Differing Approaches in “Collective Identity: The Legacy of Apprenticeship Under Toshiko Takaezu”

Toshiko Takaezu, the celebrated Japanese-American ceramic artist, spent most of her life teaching others. In her lifetime she took in over 30 apprentices and the work that was created among this group of artists has incredible significance in relation to her own practice. To commemorate and celebrate Toshiko and her influence, WAH Center is showing Collective Identity: The Legacy of Apprenticeship Under Toshiko Takaezu, curated by Leslie Ferst. With an opening on March 17, 2018, the WAH Center’s gallery has been filled with ceramic works of all shapes and sizes. Displaying works of Takaezu’s apprentices, the show ranges from miniaturized abstract bowls to 3 feet wooden “wings” against the wall. The diversity and range of the works in the room is one of the strongest reasons as to why the visitors are drawn to experience the space and each individual piece, as well as to see the harmony between them as a group.

Curator Leslie Ferst, an artist based in New York, chose to use the windows of the gallery space to highlight some of the works. The two windows opposite the entrance face the sun for most of the day and the sunlight shines onto the white curtain. Ferst places Tim Clark’s Proceed Beyond in front of this flooding white light, which is softened by the fabric. Clark’s life-size door frame leading to a path covered in soil, has thorns and spikes attacking from both sides as well as from the earth itself. The doorframe, the fresh earth on the ground, and the sunlight on the fabric look inviting and peaceful, showing what should be a sublime view. Yet with the addition of the spikes, it’s not as alluring. The danger and risk to reach whatever beauty is ahead is clear in those thorns. The window and the sunlight play a huge part in complementing and highlighting the feeling and theme of the piece.


Tim Clark’s Proceed Beyond


When asked about his work, Tim Clark stated, “Life is pretty prickly and trying to capture the subtle and not so subtle parts of it [can be quite challenging]. [The doorway] is much like a portal that we all at certain points try to travel through and everyone’s journey is different. There can be a lot of obstacles in the way, but the end may also be worth it.”

On the opposite side of the room are works from Bill Baumbach, one of Takaezu’s apprentices during the 1970s. In contrast with Clark’s works, Baumbach chooses to follow where the material takes him. An attraction to geometric forms and the intrinsic qualities of the ceramic itself guides his practice. Aside from his sculptural piece, Survivor, his work stands out in the group as functional pieces as he exhibis two of his ‘chairs’. Abstract and circular, these pieces are sculptural while also functional as chairs or tables, adding a new layer to the material.


Bill Baumbach’s Survivor (Left) and Table #16 & #15 (Right)


Baumbach said about his work, “The piece literally moves in the kiln and clay, [there is] a combination of the mental process and the physical process. Themes in my work come out eventually when working with the physical process…unexpected turnouts during the process can influence the work itself.”

The exhibition fluidly moves through one work to another, but there is a commonality in the feeling that the pieces create in the viewer. There is a sublime, light feeling in the works that together transfer the space into something peaceful and balanced. Entering the space after being in the chaos of New York City, it is almost like a breath of calm fresh air and a somber quiet moment away from the city.


Cagla Sokullu, Contributing Writer to the WAH Center Blog

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