A Beloved Collection - Kathy Butterly at James Cohan Gallery

James Cohan Gallery - Tribeca, NYC 
NEW YORK, NY 10013

photo courtesy: James Cohan Gallery

For over three decades, New York-based ceramic artist Kathy Butterly has ventured into the realms of color, form, and the intricacies of ceramics. Her relentless dedication and mastery of clay have solidified her position as a prominent and revered figure in contemporary ceramics. Butterly's remarkable body of work comprises small-scale sculptures characterized by meticulous and whimsical details, evocative colors and compositions, and unparalleled technical expertise.
Recently, Butterly showcased her tenacious commitment to ceramics in an enthralling mini-retrospective titled A Beloved Collection presented by the James Cohan Gallery. Concurrently with the exhibition at their Tribeca location, the gallery also exhibited Butterly’s latest sculptures at the ADAA: The Art Show. Although the exhibitions have concluded, selected works remain available for purchase. View MoCA/NY's President, Judy Schwartz on-site video interview with Kathy Butterly, Elizabeth Harvey Levine, and collector David Kirschenbaum.


Works from the private collection of Elizabeth Harvey Levine

Upon entering the viewing room at James Cohan Gallery, visitors are immediately enveloped by a vibrant ensemble of sculptures spanning from 1994 to 2022, offering a comprehensive voyage through the evolution of Kathy Butterly's artistic vision. The thirty-six petite sculptures arranged chronologically, are sourced from the private collection of Elizabeth Harvey Levine, an ardent and longtime patron of Butterly’s work.

The space unfolds with delicately adorned and opulently ornate sculptures positioned on the left side of the gallery—the genesis—and crescendos to Butterly's most recent lively and gestural creations. Despite their demure scale—excluding two exceptions—each sculpture exudes a grand energy, brimming with vitality, distinct personalities, and animated expressions.

“It is a beloved collection because each piece in this magical collection is such a magical gem. They’re infused with her sense of humor, they all have sensuous body folds, they’re meticulously executed, and the details are beyond what people are willing to explore in ceramics.” - Elizabeth Harvey Levine

Humor imbues the exhibition not only in the cheeky and amusing configurations of the sculptures but also in their titles, setting a tone and offering a glimpse into Butterly's intentions and interpretations. For instance, a lemon-yellow glazed figure adorned with oval green forms on its lip and hip emanates refined elegance with polished gold accents, yet it comically bears the title "Nancy Beans," adding a playful twist.

Associating these titles with the sculptures is almost as enjoyable as experiencing the pieces themselves, inviting speculation, contemplation, and insight into Butterly’s mind.

This collection, akin to a personal diary, exemplifies Butterly's artistic innovations in composition, color palette, and treatment of glaze while documenting significant and pivotal periods in both her personal and creative life.

Pointing to a piece named "Knititation," Butterly reminisces, “I was pregnant. [I remember] just the waiting and the knitting." She elaborates further on the show, "It’s my diary, my diary is on display. I knew exactly what I was thinking and what I was doing and each one is very specific to a time period of my life.”

"Knititation" beautifully encapsulates Butterly's earlier works—the lyrical pastel and shocking neon color palette, skin-like folds, intricate line marks, and fine carvings, complemented by a whimsical and playful "pedestal." It vividly showcases her technique of painting with and on clay.

Her painterly treatment of clay can be attributed to her early studies as a painter when she was drawn to ceramics but was reluctant to fully accept the medium as she viewed ceramics as functional pottery ware. It wasn’t until she met Viola Frey, an artist known for her non-functional, figurative, animated ceramic sculptures and painterly expressions, that she embraced ceramics.

Intuitively created, Butterly starts with a ready-made cast, molding it into a functional vessel before sculpting, folding, denting, and smoothing the clay. Subsequently, she applies glazes and subjects the disfigured vessel to multiple firings, often reaching up to 20 to 30 times. The layers of clay and glazes illustrate Butterly’s devotion and profound connection with each piece imbuing them with a unique history and seducing you into a portal awaiting exploration.

Tiny pearlescent beadings, crackling and crystalline glaze textures, sharp and fluid surfaces—the porcelain and earthenware amorphous sculptures gift us with a splendid visual orgasm. They not only serve as pages from Butterly's diary but also as testaments to her exceptional technical skill and artistic aspirations.

With their diminutive scale, the sculptures beckon viewers to draw closer, inviting a magnified appreciation of every minute and intricately carved detail, cultivating an intimate relationship with each piece. They entice, hypnotize, surprise, and inspire a desire to explore and decode their narratives and language—a journey into their portal, into their distinctive universe.

“[Butterly’s sculptures] are irresistible,” Elizabeth Harvey Levine states, “and Kathy, herself, is the most genuine person I know and her pieces are straightforward and honest, complex, fused with humor and that is what Kathy is. They are just an embodiment of her.”

Visit James Cohan Gallery at 48 WALKER ST NEW YORK, NY 10013, or explore and learn more about A Beloved Collection and Kathy Butterly online: James Cohan Gallery

Beril Anilanmert


Explore the artistic journey of Beril Anilanmert in this captivating video, where her process, philosophy, and creative practice come to life. The video also offers an exclusive look at her recent retrospective, known as Logbook.


See below for a full interview with Beril Anilanmert and Judith Schwartz.

Judith Schwartz speaks with Beril Anilanmert, a celebrated artist who resides in Istanbul, Turkey. Beril was a Professor and Dean at Mimar Sinan University and a member of many boards that further the arts in society. She has had 23 major solo exhibitions and has exhibited internationally while simultaneously lecturing at symposiums and workshops. She is a member of the IAC and hosted a congress that was known to be one of the best congresses the International Academy of Ceramics ever had.

Beril works with a variety of mediums. She not only works in clay but in paint and printmaking. In clay, she creates these large-scale forms that soar into space as she manipulates these elements that are cut and reconstructed, and reattached to create new forms. Recently, she had a major retrospective of her work and the following interview delves into her robust art practice.

JS: Tell us about your retrospective.

Beril Anilanmert: Well, first of all, I didn't want to call it retrospective because I thought that when I say retrospective, it seems to me as if it's going to end, whereas I'm still working. So I named it my Logbook. It's a term used in maritime. And it's a book that records whatever is on the voyage of the vessel. So what I wanted to do is my artistic voyage, and I want to present this to the visitors. There were about 130 pieces, maybe even more.

It was interesting for me to see all of them together. It was very well received by the media, but what I would say it was displayed for three months long. And now the same exhibit is again moved to a different city. Now it's exhibited in Ankara and is still going on.

JS: Congratulations on this extensive exhibition. It’s marvelous to see the magnitude of this show and the quality of the video is a lasting tribute. You noted in your work that you are both an academic and an artist, with these two aspects of your life integrated. What is the thread that pulls these together? In other words, how do these roles come together to inform your life?

Beril Anilanmert: Well, my husband was an artist, painter, and a professor at the same university that I was in, so we had a lot to share. And as for education, academic position, well, it is rather a creative and a research-based activity. So it's the same thing with the studio work too. I find it the same way. When you start working, you start with researching, and then you start to use your creativeness to present what you want to do. 

So, I find it correlating rather feeding each other. For example, in the university, you are always in contact with the younger generation with new fresh ideas coming to you and you share your knowledge, your network, and your experiences with students. It's a rather good interaction and it builds up in you. Whereas in your studio you're all alone. But again, the same thing, the same research-based creative activities interact with each other.

JS: One of the things I felt seeing the video was how your process of breaking a piece and then reconstructing it, is very much part of your conversation—putting parts back together and reconfiguring them. What is the motivation behind this idea? What is on your mind for constructing form this way?

Beril Anilanmert: Those works I name Transformations. The main idea that I want to convey is the dynamic effect the object has in it. I want the viewer to feel the energy that is captured in that work. And it's created by the contrast and the tensions of the reconstructed pieces. They are composed in such a way that they form a tension within the piece, and it creates a certain kind of energy that I want to convey to the viewer.

JS: Well, they do soar and look dynamic and dramatic. One of your great contributions is the way you handle the clay. You mentioned that this Logbook, is a culmination of your decades of making art. How do you feel about seeing all these works together? It must have been a big challenge to create this exhibition. What insight have you gotten looking at these works all together?

Beril Anilanmert: It was very interesting for me to see all of them covering so many years. Each has its own story, of course, but what I saw in those works is that I had so much that I didn't even exhibit in that show.

The amount of work that I have done, I was astonished myself how I have done all those years. But it was interesting. It was very well received by the media. This exhibit was the first one, the opening exhibit of the gallery. After the pandemic, the galleries were all closed. So, when we announced the exhibit, people were still hesitant to go into closed areas. So, we had two openings. One was for the press, and then about two weeks later, we had the next opening. And it was wonderful. We had wonderful feedback.

JS: I'm sure it's also gratifying to see it traveling from one city to another. And in each city, it has a new life. One of the things I admire about you, Beril, is your ability to work in a variety of mediums. I've seen you with brushes either painting or printmaking as well. But ceramics is something that you've stayed with, and I'm wondering if that's the perennial for you. Tell us what it is about clay that you choose it to be your primary material?

Beril Anilanmert: Yes, clay is my primary material, and I find it very enriching. It has 2-D quality and 3-D qualities. So, with 2-D qualities, it gives me satisfaction to paint, to use my love of color. My painting interest in ceramic, especially using glazes, is my joy of life. 

But with the sculptural effect, its space, and it's what I enjoy, sculptural work. You have the volume and the space, you play with them, and it gives me satisfaction, too. But clay really fulfills my life. When I use color in paper, the color just sinks, stays there, whereas in ceramics, it's lively, it still has some magic in it.

And of course, fire has its own word on it, I would say. But still, clay coloring and working with volumes, it really is very satisfactory. In paperwork, drawing for instance, I try to use just black ink on washi paper because I can get that liveliness on paper. It's blacker and whiter than color on paper.

JS: Well, you spent time in Japan, haven't you? No doubt black ink painting was very much part of your experience there.

Beril Anilanmert: Yes, it was. And I also think that free ink drawing is so direct without interference of color or other processes.

JS: Well, congratulations, again Beril. You have enriched our understanding of your many years of studio production. Having your work gathered and illuminated in this video reinforces our knowledge of your personal vision and contribution to ceramic art.

Beril Anilanmert: Thank you for having me.

To learn more and explore the works of Beril Anilanmert, CLICK HERE.