Two newly acquired works by contemporary ceramic artists Michelle Erickson and Brendan Tang—Koi Junk and Manga Ormolu version 5.0-h—reveal their desire of bridging the past and present. These hybridized vessels express their synthesizing of visual histories from Eastern and Western cultures. In a fascinating example of art imitating life, Koi Junk, which was inspired by ceramics from an ancient shipwreck, echoes a 17th or early 18th century artifact salvaged from the deep, now in the Seattle Art Museum’s collection, also on view. Erickson explains: "Drawing on extensive experimentation and rediscovery of 17th and 18th century global pottery techniques, I recreate objects from ceramic history to explore the role of the material past on the modern human condition.” With a similar mindset, Tang fuses the language of Chinese Ming dynasty vessels onto techno-Pop Art shapes in his Manga Ormolu series. Inspired by Japanese animé and manga, Tang’s embellishments reveal his interest in cultural appropriation and inheritance.
Erickson and Tang’s sculptures are showcased alongside inspired ceramic works by Ron Nagle, Ken Price, and Toshiko Takaezu within SAM’s collection. These artists’ innovative objects tempt us to reconsider the materiality and malleability of clay—for example, Nagle’s surface treatment of his “lunar” form drawing inspiration and then departing from the shape of a cup. Through their varied approaches, these artists explore the sculptural possibilities of the ceramic vessel, from which we too experience a sense of their aesthetic discoveries.