Northern Clay Center: Out of the Labyrinth: Contemporary Mexican Ceramics

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OUT OF THE LABYRINTH: CONTEMPORARY MEXICAN CERAMICS Featured Artists: Gerardo Azcúnaga, Gloria Carrasco, Isadora Cuéllar, Javier del Cueto, Gustavo Pérez, Maribel Portela, Eduardo Sarabia, Paloma Torres, and Xawery Wolski

September 25 – November 8, 2015


Curator & Essayist Robert Silberman


Editor Elizabeth Coleman

Out of the Labyrinth: Contemporary Mexican Ceramics is the second of two Northern Clay Center exhibitions highlighting the countries that share borders with the United States. The first exhibition, True North: Contemporary Canadian Ceramics, in September of 2014, featured the works of contemporary Canadian artists.

Sarah Millfelt, Executive Director

Out of the Labyrinth: Contemporary Mexican Ceramics invites the viewer to cross the border, yet again, to discover the talents of nine artists in Mexico who are currently working in ceramics. Curator Robert Silberman, a long-time member of NCC’s exhibitions committee, an avid writer about ceramics, and an educator, identified a diverse group of artists living and working in Mexico, whose work rests outside the more traditional approaches to the material. The resulting exhibition is documented in the pages that follow.

Unless otherwise noted, all dimensions: height precedes width precedes depth.

International Standard Book Number 978-1-932706-36-4

First edition, 2015

Manufactured in the United States

No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews. For information, write to Northern Clay Center, 2424 Franklin Avenue East, Minneapolis, MN 55406.

© 2015 Northern Clay Center. All rights reserved.

What cannot be captured in these pages is the impact this exhibition had on Northern Clay Center’s constituents and audiences new to our facility and programs. While visiting our galleries is always free to the public, for many individuals, having the opportunity to connect directly with the makers while viewing their ceramic art in person is not possible. With this exhibition, we created several of these opportunities for children, teachers, collectors, other makers, and students. In conjunction with the exhibition, Gloria Carrasco, Isadora Cuéllar, Eduardo Sarabia, and Paloma Torres visited the Center to share their work, techniques, and inspirations with dozens of students and makers. Cuéllar spent one month in residence at NCC, making work for the exhibition. In collaboration with long-time ClayToGo outreach instructor, Susan Obermeyer, Cuéllar conducted a variety of community programs in clay, with students and teachers at Global Academy in Columbia Heights, International Spanish Language Academy in Minnetonka, Urban Arts Academy in Minneapolis, and Neighborhood House in St. Paul. These visits allowed for professional and amateur artists alike, visitors to NCC, and a new generation of clay appreciators to experience Northern Clay Center and contemporary Mexican ceramics through hands-on programs and private conversations with participating artists, maximizing the reach and impact of this exhibition. Out of the Labyrinth and related programming was made possible by the generous support and resources from many institutions and individuals. A sincere thanks to our long-time exhibition funders: Continental Clay Company, George Reid, and the Windgate Charitable Foundation. Special thanks to Latin American Masters Gallery, Lisa Sette Gallery, and the Tayloe Piggott Gallery, who enabled the loan of several exhibition pieces. To our new friends at the Consulate of Mexico in St. Paul, in particular Alberto Fierro, we are indebted to you for your enthusiasm and myriad levels of support for this initiative. Thank you also to the Mexican Ministry of Foreign Affairs.


Out of the Labyrinth: Contemporary Mexican Ceramics

Essay: Robert Silberman


Out of the Labyrinth: Contemporary Mexican Ceramics by Robert Silberman

1 Octavio Paz, The Labyrinth of Solitude, trans. Lysander Kemp. (New York: Grove Press, 1961), 29. 2 Paz, op cit., p. 11; Alan Riding, Distant Neighbors (New York: Vintage Books ed., 1986). 3 See Rick A. López, Crafting Mexico: Intellectuals, Artisans, and the State after the Revolution (Durham and London: Duke UP, 2010).

The Nobel Prize winning Mexican writer Octavio Paz declared his native land a “labyrinth of solitude.” Mexicans, he wrote, were trapped by their refusal to acknowledge their problematic identity, rooted as it is in the Spanish conquest, and the major issues it created in relation to ethnicity, class, religion, and sexuality. The Mexican Revolution promised the creation of a national identity that would bind together the diversity of social traditions and regional cultures but, according to Paz, did not provide a genuine solution. “The Mexican,” he insisted, “is always remote, from the world and from other people. And also from himself.”1 Paz, writing in the middle of the twentieth century, acknowledged that “the questions we ask today will likely be incomprehensible fifty years from now.” More than a half-century later, the questions he posed do not appear incomprehensible. Yet Mexico today appears anything but solitary — and the same is true of Mexican ceramics. If there is still some justice in Alan Riding’s mid-1980s description of the United States and Mexico as “distant neighbors,” the social and cultural distance between the two countries does seem to be decreasing.2 One can only hope that Out of the Labyrinth: Contemporary Mexican Ceramics, in its modest way, might help reduce the distance between the ceramic communities on each side of the border. In the arts, Mexico has long been identified with the great triumvirate of muralists, José Clemente Orozco, David Alfaro Siqueiros, and Diego Rivera, along with other figures such as the painters Frida Kahlo and Rufino Tamayo, the photographer Manuel Álvarez Bravo, writers such as Paz and Carlos Fuentes, and the architect Luis Barragán. The traditional folk arts — music, dance, textiles, and ceramics — have also helped define the national cultural identity.3 Mexico has a magnificent ceramic tradition. It extends back into the pre-Hispanic period, with its stunning polychrome bowls and other works, such as the life-sized Aztec eagle warrior figures that are worthy of comparison with the famous Chinese terracotta soldiers. Present-day visitors to Oaxaca and elsewhere encounter the continuing vitality of post-Conquest commercial and popular ceramics. Talavera, the majolica ware identified with Puebla, has received a geographical indicator designation from the World Trade Organization, in effect a patent on a specific product tied to a specific place, as with Bordeaux wine or Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. Out of the Labyrinth focuses on contemporary Mexican studio ceramics, a subject far too little known in comparison to the folk and commercial ware that is perhaps what outsiders think of first when they hear the phrase “Mexican ceramics.” The exhibition’s emphasis is on sculptural work. Mexico could provide material for outstanding exhibitions of functional ceramics several times over, as is made clear by the biennials organized by the Franz Mayer Museum in Mexico City devoted to that kind of creation. Yet in spite of its quality, much of this work is not dramatically different from contemporary utilitarian ceramics in the United States. The work of Gustavo


Out of the Labyrinth: Contemporary Mexican Ceramics

Pérez, the sole representative of the vessel-making tradition in Out of the Labyrinth, has been included because any exhibition of contemporary Mexican studio ceramics without his work — exceptional by any standards — would immediately be open to question, and because his creations have pronounced sculptural qualities.4 If there has been a distance between Mexico and the United States in the ceramic world, as in many other areas, it no doubt begins with the political separation between the two countries and their different principal languages, which in turn reflect historical links to different nations and cultural spheres  —  in particular Spain and England. There are also important social and cultural differences in many other areas such as religion and education, including arts education. Sculptural ceramics has a place in the art curriculum of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM, the largest university in Latin America), but ceramic education in Mexico generally comes from workshops and studio apprenticeships, not schools. There is no Mexican organization equivalent to NCECA (National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts) to help foster cross-border partnerships. Yet the relationships established by ceramic artists in Mexico with China, Canada, Europe, and elsewhere — at times it seems, everywhere except the U.S. —  suggest that personal and institutional connections established over time can overcome the difficulties posed by physical and social distance. Trying to account for the large-scale factors affecting the historical relationship between Mexican ceramics and ceramics in the United States should not take attention away from the nine artists whose work is included in the exhibition. Granted, it is impossible to represent such a large, diverse, and, it must be emphasized, cosmopolitan artistic community entirely through the work of nine individuals. Nor should the artists be limited to serving only as symbolic representatives of Mexico and Mexican ceramics; each must be granted her or his imaginative freedom and artistic identity. The work of Gerardo Azcúnaga, Gloria Carrasco, Isadora Cuéllar, Javier del Cueto, Gustavo Pérez, Maribel Portela, Eduardo Sarabia, Paloma Torres, and Xawery Wolski, nevertheless, does reveal a concern with basic themes that are central in contemporary Mexican art and society: the landscape and the sense of nature; architecture and urbanization; the social landscape and the play between high culture and popular culture; and perhaps above all, the relationship between past and present. Yet these concerns are not only Mexican. Gloria Carrasco’s consideration of physical geology may arise from the Mexican situation but has obvious global significance. Gerardo Azcúnaga is hardly offering a scientific report on Mexican entomology or zoology (or anthropology). And Paloma Torres’ response to the radical transformation of Mexico City should strike a chord in relation to cities around the world. If several of the artists reveal a close connection to twentieth century modernism, that can be accounted for in generational or personal terms, or more broadly in relation to the role of modernity in Mexico, and not only in the arts. Yet artistic individuality goes beyond nationality, in part because artistic affinities and development go beyond national borders.

4 There is no comprehensive history of Mexican ceramics. A good general survey of Mexican art and architecture is James Oles’ Art and Architecture in Mexico (London: Thames & Hudson, 2013). But see also New Tendencies in Mexican Art: The 1990s by Rubén Gallo (New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2004) and Klaus Biesenbach et al., Mexico City: An Exhibition About the Exchange Rates of Bodies and Values, exh. cat. (New York: P.S 1, 2002). These suggest that there are important Mexican artists in the global art world who use ceramics on occasion, but would not consider themselves, or be accurately described, as ceramic artists. As Gallo notes (p. 13), Biesenbach commits a classic blunder involving stereotypical notions of Mexico in his analysis of a work by Eduardo Abaroa and Rubén Ortíz that incorporates ceramic corn cobs.

Essay: Robert Silberman


Xawery Wolski brought his modernism  — and surrealism  —  to Mexico from Poland, via Paris and New York, with a side trip to Peru. Gustavo Pérez admires the German-born British ceramic artist Hans Coper, but also Kanjiro Kawai, Peter Voulkos, and Constantin Brancusi. Maribel Portela’s use of archaic and folk models extends outside Mexico to the classical world of the Mediterranean and other historical and contemporary cultures. It may seem a perfect example of cultural spheres and affiliations that Javier del Cueto should admire Eduardo Chillida, the Basque-Spanish sculptor whose works are not that well known in the United States. Yet the purity and poetry in Chillida’s sculpture, along with the precise articulation of the geometric elements, reminds us of why mid-twentieth century modernism may have had specific geographical-national roots, but proved so internationally adaptable and popular, as with New York School painting or Scandinavian design. In the Mexican context, this purist version of modernism may provide a dramatic alternative to the ornate colonial style in architecture and the decorative arts and an escape as well from the polemical, political earlier modernism of the muralists. Similarly, if the exhibition reveals a generally understated sense of color, that may reflect aesthetics as well as technical causes, for the earth colors and low-key tones set the work apart from the bright colors of popular Mexican ceramics. These artists may in the end, inevitably, be regarded as representative of Mexico, and Mexican ceramics. They are both in a basic, obvious way — but also, more deeply, as in how they express the relationship between present and past, the traditional and the modern. Eduardo Sarabia, with his dual citizenship and experience living on both sides of the border, offers a demonstration of how Mexico and the United States are now entwined. His work is far removed from that of Isadora Cuéllar, so it might seem that they share only the use of clay as a material. Yet what they really share is a willingness to use clay, along with other media, to explore their personal concerns with skill and imagination. Mexico today is a complex and endlessly fascinating country, whether or not it is a labyrinth of solitude — or ever was. The artists in Out of the Labyrinth capture that complexity and fascination, while revealing the variety, vitality, and artistry to be found in contemporary Mexican studio ceramics. Gerardo Azcúnaga Gerardo Azcúnaga can seem like an artist-naturalist enthralled by nature and natural processes. He often fixes on forms of nesting and transformation that resemble wasps’ nests and cocoons, termite or ant mounds, or maybe some stranger, less familiar curiosity. Yet Azcúnaga’s art is not all about delight in nature’s marvels. His work also has a dark, grotesque side. With tooth-filled orifices and long pointed forms that can suggest not only stilt-like appendages but also weapons, Azcúnaga’s sculptures can be more than mildly disturbing; they can be downright scary. At the heart of all the work is the question of what connects — or separates — nature and culture, the non-human and the human.


Out of the Labyrinth: Contemporary Mexican Ceramics

Azcúnaga’s art pays tribute to what the philosopher Henri Bergson called élan vital — the life force that animates creatures and the bodies or dwellings they inhabit. Azcúnaga often presents a kind of organic architecture with its own sense of space, especially notable for the enticing, threatening openings that lead to darkness within. In the age of genomics and artificial intelligence, it may seem that only computer-generated special effects can begin to meet the complexity and multiplicity of possibilities that exist or can be imagined. But Azcúnaga shows that there is something to be said for the physical, rather than the virtual. Azcúnaga’s art reveals just how powerful sculpture can be when it comes to reaching deep into a viewer’s psyche. His unsettling creations place before us a vision that exists apart from the modern world of computers and cars, offices and supermarkets, and all the other elements of everyday life. Azcúnaga reminds us that nature is a vast realm, and may include not only what exists and can be observed but, as his unnatural naturalism so beautifully and horrifically demonstrates, what can be imagined. Gloria Carrasco Gloria Carrasco trained as an architect, and her work often reveals the love of order that characterizes so many practitioners of that profession. For all the control and geometric precision in her art, however, there is also another strain, sometimes lyrical and sometimes grandly expressive. Carrasco always combines conceptual clarity with formal rigor, establishing what she has described as “a dynamic where the existential and the symbolic live together.” The works in Out of the Labyrinth focus on nature in a fundamental sense: the physical world, not living beings, natural forces rather than organic processes. They use artistic order to address natural disorder, but with an awareness of the beauty to be found in the world. Frontier of the Sky highlights a basic feature of many areas in Mexico, including Mexico City: the mountain ranges that define the boundaries of vision by their presence on the horizon. Here the solid blocks open up to the sky above the mountaintops, setting mass against void, opacity against clarity. Geometries of the Earth uses ceramic elements to portray the forces generated by tectonic plates along seacoasts, with the fractures and raw edges indicating the boundaries of the plates and the concentric patterns miming the effect that can arise when magma is cooled by ocean water. Finally, Dynamic Forces — Pure Intensities presents a record of volcanic activity before an eruption, offering a visible, scientific rendering of an invisible, subterranean phenomenon. There are active volcanoes in Mexico, so the possibility of a catastrophic eruption remains (like the danger posed by earthquakes, which have proven devastating, as in the Mexico City quake of 1985, which left more than 5,000 dead). Carrasco laboriously drew the charts by hand using a projected image. The ceramic panels present fundamental geological facts in dramatic fashion while touching upon complex social-psychological concerns. Introducing imagery more common in a scientific laboratory than in an art gallery is a daring move, and a satisfying one, and provides one more reminder of the adventurous spirit that drives Carrasco’s art.

Essay: Robert Silberman


Isadora Cuéllar Isadora Cuéllar often creates installations that exist, to borrow a phrase from Rosalind Krauss, in sculpture’s “expanded field.” These are not self-contained ceramic objects, but include lighting that creates dramatic shadow-play, and music that adds an aural dimension. For the physical elements, Cuéllar, like Javier del Cueto, often uses creative destruction as part of her process. She first builds a three-dimensional structure that can resemble a building framework or a building’s ruins. She divides that up into many small units, each a compact geometric sculpture. But these are not the end product. Placing them on the floor and wall or suspending them from the ceiling, she then introduces the lighting that creates complex pas de deux between the geometric sculptural elements and their expressionistic shadows. The dance of material and immaterial, light and shadow, fills the space, with the music as complement and counterpoint. These installations have a philosophical dimension, calling to mind Plato’s allegory in the Republic: prisoners confined to a cave, and a restricted point of view, confuse shadowy illusions for reality. Cuéllar, however, as an artist, necessarily glories in illusions, as the realization of imagined visions that offer their own kind of truth. Her art, in her own words, opens up a dialogue that “proposes an architecture of the interior, of the drives and pulses…that seek to unite the worldly with the ethereal.” In a residency in the Yucatan, she opened her work to nature and its forms. She fabricated sculptures for installation in the out-of-doors, using sections of tree branches, and also made ceramic sculptures entitled Sinapsis Arbórea — Arboreal Synapse — a fitting title for her concern with the relationship between physical structures and mental ones. She has also made works that use miniature chairs as metaphorical surrogates for people. Always in Cuéllar’s art, however, the formal as well as the philosophical aspects arise from and lead back to a concern with the human mind, the human body, and the human heart. Javier del Cueto Javier del Cueto is a thoughtful, even philosophical artist. He organized a major exhibition of his work in relation to Mount Analogue, the allegorical novel by René Daumal about the search for truth and self-discovery. As a sculptor working primarily with clay, sometimes unfired, but also with metal, stone, and other media, del Cueto often finds the point where the archaic and the modern come together. In Initial Fury of Rotating and Geometry of Dreams, he manages to suggest stone (and Stone Age) construction and implements as well as the unornamented look of classic modernism. The same is true of Before the Meridian, which could pass for a small reproduction of an ancient structure — or maybe a model for part of a building by the great modern architect Louis Kahn. In all these works, the simplicity of the forms paradoxically testifies to the complexity of the art, the concentration achieved by paring everything down to essentials. In Filings to Their Magnet and Unresolved Equation, del Cueto moves in the opposite direction, toward incorporating more elements


Out of the Labyrinth: Contemporary Mexican Ceramics

and a more open sense of order. These works give traditional methods a contemporary, conceptual twist. Del Cueto fashioned the elements in Unresolved Equation during an initial constructive period at the potter’s wheel, establishing a curvilinear vocabulary that retains the dynamism of the turning, though with no “fury of rotating.” He then cut them into pieces in a deconstructive stage, and then reconstructed or at least assembled them into the sculpture. The presentation in both works remains provisional, however, open to re-arrangement; as the “unresolved” in the one title suggests, there can be no final version. The division into parts in both works contributes angularity and edginess, along with echoes of Cubist fragmentation. The overlapping arrangement in Filings indicates a precarious yet forceful balance, in Unresolved a more playful one — a delightful jumble, not a traumatic collapse. Del Cueto’s seriousness does not prevent him from being playful as well. But the key to these works is the built-in contingency, the deliberate refusal to be definitive. In del Cueto’s art, as in the quest for Mount Analogue, the journey is what matters most. Gustavo Pérez Gustavo Pérez is widely recognized as the foremost ceramicist in Mexico working in the functional tradition. His vessel forms are no doubt used primarily as objects of aesthetic contemplation and admiration, rather than for basic utilitarian purposes, although they might serve beautifully for flower arrangements if placed in the hands of an ikebana master. What distinguishes Pérez’s work is, quite simply, its excellence. The physical forms demonstrate an unfailing sense of mastery, whether through an elegant simplicity or a dense, at times convoluted compactness. And his surface designs display constant inventiveness in both their intricate linear play, often punctuated by dots, and their areas of solid color. Pérez can employ a rigorous geometry, or an open, flowing style with sinuous arabesques that recall Art Nouveau and indigenous motifs. His signature move, when he slices into the surface, bears comparison with the slashed canvases of Lucio Fontana or the holes in Peter Voulkos platters and other works that remove any illusion of functionalism. Yet Pérez demonstrates his characteristic subtlety by cutting deep enough to surprise but not to shock. His precise incisions establish the potentially unnerving connection between the vessel’s smooth exterior and human skin without resorting to sensationalism. The technique adds formal richness, while introducing a sharp conceptual challenge to the very idea of the vessel as container. Pérez has the ability to make each work appear effortless and at the same time dynamic, full of tension and energy. Even at their most architectonic, these works have their own pulse, their own rhythms. If the overall effect suggests the apparent timelessness of high modernism, Pérez’s approach still represents a distinctive individual personality, as in those radical incisions. Pérez’s ceramics are classics — contemporary classics. It is no wonder that asked about Pérez, several peers offered a quick, definitive reply: “The best.”

Essay: Robert Silberman


Maribel Portela Maribel Portela’s art recalls both ancient sculpture and folk art, yet has an appeal all its own because of the artist’s boundless imagination. The figures in Out of the Labyrinth are part of a larger group created in collaboration with recent graduates in biology, medicine, biochemistry, and other fields who were invited by Portela to join what she called “The Invisible College.” She wanted to give added — literal — life to the ceramic figures by using micro-organisms, moss, and the like, shifting the emphasis from typical Day of the Dead offerings. When she counted the results, Portela was surprised to discover she had created forty-three works, the exact number of protesting teacher’s college students seized by police and then turned over to gang members and “disappeared” in the town of Iguala on September 26, 2014. Portela thought it was “more than a coincidence…a revelation,” and dedicated the entire grouping to the families of the victims. The initial exhibition took place in January 2015, in a remarkable venue: the crypt of the archbishop’s palace, now a cultural center, near the main square, cathedral, and national palace in the center of Mexico City. The works were displayed on the excavated steps of the Aztec pyramid upon which the palace was built. Neither miniature nor monumental, these figures have a compelling presence. They succeed in celebrating life thanks to Portela’s guiding artistry, as in the beflowered corpse-like creation, which appears like an ancient treasure freshly discovered. Given the overall work’s tragic aspects, the figure of the woman with the plant is all the more moving as the embodiment of life. The golden figure pays tribute to the pre-modern world and its splendor, while the black-skinned figure with his brightly-colored suit adds flamboyance to the mix. The other figure, with its ghostly whiteness setting off its ornate maroon elements, serves as one final reminder of how Portela brings back to life archaic forms in all their mesmerizing poetry and power. Eduardo Sarabia Eduardo Sarabia gives the impression of an artist having way too much fun. A decade ago in Berlin, he created a tequila bar that featured his own brand, Tequila Sarabia, and it became a social gathering place for artists, with performances and site-specific installations. He has re-staged the work several times, once at the 2008 Whitney Biennial. After a collector invited him to Guadalajara to set up a studio, with the support of a small ceramics factory, he seized the opportunity. The result has been a constant stream of ceramic works, including those in Out of the Labyrinth, showy vases decorated in a traditional style but with non-traditional imagery: marijuana leaves, guns, and female pinup figures. Of course Sarabia’s art is not really a boys-just-want-to-have-fun excursion into sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll. His projects involve travel and in-depth research, as in his study of the agricultural and social history of tequila, which contributed to a narrative presented in the ceramic panels decorating the bar. Like so many younger artists, Sarabia works in multiple media, including ceramics, painting and drawing, photography, video, and textiles, and often presents the results within that all-embracing form — installation


Out of the Labyrinth: Contemporary Mexican Ceramics

art. The works in Out of the Labyrinth follow Warhol and Pop Art by imitating commercial products. But the boxes, with their markings indicating popular consumer products, do not match their ceramic contents. So while probing the relationships between popular and fine art, and between globalization in the world of commodities and in the art world, Sarabia also introduces the drug trade and the relation between the legal and the illegal. Raised in Los Angeles, but now a resident of Guadalajara, Sarabia — who has dual citizenship — displays a keen social and cultural awareness that encompasses both sides of the border. This helps him avoid the minefields that surround issues such as immigration and cultural stereotyping; so does his wit. A sense of humor never hurts, especially when accompanied by real artistic talent. In Sarabia’s case, having fun should definitely be allowed. Paloma Torres Paloma Torres can seem in person like a force of nature, a whirlwind combining strength of character and inexhaustible energy. Strength and energy also define her art — along with expertise, inventiveness, and the kind of attitude that makes her career a record of constant change accompanied by an underlying consistency in the quality of the work. Torres’ columns have appeared in many public spaces, individually or in groups, and she has done other large-scale commissions, such as a pair of imposing gates that testify to her willingness to take on new challenges. Totem draws upon her interest in the column form and its associations with architecture and ritual objects, including figures; it also demonstrates her ability to generate successful new variations. Torres has made columns with a variety of beautifully articulated, low-relief surface designs. Here the subtly modeled horizontal bands, along with the surface whiteness, contribute to a sense of lightness of being even as the work retains its monumental character. The wall relief Night shows Torres’ artistic ambitiousness and, in its dynamic composition, the graphic skill that makes her so effective in printmaking and other two-dimensional forms. The feel is urban, capturing what the great German sociologist Georg Simmel described as the intense stimuli that define life in the modern metropolis, and cubist, in the impression of fragments brought together with brisk, lively assurance. In recent years, Torres has become preoccupied with the massive construction projects that are transforming Mexico City and its skyline: a recent exhibition was entitled Mexico, City of De-construction. She has created photographs as well as sculptures that respond to the wood scaffolding, steel rods, and other raw elements visible on buildings or freeways under construction. Night, with its elemental black and white, relates to abstract painting, but above all, suggests the dynamic urbanism that Torres captures so well. Yet it also points to the abiding interest Torres has in the sky, in nature, and in the world that exists beyond the urban landscape.

Essay: Robert Silberman


Xawery Wolski Xawery Wolski has lived in Mexico for more than twenty years. A native of Poland, he brought to Mexico a rugged, if not quite brutal directness in sculptures made of terra cotta, but finished in metallic oxides so that they can seem like industrial remnants: giant chain links, “X’s.” But Wolski has another side, often displaying a sleek, smooth-surfaced refinement — and eroticism — in all-white works, as if to fashion a world of pristine clarity and purity. While living in Peru, Wolski became fascinated by the native textiles. This resulted in a group of striking creations, not exactly wearable art, but sculptures that use garments metaphorically, evoking rather than representing the human figure. Some employ seeds or tiny bits of plastic instead of ceramic beads; there is also a magnificent brass version and a bling-y gold one more Hollywood than Machu Picchu. Ever since Wolski came to Mexico he has been interested in exploring the relationship between the archaic and the contemporary; one reason for his use of terra cotta is its symbolic value as a material that returns ceramic work to its origins. Like his chains, his garments are a testimony to his fascination with time — both the time of the patient labor required for the fabrication, and the long sweep of time between the ancient world and the modern age. Vestido is at once earthy and sublime, simple yet magisterial. The torso Metamorphosis I  has its own mystery. Here the human figure appears inhuman: it could be a fetish figure out of some unknown ancient civilization or, just as easily, a futuristic model for a robot. If Vestido establishes a complex play between presence and absence, Metamorphosis I establishes an equally complex play between attraction and repulsion. It somehow manages to balance a neo-classical sense of beauty with the disruptive spirit of the avant-garde. Both works are pure Wolski: original and memorable — that is, unforgettable.

I would like to thank the staff of Northern Clay Center for, once again, making my experience as a curator such a pleasure. In particular, I thank Sarah Millfelt, Director, and Michael Arnold, Exhibitions Manager, for their professional and personal support; Elizabeth Coleman for her editing expertise; and Dustin Yager for coordinating the public programs. Thanks also to my fellow non-staff members of NCC’s exhibition committee. Alberto Fierro, Mexican Consul in the Twin Cities, has provided invaluable professional aid and personal enthusiasm. In Mexico, Héctor Rivero Borrell, director of the Franz Mayer Museum, was the first person I met with, and his warm personal welcome and professional openness made for a perfect beginning. I must once again express my gratitude to Anedith Nash, companion for the entire journey. There are three friends I think of whenever I think about Mexico: Manelick de la Parra, Jim Trump, and Michael Wood. Above all, as always, my thanks to the artists.


Out of the Labyrinth: Contemporary Mexican Ceramics

Gerardo Azcúnaga


Gerardo Azcúnaga lives and works in Monterrey, Mexico. A self-taught sculptor, he has been making and exhibiting his work since 1982. He has taught and exhibited throughout the world and was the subject of a major retrospective at the Autonomous University of Nuevo León in 2008. He has also been recognized with numerous awards, including the Grand Prize for Sculpture at the 5th Biennial Monterrey FEMSA, Monterrey, Mexico.

Gamberro, ceramic, steel, hair, 13” x 17” x 16”.


Out of the Labyrinth: Contemporary Mexican Ceramics

Gloria Carrasco


Geometrías de la Tierra (Geometries of the Earth), 2011, ceramic, 36” x 64” x 4”.

Gloria Carrasco, a Mexico City artist, studied architecture and urbanism and was a practicing architect before turning to ceramics. Showing extensively in Mexico and throughout the world, she recently took part in Moving Objects, Dublin Castle, Ireland, and Genesis, Museum of the SHCP, Mexico City. Her work can be seen in many collections, including those of the Sanbao Ceramic Art Museum, Jingdezhen, China, and the San Angelo Museum of Fine Arts, San Angelo, Texas.


Out of the Labyrinth: Contemporary Mexican Ceramics

Isadora Cuéllar


Realidades Untangibles (Intangible Realities), 2015, ceramic, installation view.

Isadora Cuéllar, a Mexico City artist, has exhibited in over thirty group exhibitions in Mexico and abroad. She recently exhibited in New Times, New Gods: Ceramic Sculpture at the Art Museum of the Ministry of Finance and Public Credit, Old Archbishop’s Palace, Mexico City, and in Invisible Light, The Cell Contemporary, University of the Cloister of Sor Juana, also in Mexico City. She is part of a group that helps traditional artisans in rural areas market their creations.


Out of the Labyrinth: Contemporary Mexican Ceramics

Javier del Cueto


Javier del Cueto, who lives in Mexico City, first studied ceramics in Spain. He has participated in numerous solo and group exhibitions across Mexico, the United States, and Europe. In 2006 he produced a stone public sculpture in St. Paul, Minnesota. He has won awards in the Biennial of Ceramics of Aveiro in Portugal, and in the Ceramics Annual America, San Francisco, California.

Fragmentose a su íman (Filings to Their Magnets), 2015, ceramic, 8.5” x 23” x 13”.


Out of the Labyrinth: Contemporary Mexican Ceramics

Gustavo Pérez, of Veracruz, Mexico, was a student of engineering, mathematics, and philosophy, before turning to art. He has been honored with a major retrospective at the Franz Mayer Museum in Mexico City, and recently had a solo exhibition at the Galerie Silbereis in Paris. His work resides in the collections of the Cultural Center of Contemporary Art, Mexico City, and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, among others.

Untitled, 2010, ceramic, 11” x 9” x 8”.

Gustavo Pérez



Out of the Labyrinth: Contemporary Mexican Ceramics

Maribel Portela


The Intermittences of Death, 2014, ceramics, dimensions vary.

Maribel Portela was born in Mexico City and attended the School of Visual Art at The Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México. She exhibits both in Mexico and abroad, with solo exhibitions in Spain, China, Canada, the United States, and Switzerland. In Mexico, her recent exhibitions include two solo presentations in Mexico City: Cluster, at the Museo Nacional de San Carlos, and an exhibition at the Old Archbishop’s Palace that included the sculptures in Out of the Labyrinth.


Out of the Labyrinth: Contemporary Mexican Ceramics

Eduardo Sarabia


Eduardo Sarabia, an artist who now lives in Guadalajara, Mexico, was born in Los Angeles and received his BFA from Otis College of Art and Design. He has exhibited in Europe, and across the United States and Mexico, recently in New Blue and White, at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Massachusetts, and in a solo exhibition, Eduardo Sarabia, at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Denver, Colorado.

Untitled, 2014, ceramic, glaze, acrylic, enamel, wood, dimensions vary.


Out of the Labyrinth: Contemporary Mexican Ceramics

Paloma Torres


Paloma Torres resides in Mexico City. She received her Bachelor’s degree from the School of Visual Art at The Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México and later received a Masters in color engraving. Torres has participated in over one hundred exhibitions in Mexico and abroad. She has done many public art projects, as well as works for buildings designed by the major Mexican architect Ricardo Legorreta.

La noche (Night), 2011, ceramic, 44” x 88” x 4”.


Out of the Labyrinth: Contemporary Mexican Ceramics

Xawery Wolski was born in Warsaw, Poland, and educated in Warsaw, Paris, and New York. In 1997, Wolski moved to Mexico City to live and work. He now splits his time between Mexico and Poland. His work has been exhibited around the world. His recent solo exhibitions include Infinity Chains, Atelier Amaro, Varsovia, Poland, and Coming Out of a Dream, Galeria Omar Alonso, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.

Vistido Crudo, 2014, terracotta, 83” x 58” x 3”.

Xawery Wolski



Out of the Labyrinth: Contemporary Mexican Ceramics

Northern Clay Center Northern Clay Center’s mission is the advancement of the ceramic arts. Its goals are to promote excellence in the work of clay artists, to provide educational opportunities for artists and the community, and to encourage the public’s appreciation and understanding of the ceramic arts.

Board of Directors Lynne Alpert Bryan Anderson Nan Arundel Mary K. Baumann Craig Bishop, Chair Heather Nameth Bren Lann Briel Robert Briscoe Phil Burke Linda Coffey Debra Cohen Nancy Hanily-Dolan Bonita Hill, M.D. Sally Wheaton Hushcha Christopher Jozwiak Mark Lellman, Vice Chair Brad Meier Alan Naylor Rick Scott, Secretary and Treasurer T Cody Turnquist Ellen Watters, Immediate Past Chair

Director Sarah Millfelt Exhibitions Manager Michael Arnold Exhibitions Assistant Brady McLearen

Director Emerita Emily Galusha

This exhibition is made possible through the generosity and cooperation of many individuals and institutions. Special thanks to Latin American Masters, Lisa Sette Gallery, Tayloe Piggott Gallery, the Consulate of Mexico in St. Paul, and the Mexican Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

This project is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.

This activity is made possible by the voters of Minnesota through a Minnesota State Arts Board Operating Support grant, thanks to a legislative appropriation from the arts and cultural heritage fund, a grant from the Wells Fargo Foundation Minnesota, and a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. Additional funding for Out of the Labyrinth: Contemporary Mexican Ceramics comes from Continental Clay Company, George Reid, and the Windgate Charitable Foundation.

Design by Joseph D.R. OLeary,

Legacy Directors Andy Boss Joan Mondale

Unless otherwise noted, all photographs by Peter Lee

Honorary Directors Kay Erickson Warren MacKenzie

2424 Franklin Avenue East Minneapolis, Minnesota 55406 612.339.8007

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