Date of this Version
Sheldon Museum of Art, Sheldon Art Association. August 26 - December 7, 2008
For Gail Kendall, in decoration there is delight. No subscriber to the modernist dogma expressed by the architect Alfred Loos - that "ornament is crime"Kendall covers surfaces with eye-opening designs. Instead of the streamlined forms and unadorned austerity of high modernism, Kendall complements subtle washes or spots of color and delicate linear tracings with an unrelenting dot mania and frequent use of gold. The dots, sometimes only tiny specks, enliven the surfaces while demonstrating the expressive possibilities of even the simplest mark. The gold, far from indicating kitsch luxury, offers a reminder of the unique visual quality of gold's magical, glowing luster. Then there is Kendall's use of red, which manages to conjure up both exotic opulence and punk impudence, adding spice to the mix.
Just as Wayne Thiebaud uses paint to create delectable images of cakes and ice cream, Kendall can make glaze and clay look downright tasty, as in the serpentine ribbons of color that encircle her tureens and platters. The lovely botanical motifs and interlace patterns reveal Kendall's admiration for traditional English ware and Islamic ceramics. Yet Kendall always manages to translate historical influences into her own personal and unmistakably contemporary idiom. Kendall redeems decoration from appearing superficial or "merely" decorative. But her lively surface treatments should not overshadow the strength and assurance of the physical forms. When Kendall makes a tureen, each individual element-from the base through the body of the vessel to the shoulder and the lid - has its own distinct character while contributing to the overall effect.
Kendall likes to say that she is drawn to both simple peasant ware and elaborate palace ceramics. In an age of oversized McMansions furnished with equally grandiose decor, tureens and chargers might appear as faux aristocratic fantasy showpieces, missing only family crests a la Ralph Lauren. But with Kendall they testify to an essentially democratic approach, strange as that might sound, similar in principle if radically different in style compared to Bauhaus-inspired designs or functional pottery in the Anglo-Asian country tradition. Ceramics for Kendall brings a special holiday-like beauty into the home, ideally on an everyday basis, and represent not wealth and vanity but family and community. In the world of tableware, a tureen is a monumental work, a technical challenge that, as Kendall shows so well, can be a tour de force. More important, however, a tureen, like a charger, is designed for serving a group. The festive quality of the ceramics contributes to the sensuous quality of the food. Culinary pleasures and ceramic pleasures are, above all, pleasures of the senses. Kendall's ceramics always seem to ask a basic question: Why not enjoy life?