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Art notes, Feb. 21

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There is an untold number of ways to make pots. They can be thrown, hand-built, smoked, glazed, painted and inscribed. The contemporary potter, as we see in “Innovation and Change,” the style retrospective from Arizona State University on exhibit at the Arkansas Arts Center, has in the past couple of decades added extraordinary dimension to the mix, proving mastery over massive amounts of mud. With 4-foot-tall vessels or huge balls or larger than life figures, the artists express their bravado, subduing a heavy medium whose plasticity can fight back.

The exhibit, from the Arizona university's Ceramics Research Center, begins its lesson in the evolution of ceramic art with the studio movement of the 1950s and vessels by Otto and Gertrude Natzler (she threw, he glazed) and Rose Cabat. There is also a wonderfully painted and engraved portrait plate by Henry Varnum Poor and Native American work by 20th century artists Maria Martinez and Fannie Nampeyo. Painted glazed stoneware by Peter Voulkos reflects the abstract expressionist movement of the 1960s; Peter Vandenberge's carrot couple snuggling in a rooting easy chair embraced the idea that clay can be whimsical.

Enter the 1980s, and the monumental. Now we have Michael Gross' “Untitled Vessel,” a tall, imposing and purposely lopsided urn depicting a fantasy world of people and beasts in black and ochre, and Robert Arneson's “The Abstract Expressionist,” a huge earthenware relief of the painter Jackson Pollock. Eddie Dominguez creates a landscape vessel, “Canyon Walls,” that pays homage both to Georgia O'Keeffe and to art deco styling. The larger surfaces encourage painting and content: In “Running Away,” Akio Takamori depicts in lyrical ink-like brushstrokes a headless figure on a large, shell-shaped vessel, and the horses and women on Rudy Autio's large and organic vessel “Pow Wow” recall Matisse. The figurative pieces among the most recent works reflect contemporary concerns, but there is also strong abstraction, pieces that allow the clay itself to do the talking.

The exhibit will run through March. The “Toys Designed by Artists” exhibit closes Sunday, Feb. 24.

Many years ago, the chief attraction at the Museum of Science and History (now the Museum of Discovery) was the mummy. Sadly, the mummy was reclaimed by its lending institution, and has been sorely missed by a certain older segment of Little Rock's population. This segment now has something to look forward to: In September 2009, the Arts Center will bring “World of the Pharaohs: Egyptian Masterpieces from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston” to its main galleries.

Director Nan Plummer announced the exhibit last week, noting it would be the first exhibit of its kind in Arkansas and saying it should attract a regional audience.

The 200 objects in “World of the Pharoahs” span 3,000 years, with a concentration in the age of the Pyramids (2675-2130 BCE). Among the objects will be tomb art, vessels, ceramics, a Ptolemaic sarcophagus lid, jewelry, amulets, stelae and, last but not least, a cat mummy. The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston has one of the best collections of Eyptian art in the country.

The exhibit will run from Sept. 10, 2009, through June 27, 2010.

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