Terra Firma reviewed by Don Harrison

December 1, 2014

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Reynolds Gallery has been Richmond’s standard-bearer for visual art for more than 30 years, but it is showcasing contemporary ceramic objects for the first time.

“It’s very different for us,” Bev Reynolds says of her art space’s latest exhibition, “Terra Firma,” which has been curated by former Richmonder Kathryn Brennan, director and co-owner of Brennan & Griffin Gallery in New York. “She’s seen a lot of artists who are using ceramics in their work, or in addition to their paintings,” Reynolds says. “So it has become a very interesting material.”

Pottery is normally associated with craft-making. But in more recent years, its reach has expanded within fine-art circles. Roberta Smith, art critic of the New York Times, forecasted the trend toward fired-clay objects, asking in a now-famous 2011 article, “Is ceramics the new video?”

“Terra Firma” showcases three artists who integrate ceramics into their work in different, often brazen, ways. Jennifer Rochlin uses painted tiles to approximate the look and feel of woven rugs and other textiles, while acclaimed New York abstract artist Joanne Greenbaum creates small ceramic vessels and oddly structured slabs that serve as three dimensional complements to her colorful paintings. “[Her] ceramics are not a subsidiary of the paintings,” critic John Yau has written. “They stand on their own. In their folds and bends, and in the way the different colored glazes might run down uneven surfaces, something particular happens, something that Greenbaum got to happen.” Perhaps the best known of the trio, Jessica Jackson Hutchins, makes eye-popping hybrid pieces that fuse furniture with ceramics and textiles in a way that, as W Magazine wrote, “speaks to the chaos of domestic life, relationships and motherhood.”

“They take the material into interesting directions; it’s much more mysterious,” Reynolds says of the featured artists. “They are painters, but they also happen to have this affinity for creating these handmade things. Along with their two-dimension art, they just happen to work in the third dimension.”