Marie Woo Clay Odyssey: A Retrospective at Birmingham Bloomfield Art Centre



Janet Koplos Ceramics Art + Perception 109 2018 Art + Perception Home

This retrospective exhibition was, in an unexpected way, a glimpse of another time and a different mindset. Marie Woo (b. 1928), active in ceramics since the 1950s and a noted teacher and curator in addition to being an active creative artist, is not the career-oriented, technically masterful potter of today.

In this show, the 52 works were untitled and, more shocking, undated – other than a few labeled with a decade. Woo didn’t keep records but just enjoyed the engagement with the material and experimentation with form. And she still does. New works in the show were unfired because her kiln isn’t working; she treated that not as a limitation but as an opportunity to be playful. Small nodules of bright blue clay were adhered to wires hanging from a bamboo rod, like some odd spring buds; a chicken-wire cylinder was stuffed with ceramic rejects and topped with a bouquet of fine bamboo branches from her yard (both examples of clean-up and repurposing); a dome-shaped piece that stood out for near-fluorescent coloring was, in fact, painted.

To look over the entire selection gave a sense of Woo’s successive interests. It was possible to approach the whole by mapping out a chronology from those few that were dated, loose as it was – more reliable as a sequence of styles than as precise dates, but confused by her return to certain forms. Possibly the earliest work in the show, dating from the ‘50s, was a classic weed-pot shape: so full it was nearly spherical, then constricted by a narrow neck. It was among the sleekest, most conventionally finished works. Woo was one of the early postwar travelers to Japan and, with the aid of Kaneshige Toyo, a Living National Treasure, she spent time working at Bizen. A dark, paddled, triangular bottle and a small round covered box, dated ‘60s, came out of that experience.

Woo was one of the early postwar travelers to Japan, and with the aid of Kaneshige Toyo, a Living National Treasure, she spent time working at Bizen. A dark, paddled, triangular bottle and a small round covered box, dated ‘60s, came out of that experience.


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