Review: In ‘No Two Alike,’ George Ohr’s Pottery Plays on Convention
‘GEORGE OHR POTTERY’
‘No Two Alike’
Craig F. Starr Gallery
5 East 73rd Street, Manhattan
The great ceramist George Ohr (1857-1918) was boastful, combative, deliberately eccentric and hugely ambitious. He called himself the Mad Potter of Biloxi and once told an interviewer, “When I am gone, my work will be praised, honored, and cherished.” He was right about that. But the roughly 50 bowls, cups, vases and pitchers in this stunning exhibition testify to a creative sensibility much different from his bumptious public persona. They are marked by an exquisite delicacy of touch, a subtle sense of humor, an extraordinary formal sophistication and a Picasso-like inventiveness.
As the poet and critic John Yau notes in an insightful catalog essay, Ohr went on a 16-state journey at the start of his career to study ceramics. Back home in Biloxi, Miss., he mixed and matched Victorian, Art Nouveau, Arts and Crafts and Asian styles with insouciant, seemingly effortless panache.
Beginning each piece on a potter’s wheel, Ohr produced thin-walled vessels that he then subjected to all kinds of manipulations. Crumpling, crimping, folding, dimpling, twisting, squashing and stretching, he fashioned objects that appear organically animated. Those glazed in a wondrous variety of colors, patterns and textures resemble exotic puffballs or tropical sea anemones. Others riff on traditional conventions to playfully absurdist effect, including goblets with mismatched fancy handles. A coconut-shape teapot with a pebbled red glaze, a serpentine spout and a nonfunctional lid fused to its body calls to mind 21st-century works by the ceramic sculptors Ken Price and Ron Nagle. Toward the end of his career, in the early 1900s, Ohr abandoned glazing to emphasize sculptural forms. The 18 sand-colored examples here are classically elegant.