Exquisite Beauty is the first retrospective and publication to document the eye-dazzling ceramics created by Ralph Bacerra (1938-2008), a Los Angeles-based artist known for his innovative approach to surface embellishment. Curated by Jo Lauria, the exhibition features more than ninety of the artist's finest pieces—dramatic, highly decorated vessels and sculptures that have never before been the focus of a major exhibition or publication. Bacerra's career in ceramics spanned five decades, over the course of which his work moved stylistically from traditionalism to pattern and decoration to "post-baroque." He was part of the group of second-generation post&-World War II California artists who followed the boundary-expanding lead of Robert Arneson, Viola Frey, John Mason, Ken Price, and Peter Voulkos. These visionary artists sought to use clay in a way that responded to their time and place. Collectively they broadened the possibilities of the medium and brought recognition to the field. Like those before him, Bacerra regularly challenged ceramic conventions, resolutely experimenting with unfamiliar materials and techniques in his studio. His unique contribution was the creation of a new “grammar of ornament” through the complex layering of aggregated design motifs, achieved primarily through multiple applications of underglazes and overglazes combined with metallic lusters. The resultant interweave generated a language rich in cross-cultural inflection and design schemes fluent in optically inventive patterns that played with perception and teased the eye.
In addition to achieving artistic excellence in the studio, Bacerra was a passionate and effective teacher in the classroom. He served as the head of ceramics at Chouinard from 1964 through 1971, when the school was formally absorbed by the California Institute of the Arts and the ceramics major eliminated from the curriculum. The second phase of Bacerra's teaching career began in 1982 at the invitation of Otis Art Institute. The first year he taught part-time, leading classes in Surface Design and Glaze Technology. The following year he was appointed chair of ceramics with oversight of all aspects of the ceramics studio. He held the position for thirteen years, teaching a new generation of students the skills to become successful studio artists and educators. All who spent time in his classroom benefited from his technical expertise and keen design sensibility. Many former students from both Chouinard and Otis have ascended to prominence in the ceramics field and have contributed to its vitality.
Ralph Bacerra: Exquisite Beauty was funded in part by the National Endowment for the Arts, Pasadena Art Alliance, The Boardman Family Foundation, Friends of Contemporary Ceramics, The Japan Foundation, Los Angeles, and by the generosity of many individuals.