In March 2019 I traveled to Alfred University in upstate New York where Daniel Rhodes received his MFA and taught from 1947-1973. After an introduction from Michael Swaine, who did his BFA at Alfred, I met and stayed with Andrea and John Gill, two artists and Alfred professors. Andrea and John’s kindness and intelligence resides within every object and every surface of their house.
Impression is based on conversations I had with John Gill in his green room adjacent to the kitchen and in the car when he took me on a tour of the area. We spoke about form, Rhodes, Alfred, diners, history, laundry, and stretching yourself to get to your ceramics. He told me not to be timid about getting there.
I believe that it is important for artists not to make a premature commitment to a narrowed objective before they are ready. Granted, such a commitment may make the work more easily recognized, but a narrowing of focus should come from inner necessity rather than from calculation. Worst of all is the temptation to tailor one’s work to some au courant image which later may prove to be uncongenial. I regret now that I didn’t dig deeper into some of the various promising mines that I opened up. But in art one must follow one’s hunches.
-Daniel Rhodes, Ceramics Monthly, September 1987
Solo Exhibition by Kari Marboe
Mills College Art Museum, Oakland, CA
January 22-March 15, 2020
Duplicating Daniel traced artist Kari Marboe’s attempts to recreate an original sculpture, recorded as missing from Mills College Art Museum’s permanent collection, by the influential but under-recognized ceramicist Daniel Rhodes. The only remaining evidence of this sculpture is its accession date (1975, gift of the artist) and a murky black and white photocopy.
The exhibition included Marboe’s numerous attempts to create physical ‘replicas’ of Rhodes’ sculpture and other renditions developed in the course of her research, and not based solely on the formal properties of the missing work. Research sites included the museum’s archives, Alfred University, NY archives, Greenwich House Pottery, NY archives, and descriptive information mined from interviews with artists and curators who knew Rhodes and his work.
Topics of investigation included creating ceramic “kickstand” sculptures that address the question, if the piece now exists only as a photograph, how can we help it stand up and be a sculpture again? Marboe’s work also explores the language of her process, including watercolor paintings using the sculpture’s potential color (described by ceramicist Nancy Selvin as an “uncool, but cool, brown”) to depict synonyms of the word “duplicate.” Additionally, she married her own forms with the technique of adding fiber or burlap to the sculpture based on Rhodes’ work.
The exhibition engaged the history of ceramics, the interconnectivity of the ceramics community and the Bay Area’s cultural legacy, as well as the acts of translation, and the embedded failure of trying to make, or be, an exact copy of something else. At the end of the exhibition, one of Marboe’s sculptures, Unmistakable Feel of Pottery, entered the museum’s permanent collection as a replacement for the missing Rhodes piece.
The first iteration of this work was developed in collaboration with A-B Projects, Los Angeles, 2018. Nicole Seisler, curator/director, started the space as a site for expanded ceramics, and was instrumental in encouraging this project and providing the title for the exhibition.
Many thanks to all the collaborators and lenders to the exhibition: Nathan Lynch, Stephanie Hanor, Jayna Swartzman-Brosky, Eli Thorne, Andrea and John Gill, Arthur Gonzalez, John Hosford, Susan Kowalczyk, Philip Linhares, Kaitlin McClure, Del Miller, Rosa Novak + Mutual Stores, Nancy Selvin, Linda Sormin, Michael Swaine, Luke Turner, Adam Welch, the Oakland Museum of California, and the Ceramics Community at California College of the Arts. Kari Marboe: Duplicating Daniel was supported through the generosity of the Agnes Cowles Bourne Fund for Special Exhibitions.