On Stage with the Renwick's Staged Stories
October 2, 2009
To make her point that "museums are a place of theater," Kate Bonansinga, curator of Staged Stories: Renwick Craft Invitational 2009, began her introductory comments for the Artists' Roundtable on September 25th with an image of Charles Willson Peale's famous self-portrait where he lifts a thick red curtain to reveal his natural history museum. "It's all theater," Bonansinga added, "and that's the point that I'm interested in making."
The theater image is not just about the physical stage but also costumes and props, which Bonansinga finds common to the works of the four artists in this year's Invitational: Mark Newport, who knits superhero outfits for his own creations such as Sweaterman; Christyl Boger, whose ceramics recall both palace porcelains and domestic figurines, though she adds what look like inflatable pool toys to them; Mary Van Cline, who experiments with glass and photographic images of draped models; and SunKoo Yuh, whose sculptural ceramics are covered in more than forty glazes each.
Each artist is also a storyteller. Newport, who combines the "masculine act of heroics with the feminine act of knitting" uses this contradiction "to create a bit of frisson." For SunKoo Yuh, his process is about "control and non-control." At the end of a firing, he may discard as much as 50 percent of the pieces. There's a story there too. Boger's ceramics are introspective, yet they don't look back at you, and she referred to them as "narcissistic...encased in this armor of protection." Van Cline, who "builds theater sets for [her] work," was greatly influenced by Japanese Butoh and captures that stillness in her work. Through staged photos she creates narratives that are open to interpretation.
My favorite comment of the evening came from SunKoo Yuh who spoke in a near-rapturous voice of his process of creating works that heat to about 2,400 degrees Fahrenheit, then opening the kiln door to view new pieces for the first time. "With apologies to my wife," he said, "that is the most exciting time in my life. Sometimes it blows my mind and sometimes there are some really horrible accidents there."
Theater happens, whether on stage or off.
Staged Stories: Renwick Craft Invitational 2009 continues at the Renwick Gallery until January 3.
- Craft, Renwick, Knitting, Glass, Earthenware, American Art, Porcelain, Smithsonian American Art Museum
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