Larsen ceramics retrospective in pieces

June 10, 1993|By John Dorsey | John Dorsey,Art Critic

Jack Lenor Larsen is a well-known New York-based interio designer particularly renowned for his textile designs. He has also assembled a collection of ceramics, and both of these aspects of his interests are on view in the National Museum of Ceramic Art's latest show, "Jack Lenor Larsen: Designer/Collector -- A Retrospective," curated by J. Richard N. Taylor, who is the museum's president and also an interior designer.

The exhibit is a mistake.

While Mr. Larsen's textiles are creative and beautiful, this is a ceramics museum; therefore, the ceramics must justify the show, and they don't.

According to Mr. Taylor, what's on view is about a third of Mr. Larsen's collection of ceramics and glass, and it fairly represents the ceramics.

The show consists of an assortment of about 75 pieces. There are contemporary works, primarily from the United Kingdom and the United States. There are three pieces of Native American work, one identified as Mississippi Mound Builder period, one from about 1925 and one from 1987. There are about a dozen pre-Columbian pieces, from Mexico, Colombia and Peru. There are also pieces from Japan, China and Thailand, a few of them ancient.

The quality of the works in these groupings varies considerably. There doesn't appear to be a particular stylistic unity among the contemporary pieces, and their diversity plus the fact that widely spaced ages and cultures are shown together leaves the viewer with the feeling that the collection has no adequate focus.

As a group of pieces in someone's living space, it no doubt has appeal, and there are some fine individual works, but as a whole the collection -- or at least this part of it -- doesn't have sufficient coherence or interest to hold up as a museum exhibit. And the labeling is extremely poor.

Sometimes the date is given, sometimes not; sometimes the form is given, sometimes not -- the same with the material, process and placeof origin. Thus we have one label that says "M. C. Richards, lidded box, slab built bisqueware, 1992," while others say merely "Rudolf Staffel, U.S.A.," "Mary Rodgers, UK." Is Berentson-Benesch a person, a collaboration or a firm? Where are Bradley Miller, Toshiko Takaezu and M. C. Richards from? "Spherical Form, Stoneware, Firemarked, Japanese," reads one label; of what period?

When I saw the show, four days after it opened, the printed matter that was supposed to accompany it had not arrived, and I was told that it should be in by the end of the week. But I was given a copy of the documentation of the pieces as it will appear in the printed material, and it was little better than the labels. There is also a brief essay by Mr. Larsen, which gives virtually no background on the collection to help the visitor appreciate it, dealing instead in vague generalities such as: "These objects and cloths are communications, earlier and more persistent than language, speaking to our innermost being -- in inexhaustible variety."

One can appreciate Mr. Larsen's generosity in agreeing to lend part of his collection, but not every show is justified simply because it's possible. The National Museum of Ceramic Art has done, and must do, much better than this.

ART REVIEW

What: "Jack Lenor Larsen: Designer/Collector -- A Retrospective"

Where: National Museum of Ceramic Art, 250 W. Pratt St.

When: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays; through Sept. 16

Call: (410) 837-2529

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