The whiteness of Paula Winokur's ceramic landscape sculptures only adds to their dreamlike surrealism. They consist of horizontal planes from which rise verticals asymmetrically placed to create a tension of space, and their different sizes create the illusion of a vastness of scale. Sometimes there are markings on the horizontal, as if left there by an ancient culture.
These have the effect of placing the viewer in some limbo between strangeness and familiarity, as in a dream we think we recognize a place yet cannot identify it. The suggestion of long-deserted sites of some former civilization -- one of them even named "Avebury, Site I" after the Neolithic site in England -- adds the eerie feeling of an unseen presence, lingering and silently watching; and the way in which the smaller vertical element echoes the larger gives one almost the sense of some sound that cannot quite be heard.
These cold, austere works have a haunting quality, and though there are only four of them in "Three in Clay" at the National Museum of Ceramic Art -- and one of those, in the form of a table, works less well -- they constitute the most interesting part of the exhibition.
But the other two artists are strong, too. Robert M. Winokur's works are somewhat closer to conventional ceramic sculpture, if there is such a thing. But the semi-abstract patterns on his pieces, such as "Parquet Wall Piece" and "Platter Gothic Facade" (A and B) create interest; and if Paula Winokur's weakest piece is her table, Robert Winokur's strongest is his, called "Sail Table," with its still life of objects on a patterned top.
Jan Holcomb's figural wall reliefs are ceramic tours de force, with their realistic landscape elements (trees, rocks, etc.) inhabited by cartoonish characters. They toe a line between comedy and seriousness, but her one standing three-dimensional sculpture here is all comedy. Called "She Might," it's a guy striding along and turning his head almost all the way around to look at -- she who might, of course.
The exhibition continues through April 16 at the National Museum of Ceramic Art, 250 W. Pratt St. Call (410) 837-2529.