Paul Swenbeck
Dirt on Delight: Impulses That Form Clay
Institute of Contemporary Art Philadelphia
January 16-June 21, 2009

Clay appeals to basic impulses, starting with the delight of building form. “Dirt On Delight: Impulses That Form Clay” presents significant work in clay by 22 artists spanning four generations on view through June 21, 2009. Following its presentation at ICA, the exhibition will be on view at the Walker Art Center from July 11 to November 29, 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 craft in general.

The artists in “Dirt on Delight” include the current generation (Nicole Cherubini, Jessica Jackson Hutchins, Jeffry Mitchell, Sterling Ruby, and Paul Swenbeck), artists who emerged during the 1990s (Ann Agee, Kathy Butterly, Jane Irish, Arlene Shechet, and Beverly Semmes), those who established clay as a critical material during the 1960s and 1970s (Robert Arneson, Viola Frey, Ron Nagle, Ken Price, Adrian Saxe, Beatrice Wood and Betty Woodman), and historic and outsider figures (Lucio Fontana, Peter Voulkos, and Rudolf Staffel, as well as George Ohr and Eugene Von Bruenchenhein).

This exhibition is organized by Senior Curator Ingrid Schaffner and Associate Curator Jenelle Porter, with art historian Glenn Adamson and is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue.