A Beloved Collection - Kathy Butterly at James Cohan Gallery
James Cohan Gallery - Tribeca, NYC
48 WALKER ST
NEW YORK, NY 10013
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.
A BELOVED COLLECTION, 1994-2022
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
Nancy’s Beans, 1996, Porcelain, earthenware, and glaze 5 1/4 x 3 1/2 x 3 1/2 in 13.3 x 8.9 x 8.9 cm (JCG15399) - photo courtesy: James Cohan Gallery
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.
Knititation, 1998, Porcelain, earthenware, and glaze 5 x 3 x 3 in, 12.7 x 7.6 x 7.6 cm (JCG15396) - photo courtesy: James Cohan Gallery
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.
Bento, 1996, Porcelain, earthenware, and glaze 4 3/4 x 3 x 3 in, 12.1 x 7.6 x 7.6 cm (JCG15385) - photo courtesy: James Cohan Gallery
Real Estate, 2005, Porcelain, earthenware, and glaze, 7 1/4 x 5 1/4 x 5 1/4 in., 18.4 x 13.3 x 13.3 cm - photo courtesy: James Cohan Gallery
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.”
James Cohan Gallery Viewing Room - Kathy Butterly installation
Bonnet, 2000, Porcelain, earthenware, and glaze, 7 3/8 x 2 1/4 x 3 1/4 in. 18.6 x 5.6 x 8.3 cm
Deep Think, 2022, Porcelain, earthenware, and glaze, 7 1/2 x 5 1/2 x 6 in. 19.1 x 14 x 15.2 cm
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
Organic Reflection: Steen Ipsen at HB381 Gallery
HB381 Gallery - Tribeca, NYC381 Broadway, New York, NY 10013
HB381 Gallery window
Lighting up the corner of Broadway and White Street sits HB381, Hostler Burrow’s contemporary art gallery in Tribeca, exhibiting recent works of Copenhagen-based ceramic artist Steen Ipsen. Ipsen's immaculately crafted, vibrant, and dynamic biomorphic sculptures draw the attention of passersby, captivating onlookers through the gallery's glass windows.
Entitled Organic Reflection, the exhibition, running until December 22, 2023, marks Ipsen’s debut solo exhibition in the United States, albeit not his first collaboration with the gallery.
In 2021, Hostler Burrows collaborated with Copenhagen Ceramics—an exhibition platform showcasing contemporary Danish ceramics. Ipsen, along with co-founders of Copenhagen Ceramics Martin Bodilsen Kaldahl and Bente Skjoettgaard, co-curated and participated in Bend, Bubble and Shine: Copenhagen Ceramics, showcasing nine contemporary Danish artists. Subsequently, Hostler Burrows began representing Ipsen and Kaldahl, both of whom held solo exhibitions at the gallery this year.
On one side of the gallery, nine pieces from Ipsen’s Ellipses and Tied Up series are presented equidistantly on plinths. Upon first viewing, the earthenware, monochromatically glazed pieces exhibit a shared polished and bulbous sensibility, eliciting admiration for their expert craftsmanship and vibrant colors. However, a closer examination reveals the individuality of each sculpture. The blobjects (a word that defines curvilinear flowing shapes - a portmanteau of “blob” and “object” - as described in Garth Johnson’s catalog essay) adorned with PVC or leather strands, offer distinctive characteristics and expressions–provoking an idiosyncratic experience.
For instance, Ellipse 8 and Ellipse 13 resemble a croquembouche, enticing and delectable, while Ellipse 12 and Ellipse 15 evoke the appearance of konpeito candies. In contrast, Ellipse 9, Ellipse 11, and Tied Up 3 exude a biological, cellular essence. Despite the association with smooth, glazed surfaces that evoke confectionery, Ipsen draws inspiration from growth principles like crystallization and cell division. Notably, Ipsen’s titles–Ellipse, Balls, Bubbles, and Tied Up, emphasize the physical form over the conceptual context, demanding subjective interpretations while highlighting the significance of design.
Steen Ipsen has devoted decades to studying and mastering ceramics, exploring myriad shapes and compositions, leading to recognition by the Danish Arts Foundation as "one of the most gifted ceramic artists in Denmark."
His expertise shines through in meticulously crafted forms devoid of flaws or imperfections. Ipsen casts and sculpts ellipses, balls, and spikes from earthenware clay, refining their surfaces through sanding and polishing. He then applies layers and layers of glaze–pouring, spraying, and painting until perfection is achieved.
Contrary to the appearance of the sculptures being held together by the PVC or leather threads, the clay spheres are sliced to the most accurate angle to join seamlessly together. The addition of PVC comes last as he ties the strands, creating an abstract, spatial net resulting in a vibrato of tension, stability, complexity, and simplicity.
Steen Ipsen in studio - photo courtesy: HB381 Gallery
Juxtaposing and situated across the Ellipses and Tied Up sculptures are six works from Ipsen’s Black Organic Movement series. The animated forms, liquid in demeanor, defy gravity with their undulating, concaving curves—suspenseful and seductive. The stark purity of the glazed surface mirrors the surrounding environment and forces the viewer into a psychological confrontation as they discern reflections of themselves. The inkblot-like sculptures are akin to a Rorschach test.
Black Organic Movement at HB381 Gallery
Intuitively sculpted, Ipsen coils from one side of the piece to the other, a divergent approach from his other series which are precisely methodological. Still, Ipsen’s unwavering commitment to flawless surfaces, reflective glazes, and masterful design is a consistent throughline in his impressive oeuvre.
Black Organic Movement 4, 2023, glazed earthenware, photo courtesy: HB381 Gallery
Black Organic Movement 3, 2023, glazed earthenware, photo courtesy: HB381 Gallery
Organic Reflection encapsulates both the physical and psychological essence of reflection. The glazed, reflective blobjects serve as a distorted yet captivating mirror, inviting viewers to delve into a hypnotic and visually opulent world. Each piece not only mirrors its physical environment but also prompts a reflective introspective experience.
The exhibition stands as a testament to Ipsen's artistic odyssey. The Ellipses and Organic Movements series signifies a notable evolutionary shift from his earlier geometric explorations in clay (Moduls (1996) and Spikes (2005)). These newer series represent the pinnacle and embodiment of Ipsen’s decades-long commitment to mastering the art of ceramics and design, showcasing his enduring dedication and growth throughout his career.
Steen Ipsen in his studio - photo courtesy: HB381 Gallery
Visit HB381 Gallery at 381 Broadway, New York, NY 10013, or explore and learn more about Organic Reflection online: hb381gallery.com