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
Mills College Art Museum, Oakland, CA
January 22-March 15, 2020
Duplicating Daniel traces 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.
Daniel Rhodes taught ceramics at Alfred University, New York, for 25 years and published six books on technical ceramics, including the widely relied upon Clay and Glazes for the Potter. Duplicating Daniel features Marboe’s attempts to recreate the original Rhodes sculpture based on data collected from research in the museum’s archives, as well as the archives at Alfred University and Greenwich House Pottery, NY, and descriptive information mined from interviews with artists and curators who knew Rhodes and his work.
The exhibition includes Marboe’s numerous attempts to create physical ‘replicas’ of Rhodes’ sculpture and other renditions developed in the course of her research. Additional areas of investigation include 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.” At the end of the exhibition, one of Marboe’s sculptures will enter the museum’s permanent collection as a replacement for the missing Rhodes piece.
In addition, the exhibition also features related works from the museum’s renowned Antonio Prieto Collection of Contemporary Ceramics. During Antonio Prieto’s tenure (1950–67) as a Mills faculty member, the San Francisco Bay Area played an important role in the evolution of ceramics. The exhibition plays with this specific history of ceramics at Mills, the interconnectivity of the ceramics community, and the Bay Area’s cultural legacy.
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.