Rebekah Bogard's "Out of My Heart" (2008).

Rebekah Bogard's "Out of My Heart" (2008).

Playing with Clay

Concurrent Ceramic Art Exhibitions at CAF and Sullivan Goss

Ceramics is the most playful and plastic of mediums, and if you need convincing, you must visit two current ceramics shows just off State Street, at Sullivan Goss and the Contemporary Arts Forum. At the former, youthful curator Jeremy Tessmer has selected seven pieces by four artists. The most formal and traditional of them-and also the most static-are two porcelain pieces by Chinese-American artist Jesse Small, who calls them “Ghosts.” These standing half-cylinders hand-painted in a classical Chinese cloud motif are serene and lovely, suggestive of ancestral veneration.

Other pieces in both shows are more sensuous. Works by John Oliver Lewis and Rebekah Bogard are bizarre and cartoonish, like creatures and plants you’ve never seen before. Lewis incorporates architectural elements, like the glistening pink arches separating what might be legs on a caterpillar. Bogard’s “Out of My Heart” is a pink-and-gray winged snail, planted in the middle of a fleshy, heart-shaped leaf. It’s cute, yet simultaneously threatening.

The fourth artist, Joan Bankemper, brings new life to the romantic ornaments of yesteryear. In “Vivian’s Night Garden,” little porcelain bluebirds, Buddha statuettes, glistening cabbage leaves, and lilac-adorned teacup shards are embedded in plaster to create a kind of two-sided mandala wheel.

The domestic significance of porcelain is echoed in some of the works on display at CAF. Franco Mondini-Ruiz’s installation “Porcelain-y Yours,” reveals the darker side of the perfectly appointed upper-middle-class home. Gleaming white birds perched on a gilded branch have cigarettes stuck in their mouths. Sweating champagne glasses are standing about, but the air of celebration carries a whiff of post-modern psychodrama.

The crudeness-and vitality-under gleaming surfaces is also evident in Stephanie Wagner’s collection of pampered porcelain pooches, which are some kind of cross between fetching decorations and ghastly hallucinations. Even though some of these dogs seem to poop flowers, their tails themselves, hollow like the eliminating end of a small intestine, tell a different tale.

Eduardo Sarabia’s room consists of three walls full of blue and white plates, with simple bordered paintings of roosters, guns, drugs, and big-breasted pin-up girls wearing nothing but thongs. Kara Kristalova’s pieces are fairy tales in three dimensions: a mournful woman in a stone cairn; a vulnerable, hurt-looking man with an enormous green head lying on his side as if turned away from his lover in bed. And Kristin Morgan’s mugs, which look like they were made by a child in ceramics class, disturb with their images of Donald Duck and Yogi Bear framed to look authoritarian and demonically angry.

The largest pieces, and possibly the most delightful, are Jessica Jackson Hutchins’s thrown-clay torsos atop active, sculptor’s-wax-on-wire legs. They’re a little thick in the middle, but sexy.

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