Am I alone in feeling overwhelmed by the proliferation of the Morandi effect/affect in contemporary art? Despite her own acknowledgement and admiration for Morandi – and there’s nothing wrong with acts of homage – the work of Gwyn Hanssen Pigott attracts the most attention. The current exhibition, at the ANU Drill Hall Gallery, is in a small room raked by the bright light of a Canberra winter, with about 20 of GHP’s trademark still life ensembles, all encased in rather clinical plastic vitrines. Unfortunately, in this display, it is as if the air, the space itself, has been sucked out of these plastic boxes, such that the potential of these forms to make music with each other has been vacuumed away into silence. Each grouping of beautifully formed and glazed ceramic wares, sometimes so clustered together that the virtual frame between them gets a bit fuzzy, now seems so arbitrary it has become more like the exercise of taste than some magical tension of forms in space. And there’s too many of them. You look and try to understand what is meaningful about the arrangements – which tend to occupy a flattened linear space along their shelves – and you can’t help but make the pictorial associations with the master. But I don’t arrive at any conclusion! Are the spatial arrangements meaningful in any particular way? How are the variations between sets to be understood? How critical is the space between the elements of a set? And how would you feel if you owned a set, and got them muddled?
If Rosalie Gascoigne achieved her breakthrough as an artist by working away from the delicate art of ikebana – assisted in no small part by the discovery of the modernist grid – then it seems that GHP has moved in the opposite direction. It is as if by aspiring to the pictorial paradigm of the still life – thus effecting a conceptual migration from fine craft to fine art – she ends up detracting from her original aspirations to perfect form. But the Morandi effect is unrepeatable, except perhaps in the white heat of her kiln. And certainly not in the rather medical ambience of this display. Am I alone?
Here’s the conventional account:
GWYN HANSSEN PIGOTT
20 August–20 September
“Gwyn Hanssen Pigott is an internationally celebrated artist whose years of dedication to ceramics and her deep study of particularly the oriental traditions of pottery have produced highly refined surfaces and forms and delicately nuanced glaze colours. Her harmonious still life groups are beautiful in themselves, but they also work to subvert at a very sophisticated level the old art/function dichotomy that has traditionally so divided the visual arts community. She does this by creating sets that have great wholeness and yet are composed of individual vessels that are manifestly both useable and of the highest aesthetic quality.”
Key words: celebrated, dedication, deep study, highly refined, delicately nuanced, harmonious, beautiful in themselves, subvert, sophisticated, the old art/function dichotomy, great wholeness, highest aesthetic quality.