Research: Exhibition//Dirt On Delight

JANUARY 16–JUNE 21, 2009

Dirt On Delight: Impulses That Form Clay

Dirt On Delight: Impulses That Form Clay includes significant work in clay by 22 artists spanning four generations on view January 16-June 21, 2009.
Ranging from modestly scaled pots to figurines to large sculptures, these objects cross a spectrum of conventional delineations among fine art, craft, and outsider practices. Collectively, they suggest that clay appeals to basic impulses, starting with the delight of building form, coupled with the anxiety of completion. All of the works in the exhibition appear to be in some state of flux or growth.Clay is a base material. From potsherds to porcelain fixtures, clay is synonymous with the building of industries and cultures. At the same time, its very materiality—its tactile malleability, earthen sensuousness, and humidity—make it the medium of more elemental associations and expressions. The immediacy with which clay allows one to build form and create ornament underlies its appeal—especially in relation to current modes that seem to take fabrication increasingly out of artists’ hands. More specifically, this exhibition is an opportunity to examine not only clay’s appeal, but also craft in general….


About the Institute of Contemporary Art
Founded in 1963, the Institute of Contemporary Art at the University of Pennsylvania is a leader in the presentation and documentation of contemporary art. Through exhibitions, commissions, educational programs, and publications, ICA invites the public to share in the experience, interpretation and understanding of the work of established and emerging artists.




Dirt on Delight

The subtitle of the show is borne out through objects that display a primal delight in the innate qualities of clay.

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Installation view of "Dirt on Delight" at the Institute of Contemporary Art.

Installation view of “Dirt on Delight” at the Institute of Contemporary Art.

Once you get past the title with its punning reference to clay, perhaps in its Freudian fecal sense, and to scandalous gossip, the most striking thing about “Dirt on Delight: Impulses that Form Clay” is the anti-hierarchical installation of the exhibition. The pattern of display, seemingly as arbitrary as a yard sale, transmits key ideas on an almost subliminal level. Aside from suggesting the characteristics of flux and growth through its branching, fragmented organization, it breezily refuses to tell visitors where or how to look or what to look for. “Dirt on Delight” ignores the wheezy old “sculpture-versus-function” debate that generally dominates the occasional penetration of materials-based art into venues like the University of Pennsylvania’s Institute of Contemporary Art. These overarching choices are not countered by the gallery handout and a brief wall text or by a few artists’ taped responses to the question “How did you come to clay?” (accessible by cell phone and on the Internet). This novel (non)organization is disconcerting to some and liberating for others…

The earliest works, all from around 1900, are mediocre pieces by George Ohr, perhaps the first ceramist to value and preserve through firing those graceful, organically goofy curves and loops that just happen when you work with clay. Ohr’s iconic vessels do not stand out among nearby pieces by artists of subsequent generations, but the grouping encourages consideration on a phenomenological level and suggests affinities that transcend time.

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