Betty Woodman - Shape & Space: A New Ceramic Presence London Thursday, October 4, 2018 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Acquired directly from the artist by the present owner

  • Literature

    Janet Koplos, Arthur Coleman Danto and Barry Schwabsky, Betty Woodman, New York, 2006, n.p. (similar examples illustrated)
    Vincenzo de Bellis, ed., Betty Woodman: Theatre of the Domestic, exh. cat., Institute of Contemporary Art, London, 2016, p. 34 (a similar example illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    A pioneer in the field of ceramics, Betty Woodman is recognised today as one of its masters. Known for her exuberant blend of colour, pattern, and form, the American artist died in January of this year at the age of eighty-seven, leaving a celebrated legacy of work that spanned more than six decades.

    The present work fuses the pictorial with the pot, a key exploration for Woodman. At first, it appears there is just one vessel at the center of the piece, a double-sided vase set upon a suspended shelf. But, another soon reveals itself in the surrounding cutouts, its handles outstretched. Still others emerge as suggestions, found within its negative space. Woodman’s work famously evokes the riches of art history. The patches of blue seen here could be borrowed from the skies of Pierre Bonnard; the mix of patterning could be drawn from Italian maiolica, Japanese kimonos, or Henri Matisse. The artist often described her ceramics as a 'marriage of painting and form'. This piece exemplifies her approach and the apparent ease with which she created it, a result of Woodman’s material mastery.

    Betty Woodman trained as a studio potter at The School for American Craftsmen, when it was located at Alfred University in New York. She graduated in 1950, and soon after ventured to Florence, Italy, where, for nearly a year she made functional ceramic wares in a studio established by artists Giorgio Ferrero and Leonello Fallacara. There she learned to work with humble earthenware, the soft clay that would become her primary medium. Its fluidity was in contrast to the muscular stoneware favoured by the leading, often male, ceramists of the time.

    Woodman’s travels also began a lifelong connection to the region and its material traditions, a bond she and her husband, artist George Woodman (1932-2017), cemented when they acquired a Tuscan farmhouse in the late 1960s. Located in Antella, less than ten miles outside of Florence, they split their time each year thereafter between New York, Colorado (until 1998), and the olive-groved hills of Tuscany. From the 1970s and into the 1980s, Woodman’s work shifted from domestic objects to objects about the domestic. Exhibitions followed. Collaborations followed too, with Cynthia Carlson and then Joyce Kozloff, two leading figures in the Pattern and Decoration movement. Recognition for her work grew in kind, and as the new century approached Woodman was among the leading artists working in ceramics.

    Over the many decades of her career, Woodman explored and expanded the definition of the vessel. She developed a vocabulary of forms which she returned to again and again: among them winged vases, Pillow Pitchers, and Balustrade Relief Vases, a vessel-based composition that fused architecture with ceramics, tradition with the new. The present lot, Balustrade Relief Vase 07-4 was executed in 2007, just a year after the artist’s retrospective at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the museum’s first for a living woman artist and first for a living ceramist. Ten years later, in 2016, Woodman’s work was shown in another major solo exhibition, her first in the UK: 'Theatre of the Domestic' at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London.

    Woodman often extended her work into territories beyond clay: bronze furniture, fountains, textiles, glass, prints, and multi-media installations that merged ceramics with painted canvas. But, the vessel and its ancient translation of beauty, was a constant. Art critic Peter Schjeldahl once wrote that Betty Woodman’s ceramics 'both are and are not what seem to be. They are philosophical objects', he explained, 'vibrant with contradictions that illuminate any mind willing to think them through'.

    -Elizabeth Essner

Property of an Italian Gentleman


Balustrade Relief Vase 07-4

impressed with the artist's signature 'WOODMAN' on the reverse
glazed earthenware, epoxy resin, lacquer, and paint
135.3 x 158.8 x 24 cm (53 1/4 x 62 1/2 x 9 1/2 in.)
Executed in 2007.

£15,000 - 20,000 

Sold for £47,500

Contact Specialist
Meaghan Roddy
Senior International Specialist, Head of Sale
+1 267 221 9152

Henry Highley
Specialist, Head of Sale
+ 44 20 7318 4061

Shape & Space: A New Ceramic Presence

London Auction 5 October 2018