Marcel Duchamp’s work shadows every debate on skill in the current art world.  His much-celebrated readymades (so called because they were “already manufactured”) forms a major part of his legacy. Yet Duchamp, at the same moment he was undermining artistic skill and technical proficiency with his readymade objects, was working on The Large Glass, a multi-year project that demanded attention to handwork.  This talk explores Duchamp’s engagement with skill during the 1910s and 20s. Further, I will track his influence on post-war avant-garde practice and examine his resonance today.  In particular, I will explore how Duchamp presents an intriguing, yet problematic framework for current craft and craft-based practices.     

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Ken Price, the subject of a recent retrospective at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, is celebrated for his organic sculptural forms and richly colored surfaces.  This talk, however, focuses on his 1978 exhibition at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, entitled Happy’s Curios. The installation, the culmination of a six-year effort, included over a dozen shrines, displays, and cabinets. Each unit contained a series of “anonymous” ceramic pieces mimicking Mexican folk pottery.“  Price’s willful appropriation of the tourist souvenir, along with his radical submergence of his own avant-garde persona (he had been a member of the prominent Ferus Gallery and a participant in the so-called “finish fetish” movement in Los Angeles), continue to challenge and confound artists and critics.


The aesthetic embrace of the “low” and the critical reappraisal of kitsch have been accepted as central strategies by postmodern artists and art historians.  Many contemporary sculptors working in the medium of clay have been increasingly enamored with mining the “low” culture of modern ceramics and have quoted the curio, the tourist souvenir, and the craft collectible. This talk will examine the nature of this appropriation of debased imagery, which raises questions of economic value, ceramic history, and critical distance.  


Modernist hierarchies, ideals of originality, and notions of progress have placed craft-based practices in a marginal position within academia and the broader art world.  The study of ceramics offers an opportunity to investigate, question, and challenge this received history. My talk provides a case study of teaching a history of craft and craft-based practices.  In this course, students engage in a reassessment of Modernism by drawing on a range of texts both within and beyond the field of ceramics.  Further, they work with a broad set of methodologies to rethink ceramic art and to create a strategic framework in which to place their own emerging practices.