Unlikely Assemblages: Clay as a Different Brush

Jorge Rodríguez Diez

A selection of works in ceramics from the Fine Arts Ceramic Center (FACC), belonging to the Museum of Contemporary Art of the Americas at Kendall, traveled to Cincinnati to be presented to the public as part of the 57th Conference of the National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts, Current, held from March 15th to 18th, 2023.
The exhibition, entitled Unlikely Assemblages, is currently on display at the Annex Gallery and features a selection of pieces by artists Ivonne Ferrer, Milena Martínez Pedrosa, Carlos E. Prado, and a mural by Ciro Quintana. It also includes a series of hand-painted ceramic plates by over sixty Cuban artists, which are part of the FACC collection. This original collection, which now has almost a thousand pieces, is one of the largest in the state of Florida and possibly in the United States.

In 2020, during the COVID pandemic, Leonardo Rodríguez, art collector and current president of MoCA-Americas, had the initiative to invite fifty artists who had previously exhibited at the then Kendall Art Center and who worked on canvas to temporarily switch to a different medium: to translate their style and themes onto white bisque plates. Each artist had to create around ten plates in the museum’s own workshops, in a collective effort and under the direction of Ivonne Ferrer, curator of the initiative. The response was massive with almost 500 original works of art that constituted the basis of the museum’s second permanent collection and the foundational structure of a program that continues to highlight and promote ceramic art among artists and the public in the community.
Although each plate is different from the rest, the fact that Rodríguez and Ivonne, current director of the FACC, chose the same size, shape, and color to deliver to each artist ultimately allowed for an exhibition consistency, a clear statement of intentions and focus that provided each of the artists with the same opportunities. It also constituted an opportunity for them to diversify their work and energize their commercial options at a time when almost all of society was paralyzed.

A successful curation of all these pieces led to the opening of Fine Art on the Plate on November 27th, 2021, an exhibition that occupied all the rooms of the Kendall Art Center, predecessor of MoCA-Americas. The exhibition was curated by Carol Damian, writer, curator, and director of the Frost Museum of FIU in Miami, Florida, who in her words for the catalog recognizes the intention of its promoters to give due continuity to Cuban ceramic traditions, promote respect for the material and technique, and at the same time, encourage experimental will to create unique and extraordinary pieces. As was clear, the goal of many artists was to use the possibilities of ceramic techniques to experiment with their own aesthetics and personal style and try to integrate their conceptual universe into new mediums. It was quite a challenge to lose their usual spatial references and try to create compositions and designs from a circular perspective. The result was unexpected and enriching in many cases. This exhibition was also successfully presented at the Sidney Berne & Davis Art Center in November 2021. In May 2022, it was hosted by the Museum of Arts & Sciences in Daytona with many of the artists also creating sculptures and murals.

The exhibition, thanks to the efforts of photographer, promoter, and curator Jens G. Rosenkrantz Jr., offers a diverse range of ceramic plates on display in Cincinnati today. The plates showcase a generous variety of styles, from abstract to figurative, realistic to surreal, and everything in between. Dreamlike and intuitive designs, self-portraits, geometric exercises, unlikely characters, and absurd fantasies can all be observed, as one would expect from such a diverse group of artists. Each plate is unique, provocative, and exquisitely crafted. The sculptures on display coincide with the personal universes of their creators: organic, trembling, overflowing with sincerity. The themes addressed in the exhibition range from the position of the artist as an emotional being within a harsh or cold environment, such as in the case of Ivonne Ferrer, who sees her life as pieces on a chessboard, to the naturalistic reverberations of Milena Martínez Pedrosa, whose emotions merge with the organic world, in vulnerable plants and animals. Carlos Prado proposes reflections on the dark vitality of textures and the sinuosity of fabrics. Interestingly, for these twisted and brutally honest torsos, he uses 3D prints.

The exhibition will remain in the city at the Annex Gallery throughout April to share with the local community of artists and enthusiasts almost three years of work. Characterized by a love for both ancestral and contemporary ceramic art techniques, the exhibit reflects respect for traditional craftsmanship in an increasingly technically automated world, an unwavering drive for experimentation and the pursuit of new creative paths, and unconditional support for Latino artists in the community.