ruby, Arlene Shechet, Peter Voulkos, Jesse Wine, and Betty Woodman. Regarding George Ohr is guest curated by the renowned ceramics expert Garth Clark, and on view at the Boca Raton Museum of Art from November 7, 2017 through April 8, 2018.
The exhibition begins with an entry gallery containing a select grouping of major vase forms by Ohr from the famous, definitive collection of Marty and Estelle Shack. Largely disavowed as an uncouth, homespun, outsider to the reining members of the Northeastern American Arts and Crafts Movement, Ohr – an eccentric Southerner, and the “playful mustachioed muse for this exhibition”—had been all but forgotten by 1904 when he ceased making pottery. By his death in 1918, his oeuvre had been entirely disregarded until a miraculous turn of events in 1969 lead to the discovery of approximately 10,000 unique works in an attic. Upon rediscovery, Ohr’s radical experimentations sent shock waves through the art establishment, garnering polarized reactions from fiercely divided camps of fervid admirers (avid collectors grew to include Andy Warhol and Jasper Johns) and equally impassioned detractors.
Garth Clark describes Ohr’s breakthrough treatment of form as possessing a shocking “sensuality” that bordered on the erotic, with “bright palettes setting one’s eyes alight.” Clark goes on to note, “Their forms undulate and shimmy. Handles dance with disturbing reptilian sinuosity, a floor show preceding the raucous contemporary party that beckons ahead."
On combining Ohr’s work with the seminal roster of contemporary artists included, Clark writes, “Ohr always said he would be best understood by future generations… For this exhibition Ohr is a prism that deflects time and links primal creativity. The premise is not that all these contemporary artists were directly influenced by him (some were, but a few had barely heard of him before they were invited to this exhibition). The purpose was a comparative study about artists, all working with the same tool kit Ohr had pioneered, all decidedly irreverent in their processes, and all highly informal in their use of form…Just like Ohr, many of them were highly controversial and faced scorn from critics for changing rules, rejecting symmetrical elegance, bringing raw, rude emotion to the surface.”
Clark continues, “For me the excitement was looking at the intense variety that grows out of five to six primary elements. They have enough in common for the exhibition experience to equip the viewers with a visual language that gives access to art that has often been described as impenetrable. It expands and enriches a new critical lexicon that certainly did not exist in Ohr’s day and even today perplexes contemporary writers who use inappropriate terms like “sloppy” or “inept” when none of the work is either.”