One mid-century ceramicist, the late Maija Grotell, finds herself in conversation with another, the living Ian McDonald at Turning Still: Historical & Contemporary Ceramics. At Patrick Parrish gallery in lower Manhattan, the two ceramicists—McDonald, the current artist-in-residence and Grotell, former artist-in-residence at The Cranbrook Art Academy—dialogue through pieces that reference Cranbrook’s campus in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan.
Grotell’s modernist vases and vessels, rendered in strong forms with geometric patterns painted in surface slip (colored clay), are in stark tension alongside McDonald’s strong, yet soft, bowls finished with colored terra sigillata (ultra-fine clay that’s sieved, applied, and then burnished for a soft look).
In Turning Still, Grotell’s work—11 pieces on loan from The Cranbrook Art Museum’s permanent collection—have rough surfaces built up with slip and glaze, creating peaks and valleys (and sometimes representative images). Compare that to McDonald’s contributions, all new for this show; the bowls and jars are simple and angular, but adorned with fully realized “pipes,” “bars,” and “rails,” turning what’s implied into actual geometry. The effect is especially pronounced as Turning Still mixes and mingles the two artists’ work to create maximum contrast. While Grotell’s vases, cups, and bowls are decorated, they still suggest functionality, an effect that McDonald’s filled-in, covered, or obscured objects eschews.
McDonald’s pieces are full of references to architectural details across the sprawling 319-acre Cranbrook campus, an easy target given the institution’s rich design legacy. Art Deco, Arts and Crafts, and International-style buildings all mingle there, and join the Cranbrook Art Museum and Academy of Art, whose buildings were designed by the Finnish American Eliel Saarinen, father of Eero Saarinen, in the 1940s.
Both artists have deep ties to Cranbrook. The gallery notes that besides being the artist-in-residence, McDonald is also the Cranbrook Academy of Art’s Area Head of Ceramics, a position Grotell held from 1938 to 1966. Although Grotell passed away seven years later, her legacy as the “Mother of American Ceramics,” as the gallery notes, has only grown, especially as we reevaluate it in a new light.
Header image: Ian McDonald, Low Works (Pipes and Bars), 2019. (Courtesy Patrick Parrish Gallery)
Turning Still runs through February 23.