Keiko Fukazawa's ('86 MFA Ceramics) "Spout Monster #1" is an unassuming little smart bomb, a precision-guided work of art that explodes aesthetic conventions by uncovering buried social and political content in ordinary found objects.
The porcelain sculpture, included in the modest but captivating survey of Fukazawa's recent ceramics newly opened at the Craft and Folk Art Museum, is composed from two shallow, footed bowls. They are stacked rim to rim and fused together in the kiln, looking like a little flying saucer.
Its top surface is festooned with little teapot spouts turned every which way, as if they were alive — sniffing and probing the surrounding environment. The whole thing is barely 7 inches across, glazed in a pale celadon hue.
The sculpture is a long way from the sophisticated celadon porcelains once revered at the Imperial Chinese court. The glaze is more pedestrian than refined, confidently and skillfully applied if not exquisitely achieved in delicate transparencies. In down-to-earth forms and playful demeanor, "Spout Monster #1" is more food court than royal court.
Therein resides a good deal of its unexpected authority: Rejects rarely look so good — and this monster is, indeed, built from rejects.
Fukazawa made the sculpture from castoff pieces of porcelain found at a mass-production factory in Jingdezhen, China, where pottery has been produced for more than 1,500 years. Products of an industrialized culture, they're pieces that didn't measure up to standardized norms.
"Spout Monster #1" is an assisted readymade, to borrow Marcel Duchamp's term. The eccentric object has been cobbled together from two potentially useful things — porcelain bowls and teapot spouts — that were already manufactured, like the Frenchman's 1913 sculpture of a bicycle wheel attached to a kitchen stool. Now that the fused porcelain is without practical function, it has become a strangely compelling focus of contemplative curiosity.
In 1984, Fukazawa moved from her native Japan to Los Angeles. (She teaches at Pasadena City College.) Chafing under customary Japanese social resistance to women being taken seriously as artists, she wanted to work in the city that fostered the extraordinary postwar revolution in clay.
So, like lots of post-Pop art, the rescue and rebirth of discards in her monster-sculpture may well resonate as an autobiographical metaphor. From the 1950s through the 1970s, Peter Voulkos, Ken Price, Adrian Saxe and other artists in that revolutionary ceramic lineage worked with a material that was rarely taken seriously. Picasso and Miro could get away with making pottery, but they were already long-established masters of Modern painting and sculpture.
The younger Angelenos tore ceramics apart through eye-opening, mind-bending means and gave the medium unexpected new life. A technical wizard among them was the late Ralph Becerra (1941-2015), who was Fukazawa's teacher at Otis College of Art and Design.
Fukazawa's "Spout Monster #1" indicates how her work makes the personal political, translating her own outsider-ness into a larger social and cultural question. In souvenir sculptures of Chairman Mao, whose head is being overrun by a proliferation of peonies, she becomes even more direct.
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