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Marvelous Mud: ancient material

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“Don’t think pots,” advised Denver Art Museum director Christoph Heinrich as he introduced “Marvelous Mud: Clay Around the World,” which is exhibited in eight different locations at the Denver Art Museum.

“This is the first campus-wide exhibition based on a single substance, said DAM director Christoph Heinrich, adding that it’s hoped visitors will explore the entire museum complex. More than one visit may be required to experience these works that date from 25 B.C. China to cutting edge now.

Art created from this ancient material includes “Marajo: Ancient Ceramics of the Amazon) circa 400 to 1300 A. D. — vessels created by a people who no longer exist— and installations in an exhibit called “Overthrown,” just now made for the space they inhabit at the DAM.

“Working with artists onsite extends the core mission of the museum,” said Heinrich, who introduced Gwen Chanzitt, curator of Overthrown.

Chronologically in between, largely from the museum’s rich permanent collection:

“Blue and White: A Ceramic Journey,” which explores the blue and white ceramics made and loved around the world from early China to the present day.

“Dirty Pictures,” how photographers have shown mud, clay and dirt, with or without human interaction.

“Mud to Masterpiece: Mexican Colonial Ceramics” showing the influence of global trade on traditional Mexican earthenware.

“Nampeyo: Excellence by Name” traces the influence of the first American Indian woman to gain national personal recognition for her pottery and the succeeding generations of family potters.

“Focus: Earth and Fire” pulls together visual artists’ responses to natural elements and clay objects from the DAM collection.

“Potters of Precision: the Coors Porcelain Company” exhibits the porcelain labware manufactured today in Colorado for scientists worldwide.

Canadian ceramic artist Neil Forest, whose installation “Flake” is included in Overthrown, lectured June 8 about his process in creating the five large red slabs of clay — the largest is 10 feet long and weighs 300 pounds. They float on chains attached to the building’s steel structure. The forms were suggested to him by the spaces created in wood by carpenter ants he noted, adding that “what clay least wants to do is be long and thin—” exactly what he required it to do.

His sculpture is an interaction between art, architecture, science and material chemistry, with input from an engineering mind in a Kansas studio where the pieces were built. His ongoing inspiration comes from the historic Islamic tile decoration in buildings such as the Alhambra and from other decorative art, he said, citing “remarkable secular spaces.”

A number of the works in Overthrown are by Colorado artists, including “Footing” by Nathan Craven, which is at the entrance leading into the gallery — puzzle fans should take a hard look at these thousands of interlocking pieces.

Kim Dickey, who teaches at CU Boulder, conceived “Mille Fleur,” covered a wall with tiny glazed porcelain leaves, each precisely applied, while Jeann Quinn, also a Colorado teacher, has filled a corner space she chose with “You are the Palace, You are the Forest,” a group of hanging white porcelain forms that recede into a grey-painted corner, leading the eye away... The pieces are digitally designed, she said.

And, don’t miss Linda Sormin’s extraordinary installation on the first floor of the Hamilton Building. She teaches at Alfred University, probably the most prominent institution in the U. S. for training adventurous ceramic artists, including Forrest and others in the show.

Related programs include the first floor Hamilton Building Mud Studio, where visitors can get hands dirty if they wish, or watch demonstrations by area artists on weekends. On weekends July 9-24, families can help Bill and Athena Steen build a “Clayground” with adobe and straw bales. (It will stay through September on the Plaza).

Sculptor Roxanne Swentzel will periodically be working on her 10-foot-tall “Mud Woman Rolls On” at the entrance to the American Indian Art gallery .

On Sept. 16 and 17, a Marvelous Mud Symposium with lectures and a workshop about Overthrown is planned, as is a series of Conversations with Curators..

Tours are offered regularly by trained docents. See the museum website for details, www.denverartmuseum.org.

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