August 23, 2018
William Brouillard, Seth Nagelberg, and Judith Salomon intersect at CIA, but it's their varied approaches to their work that's on view at River Gallery.
By Afi Scruggs
Mounting an exhibition of work by William Brouillard, Judith Salomon and Seth Nagelberg is challenging, to say the least. True, the three share a medium—clay—as well as a connection. Each has led the Ceramics Department at the Cleveland Institute of Art.
As artists, though, each also has a distinctive voice. Brouillard’s majolica platters depict robots and spaceships. “I’m not really sure why I like that stuff, and my work is really about that,” he said in a video profile of Cleveland Arts Prize winners. (He received the 2009 Lifetime Achievement Award for Visual Arts.)
Salomon makes vessels—both smaller pieces, like vases and cups, and larger sculptural work. “I love the idea of function,” she said in her arts 1990 Arts Prize video profile. “I like the decorative arts, sitting around tables ... there’s this idea of community and conversation.”
Nagelberg, chair of CIA’s Ceramics Department, calls clay “the perfect match for my exploration of form and function.” He’s inspired by algorithms while using production methods such as slip casting to bridge craft, design and manufacturing.
Nevertheless, their joint exhibit In 3 Parts is harmonious, not dissonant. The show is on view through September 22 at River Gallery in Rocky River.
“When you see the work, it makes total sense,” says gallery owner and exhibit curator G. Ari Hamamjian. “You see three individual styles of work, given enough space and breadth so they all shine.”
The gallery is chock full of work. Nagelberg’s ocean blue tumblers sit on a suspended shelf while Salomon’s vases and platters rest on the sill of the wall dividing the gallery’s two rooms. Hanging on opposite walls are Brouillard’s plates celebrating steam punk, the machine age and Dr. Who.
The very range of work makes Hamamjian hesitant to call the artists “ceramicists.” He prefers to call them “makers.” The term can be vague, he admits, but it captures each artist’s commitment to functionality.
“When you’re making something, you’re making something functional. Yet it has ornament to it,” he says. “Think of a folding chair. Even though you’re in a church cafeteria folding them all up, someone invented it, and that was a vision.”
He points to Salomon’s “Vase on a Stacked Base,” at only 6 inches tall and 3 inches wide and long. Thin black lines dance over the yellow porcelain-like cursive script. But the vase is meant to hold flowers, and its beauty shouldn’t obscure its role, Hamamjian says. “What she’s telling you is that a piece that has so much design shouldn’t be construed as a non-functional piece,” he says.
Nagelberg’s dedication to functionality translates into his process. He uses slipcasting, a process in which liquefied clay, or slip, is poured into plaster molds. The process is commonly used for commercial ceramic pieces, from cups, to sinks and toilet bowls.
“It is designed for replicating and making multiples that are all the same, but when I use the process, I look for opportunities to make variety,” Nagelberg says. “So I make molds that might work in more than one way, so they can yield unique results.”
The tumblers in his piece “Play and Utility” look identical, but Nagelberg used computer algorithms to create the glazes so the inside and outside of each tumbler is unique.
In that way, the tumblers unconsciously reinforce the theme of the exhibit: how commonality makes way for individuality.
“I really think the subject matter is that we’re all different and we’re all the faculty of CIA,” Nagelberg says.