Book Review – Revolution in Clay: The Marer Collection of Contemporary Ceramics.

A necessary acquisition for all with an interest in contemporary ceramic history; It contextualises much that happened here.

Fred Marer was a wonderful thing – a college math teacher who discovered what Voulkos and his merry blokes were up to at LA’s Otis College of Art in the 50s, and was intrigued. This led to his getting to know many of the artists and he turned up at the studio when kiln openings were scheduled and in the process became their friend and patron. This led to a unique collection, often paid for over time from his teacher’s salary, which documents what has been called  “a discovery of ‘American qualities’ when the American potter finally cut loose the shackles that had bound him so long to the manners and values of European art and design” (Clark). Marer did not stop there but extended his collection, made over the rest of his lifetime, to including a context for the LA movement with works before and after the Otis years.  Marer travelled to England and Europe several times to collect and in retirement also to Japan and Korea. While not fully comprehensive of all that took place in the ‘50s and after, when ceramics became, increasingly, a vital part of art, the Marer collection was regarded as ‘probably LA’s most significant’. This collection eventually took over his small house and garage where his wife ‘had only a closet and kitchen to call her own’. Visiting potters traded stories about threading through aisles between the ceramics when they called to deliver a pot or share a coffee.

There are three good essays that reveal aspects of the complexities of the history of modern ceramics as well as an overview of the collection. The book is well illustrated with key pieces from a range of artists

(a) before and around – Lucie Rie, Margeurite Wildenhain, William Staite Murray, Kanjiro Kawai, Bernard Leach, Hans Coper, Michael Cardew etc

(b) contemporaries – Michael Frimkess, John Mason, Ken Price, Jerry Rothman, Paul Soldner, Henry Takemoto, Peter Voulkos…..

(c) Later artists from ‘funk’ and ‘fetish finish’ (but their work prior to these movements) and other contemporary movements – Jun Kaneko, Betty Woodman, Robert Arneson, Philip Cornelius, Rudy Autio, Viola Frey, Marilyn Levine, James Melchert, Ron Nagle, Patti Warashina as well as other later works by many of the earlier artists, and always Voulkos.

The Marer collection was extraordinary – he followed no fashion and was uninterested in values; it was simply what took his increasingly educated eye. He was not ignorant of histories, as quotations from his writings amply validate, but he always claimed to be mainly ‘just a fan’ while clearly much more than that. He acknowledged he was more interested in artists than in periods or styles and bought from many artists who later became famous, but fame was never a requirement for him. The collection also contains many works by lesser-known and anonymous artists whose work he bought simply because it appealed. He always preferred to acquire directly from the artists whenever he could. It is, like a private collection probably should be, personal and idiosyncratic for he collected for himself not for a public or for eventual resale and retirement income. Where are the women I hear you ask? Well it was a time of testosterone surges and the women were few, although those that were working solidly then were significant talents. But the majority were men and the collection reflects this.

Fred Marer left his considerable collection of almost a thousand pieces for education. It is housed in Scripps College (formerly Otis) which published this record on the occasion of the recent gift of the collection to Scripps in 1994. It accompanied an exhibition of the collection which toured to many parts of the USA over the following two years. The collection is regularly visited by scholars and students as one of the most important records of a significant period in LA art history. If you wish to see it – you must call to make an appointment and if possible you will be accommodated although pieces may be away on loan. I have images in my image bank should anyone be interested.

The book can be obtained via The Book Depository, Amazon etc and also from Frank Lloyd Gallery in Bergamot Station, Los Angeles.

REVOLUTION IN CLAY: The Marer Collection of Contemporary Ceramics.

Ed: Letitia Burns O’Connor and Brenda Johnson-Grau. Perpetua Press, Los Angeles. ISBN: 0-295-97405-2 Soft cover… about $35

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One response to “Book Review – Revolution in Clay: The Marer Collection of Contemporary Ceramics.

  1. “Book Review – Revolution in Clay: The Marer Collection of Contemporary
    Ceramics. | Cone Ten and descending” was in fact certainly
    compelling and beneficial! Within todays world that’s really difficult to manage.
    Thx, Cheri

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