Betty Woodman - Design New York Tuesday, June 7, 2022 | Phillips
  • Provenance

    Max Protetch, New York
    Acquired from the above, 1986

  • Literature

    Janet Koplos, Betty Woodman, New York, 2006, pp. 42, 84-86 for similar examples

  • Catalogue Essay

    For the first thirty years of her career, Betty Woodman focused her practice on domestic objects made in the studio behind her home. “I really was interested in making functional objects,” the artist recalled, also saying, “I wanted to be a part of and make useful functional objects that would change society, because if you have beautiful things to use, it changes the kind of person you are.” It was not until halfway through her career that Woodman’s work drastically shifted from creating beautiful functional objects to creating conceptual and figurative works with no true progenitors.

    In 1948, at the age of eighteen, Woodman enrolled at the School for American Craftsmen at Alfred University. Students chose to focus on clay, fiber, wood, or metal, and were taught by craftsmen working in the field. “The practical parts of it were interesting, because we were taught things like you don't have your studio in your house…You should have a separation between your studio work and your life.” Woodman explained: “that has never been true for me, so I didn't follow what I was taught…I think it is hard to do. Well, particularly for a woman.” Betty Woodman’s first studio was “an extension of the domestic sphere,” which allowed her years of raising a family and remaining a working artist.

    From the 1970s and into the 1980s, many changes began to take place for the Woodmans. After moving to New York to facilitate her husband’s art career, Betty Woodman found a new context and audience for her work. Through collaborations with the artists at the forefront of the Pattern and Decoration movement––Cynthia Carlson and then Joyce Kozloff––Woodman began to extrude clay not just for useful vessels but also for conceptual play. Woodman’s work began to slowly erode the barrier between craft and fine art, pushing her practice, which had been so long in the domestic sphere, into the fine art space.

    While the form of the vase and the concept of vesselhood never left her work, Woodman disavowed ceramics which invite touch, use, or perfected forms. Instead, Woodman’s vessels function at a distance. They are meant to be studied like a painting where the distinctions between ceramic, glaze, and negative space begin to play tricks on the eye. The present work exemplifies Woodman’s play with visual perception. The iconic vase stands at the forefront, almost naively splashed with an array of colors that evokes influences as disparate as the Fauves and majolica. Behind this eye-grabbing display is the “shadow” of the vase, a flattened copy of the vessel glazed in a murky turquoise. Woodman takes as her subject the very materiality of her work. The vase is an easy-to-identify form, but the physical manifestation of the vase’s shadow complicates the viewer’s perception. The false “shadow” is a painterly gesture that, in relation with its subject, the vase, draws in the negative space around the two pieces. The enduring intrigue of the work lies in the charged space between the vase and its shadow.

    How can an artist so clearly embedded in the modernist tradition, whose work shows such conceptual clarity, also be so completely original? As the art critic Peter Schjeldahl argued, Woodman is “beyond original, all the way to sui generis.” Woodman’s later success is, in many ways, the product of her obstacles. Years of being steeped in the craft tradition and the practical choice or obligation to work in a domestic sphere allowed an artist to form a practice that was unprecedented in the art world and, ultimately, cemented her as one of the most influential ceramic artists of the 20th century.

Property from an Esteemed New York Collection


"Twisted Handle Vase with Shadow"

Glazed earthenware.
Vase: 24 x 23 x 10 1/4 in. (61 x 58.4 x 26 cm)
Shadow: 25 1/2 x 23 x 3 in. (64.8 x 58.4 x 7.6 cm)

The base of each impressed WOODMAN.

$15,000 - 20,000 

Sold for $17,640

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New York Auction 7 June 2022