Bari Ziperstein's rollicking "Propaganda Pots" at Nino Mier come by their collective title honestly. Just after the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917, a government-run porcelain factory began producing plates emblazoned with quotations from “The Communist Manifesto” and with morale-boosting slogans like, "Struggle gives birth to heroes." If books, paintings and music can be the bearers of ideological dictates, why not ceramics?
Ziperstein, based in L.A., drew upon Eastern Bloc posters from the Cold War at the Wende Museum for her inspiration and imagery. An example hanging at the entrance to the show features a woman standing tall in green jumpsuit and red headscarf, a proud worker gazing into the future amid the dynamic struts of giant construction cranes.
In her corresponding sculpture, "Female Worker," Ziperstein wraps the figure around a vaguely anthropomorphic tower, a stoneware form roughly 2 feet tall, cylinder atop cylinder, topped by a bulky ovoid. Her rendering of the worker, in low relief and buzzing green and red glazes, is relatively faithful to its model, but in translating the image from two dimensions to three, Ziperstein tellingly strips it of its clarity. Now we see the woman in the round, literally and metaphorically, a complex symbol not fully grasped in a glance.
Twenty of Ziperstein's slab-built, stacked forms line up on a single U-shaped table like a miniature boulevard of sturdy, graceless, Cold War architectural specimens with billboard skins. The perils of alcohol, especially for women and children, are declaimed in brash, tipsy style on several pieces. In one, a flush-faced papa pours his bewildered child a drink. In another, a bottle morphs into a twisting green viper with dripping fangs hovering over a baby carriage. Yet another features a blond tipping back a tumbler while an infant nurses at her breast and a small boy tugs at her skirt.
Allusions to corruption of the body and state rub up against idealizations of labor and collectivism. Ziperstein injects an intriguing instability into the grand narrative, so her "pots" don't boil down to single shots of propagandistic Kool-Aid. What they do persuade us of is the power of their maker's feisty curiosity.
Nino Mier Gallery, 1107 Greenacre Ave., L.A. Through March 3; closed Sundays and Mondays. (323) 498-5957, www.miergallery.com