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Annabeth Rosen @ Paule Anglim

Gem I, 2014, fired ceramic 14 1/2 x 12 x 10"

The medium of ceramics is governed by a set of rules.  The material itself has defined them over the millennia that clay has been used to make everything from bowls and Buddhas to pillows (in Ming Dynasty China) and pots. Ceramic sculptor Annabeth Rosen has dedicated herself to undermining those rules: doing things that result in profound innovation or complete disaster. 

In the inscrutable, extraordinary works in her current show, Rosen has clearly tested many boundaries. For instance: pouring slip over piles of glazed, already-fired fragments and refiring them — openly recycling her own broken bits.  Or, wrapping a tilting cone of clay fragments with wire and then, unbelievably, putting the frankensteined piece in the kiln with the wire still holding it together. These are acts that are so outside the ceramic code they fall almost into the realm of science experiments. In a video profile of Rosen made by Beam Contemporary Art, critic Nancy Princenthal hints that a force just this side of dangerous may be pent-up inside of these pieces, and writes that the energy enlivening them “hovers between joy and rage.”  In other words, were it not for the wire that holds the enchanting mass of works like Gem 1 together, it might explode outwards, flinging the glossy purple jewels half-submerged beneath the cracked white slip of the surface.  
Taken as a whole, Rosen’s pieces conjure up a number of associations, ranging from the natural to the utterly and completely cultural. Their defiant lack of symmetry and pointy resemblance to mountains invoke a familial relationship to scholar’s rocks: the unusual stones fetishized in traditional Chinese culture, ranging from tabletop-sized (like the works in this show) to boulders. Some pieces resemble ritualistic (though very heavy) hats. The wriggly, worm-like fingers plastered over the outside of Sway make it a surreal companion to African

Remnant, 2014, fired ceramic, 15 1/2 x 13 x 12 1/2"

artist Meschac Gaba’s sculptures that take the form of braided hairdos. And some pieces in the show recall beehives — not the square boxes used by modern beekeepers — but the traditional conical shape. Like a hive, Remnant sports holes in the frosting-like layer of creamy, cracking slip through which glossy green glaze gleams mysteriously. 

And yet, after all of this compulsive description and simile-making, the truth is that Rosen’s profound originality and the presence of her pieces defy definition.  A deep and decades-long commitment to work and experimentation — to what she describes as setting things up and paying attention” has clearly paid off. In the Beam video the sheer volume of work that can be seen in her studio implies that sometimes these profoundly auratic objects do blow up on their way to completion. This is not because the artist lacks technical expertise or knowledge, but because she is willing to push the boundaries of material and making to places where no one has gone before her. Watching Rosen talk about clay as she kneads it in her fingers reveals that it is as familiar as flesh to her, and as dear. 
Annabeth Rosen at Gallery Paule Anglim through October 7, 2014. 
About the Author
Maria Porges is an artist and writer who lives and works in Oakland. For over two decades, her critical writing has appeared in many publications, including Artforum, Art in America, Sculpture, American Craft, Glass, the New York Times Book Review and many other publications. The author of more than 60 exhibition catalog essays, she presently serves as an associate professor at California College of the Arts in the graduate program in Fine Arts.

2 Responses to “Annabeth Rosen @ Paule Anglim”

  1. Karl F. Zender says:

    Love Annabeth, a kind and generous colleague here at UC Davis. Love the help this review gives in appreciating her art.

  2. Very fine review of very fine work….thank you both.


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