PST, A to Z: ‘Beatrice Wood: Career Woman’ at Santa Monica museum
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Pacific Standard Time will explore the origins of the Los Angeles art world through museum exhibitions throughout Southern California over the next six months. Times art reviewer Sharon Mizota has set the goal of seeing all of them. This is her latest report.
The Beatrice Wood retrospective at the Santa Monica Museum of Art is a delightful, sparkly gem of a show. Perhaps the most glittery collection of ceramics ever assembled, it is a fitting tribute to a woman with an equally glitzy history and an irrepressible joie de vivre. (Read Jori Finkel’s feature story for the details, including Wood’s close relationship with Marcel Duchamp. And keep an eye out for Christopher Knight’s full exhibition review.)
The show, which is part of Pacific Standard Time, also includes Wood’s drawings and correspondence, which are less audacious than her ceramics but no less charming. One letter, folded like a greeting card, contains drawings of two alternate realities: On one side, a flirtatious woman in a low cut dress winks emphatically at a man; on the other, the same woman wears a more demure ensemble and is accompanied by a chaperone who allows her to speak only to women. This duality captures Wood’s frustration with the Victorian mores with which she was raised, although the woman’s wink can hardly be described as salacious. Exaggerated and cartoony, it bespeaks girlish playfulness more than lust.
Similarly, Wood’s ceramics are earthy, organic but still useful forms — teapots, chalices, vases — under glazes as shimmery and irrepressible as that wink. In the exhibition’s catalog, scholar Jenni Sorkin describes them as “pottery in drag.” Wood, who started working with ceramics in the 1930s (when she was in her 40s), never took herself too seriously. She continued to make lustrous, modestly sized vessels through the 1950s and ‘60s, out of step with the high-art aspirations of California studio pottery, which tended to be matte, large scale and more sculptural.
Although Wood’s work was firmly situated in a “craft” context, it’s interesting to think of it as a kind of feminine, handmade answer to the L.A. School and Finish Fetish movements of the 1960s that reveled in the aesthetic properties of shiny, colorful, industrial surfaces.
Indeed, across the parking lot from the museum, a concurrent show of the work of Craig Kauffman is on view at Frank Lloyd Gallery. It reveals how his early paintings were derived from an abstracted (dissected, really) female form, a shape that became less and less recognizable as his work evolved into vacuum-formed plastic abstractions. As it turns out, their smooth, alluring planes were rooted not solely in technical or conceptual achievement but in sexual desire. Wood’s work is similarly tied to visceral pleasures but without the pretense of abstraction. Yes, the luscious surfaces are seductive, it seems to say, but this is still a tea set.
— Sharon Mizota
Santa Monica Museum of Art, Bergamot Station G1, 2525 Michigan Ave., Santa Monica, (310) 586-6488, through March 3. Closed Sundays and Mondays. www.smmoa.org
Top photo: Bowl by Beatrice Wood. Photo credit Blair Clark. courtesy of Beatrice Wood Center for the Arts/Happy Valley Foundation.