To look at the ceramics of Gertrud and Otto Natzler is to know what Cole Porter meant when he wrote "You're the Top."
The Natzlers' classic modern ceramics, part of the "Maryland Collects" exhibit at the National Museum of Ceramic Art, have about them nothing of the tour de force, the showy, the attention-getting gesture. Vases and bowls of no great size, often of a single (if modulated) color, they are quiet, pure expressions of utter beauty.
They put to flight my long-held belief that collaboration must result in works of art that reveal evidence of compromise. Instead, these combinations of Gertrud's forms and Otto's glazes persuade that no one person could have become good enough in both aspects to achieve such perfection.
Otto probably stated it best. "There was a strict division of labor in our working relationship," he wrote. "Yet while we left ourselves complete freedom to proceed in whatever direction each of us wanted, intuitively we could combine our individual talents to create an object which in its harmony belies the fact that it was created by two individuals."
Austrian by birth, they met in Vienna, came to this country in 1938, settled in California and collaborated until Gertrud's death in 1971 (Otto is still active). "Maryland Collects" is fortunate to have three dozen of their pieces (from the collection of the late Dr. Morton K. Blaustein) in this show selected from a number of Maryland ceramic collections.
If the Natzlers' ceramics make many of the other 50-odd works on view look as if they're trying too hard, one can nevertheless admire a baroque cathedral even if it's not the Parthenon. There are fine works in many styles, including Mary Rogers' delicate "Poppy Pot #5," Mara Superior's ingeniously pictorial "A Tea House" (a teapot painted as a house with yard), examples of early 20th century art pottery, Richard DeVore's severely modern untitled vase forms, Yih Wen Kuo's melting landscape "Autumn," Douglas Baldwin's charming (as always) "Duck Ballgame" and even a pitcher by Picasso.
The show also includes some works of glass. The dictionary does include glass in its definition of ceramic; but since NMCA chairman Shirley Brown says this is not a complete survey of Maryland collections, it would have been more consistent to stick to what are commonly considered ceramics and save glass for another show.
"Maryland Collects" continues through Jan. 15 at the National Museum of Ceramic Art, 250 W. Pratt St. Call 837-2529.