These are not your mother's dinner plates. When ceramic artist Howard Kottler depicts the classic “American Gothic” couple on dinnerware, he's irreverent.
On one plate, the classic male and female figures are shown with male heads. On another, the couple have stark white faces, a parody of racist “blackface” shows in the vaudeville era. On a third plate, the mouths are missing, symbolizing President Nixon's claim of silent majority support for the Vietnam War.
An exhibit of 60 of Kottler's works, crafted in the 1960s and ’70s on stark, commercially produced plates, is on display through August at the ASU Art Museum's Ceramics Research Center in “Look Alikes: The Decal Plates of Harold Kottler.”
While most ceramists focused on hand-thrown pots created on potters' wheels, Kottler valued content, says the center's curator, Peter Held.
“This body of work was about concepts, not technique,” he says. “Howard really took a subversive approach to ceramics.”
Kottler made the “American Gothic” plates at the height of the Vietnam War, using “very Midwest, iconic images to represent the silent majority, and then these 'erasures’ for what was being lost in the conflict,” Held says.
Other pieces show an irreverence for symbols of the Catholic church, including altered images of Christ, the apostles and the Pope.
Though the artist died in 1989 of lung cancer, his work continues to speak to audiences today, Held says.
ASU's Ceramics Research Center opened in 2002 and boasts more than 3,000 pieces in its collection. It began as a small exhibit of ceramic works purchased in the 1960s by ASU Art Museum founder Rudy Turk.
Turk was friends with young ceramists Peter Voulkas and Rudy Autio in the 1960s, when pottery was moving in an expressionistic direction.
“You couldn't get a painting for $100 . . . but ceramics were still very, very inexpensive,” he says. “I was in on the ground floor and bought things, not with any idea of making a ceramics collection. . . . I was confined in the art field to things we could afford.”
The center has organized “Between Clouds of Memory: Akio Takamori, A Mid-Career Survey,” opening Sept. 9 and featuring 48 sculptures and nine prints from the Japanese artist.
‘Look Alikes: The Decal Plates of Harold Kottler’
When: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Ends Aug. 27
Where: Ceramics Research Center, ASU Art Museum, northeast corner of 10th Street and Mill Avenue, Tempe
Information: (480) 965-2787