Houston Center for Contemporary Craft presents At Your Service opening reception
Houston Center for Contemporary Craft will present At Your Service, an exhibition that examines the plate as a cultural touchstone beyond its everyday utility. Curators Amelia Toelke and Niki Johnson join their own works with pieces by an international selection of artists in this stunning exhibition. Whether serving as the canvas for a large-scale painting, cast into three-dimensional sculptures, or transformed into willow patterned jewelry, the plates of At Your Service are both alluring and thought provoking. They cause people to reflect, from anthropological and art historical perspectives, upon the social, cultural, and utilitarian significance of the dishes in our own cupboards. Whether decorative, commemorative, or kitsch, the plates in this exhibition are more than surfaces upon which we serve food. In material culture, plates are alternately status symbols, commemorative objects, and functional household items.
The artists in At Your Service employ the plate as a medium in their creative explorations. Gesine Hackenberg cuts blue and white patterned discs from antique china plates, stringing them into necklaces or setting them in silver to make jewelry. Others repurpose the function of the plate, such as ceramicist and designer Molly Hatch, who paints scenes appropriated from historic prints onto grids of ceramic dinner plates. By transforming these plates from domestic objects into a large-scale painting, in Rigaud, Hatch challenges people's familiarity with the plate and the print, creating an experience that brings the two mediums together. Her plate installations touch on the relationship between craft, the decorative arts, and the fine arts.
Sue Johnson’s The Incredible Edibles Series embraces the Rococo tradition of forming platters, tea services, and other dinnerware into the vegetables or animals they are meant to contain. In a society in which we rarely know the origins of our dinner, Sue Johnson’s slip-cast Lamb Stew, a TV dinner featuring a miniature lamb staring back from atop a formless mound of meat, is both humorous and alarming. Ceramicist Emily Loehle, in her series The Four Food Groups, calls attention to the content of the plate in a different way. Much like the nutritional pyramid, each of Loehle’s plates contains clusters of grocery items from the American diet: fruits and vegetables, meat, dairy, and grains. Slip-cast and glazed a uniform white, these floating still-lives protrude from the plates as ghostly shells of the mass-produced food we buy, calling attention to our choices as consumers.
Artist and curator Niki Johnson, in her work God & Country, gives new life to vintage plates. She carefully sandblasts the churches and buildings from each work, leaving behind voids framed by cumulous clouds and idealized nature. These plates raise our awareness as we begin to question the motivations behind this gesture.
In choosing a medium as universal and quotidian as the plate, At Your Service curators Niki Johnson and Amelia Toelke have created an exhibition as unique as each visitor. Viewers will bring with them their own emotions, experiences, and cultural traditions involving the plate, furthering the dialogues begun by the show.
Following the opening reception, the exhibit will be on display through May 8.