“Common Ground,” on display at the Everson Museum for the next several months, celebrates the making of ceramics, embracing a medium that stretches across borders, various societies and many centuries.
Indeed, the exhibition encompasses works ranging from a Zulu beer pot made by Thembile Nala in 2022 to Greek, Roman and Chinese ceramics created over 2,000 years ago.
The show’s centerpiece, the Common Ground World Mandala, has both an imposing physical presence and symbolic import. Nine feet high and seven feet wide, the mandala is simply huge.
Beyond that, it reflects several years of work by sculptor Neil Tetkowski. Working in concert with the United Nations, he contacted 188 member nations and asked for small amount of clay from each country’s soil.
Ultimately, the various samples were integrated into a mandala-shaped sculpture. In 2002, the World Mandala made its debut at UN headquarters in New York City.
The mandala’s presence at the museum is noteworthy in itself — and yet the sculpture plays another role. Infused with a mix of clays from many countries, it sets the table for the remainder of the exhibit, a far-ranging survey of ceramics from the Everson’s permanent collection.
For starters, the show presents an array of ceramics from the 19th and 20th centuries, moving from Belgian artist Ann Van Hoey’s artwork paying homage to the Ferrari automobile to an engraved bull platter, a Pablo Picasso work from 1958.
In addition, “Weeping Willow Gun Nation,” Mariko Paterson’s ceramic examining gun-related violence in the United States, co-exists with “The Crack In Front of My Eye,” a porcelain made by Yiming Wang in 2022, and James Watkins’ “Double-Walled Cauldron, Guardian.” The latter work looks sturdy enough to withstand an earthquake.
“Common Ground” displays several interesting artworks originating in South America. These include “the Fruit Seller,” a figurative piece by Chilean artist Luis Guzman Reyes, and Josefina Plá’s “Decorative Pervana,” inscribed with birds and various shapes. Plá, who lived in Paraguay, was an artist, poet, historian and critic.
The exhibit, whose timeline spans most of humanity’s presence on this planet, nicely accesses works made in ancient times. They range from a tiny Roman ceramic depicting a lamp to a medium-size piece honoring Persephone, queen of the underworld in Roman mythology. Look for the dazzling color of “Standing Groom,” created in China sometime between 618 and 907 A.D., during the Tang Dynasty.
Certainly, one of the highlights of this segment of the Everson Museum’s collection is a container called an amphora which dates back to 500-450 BCE (Before the Common Era). The piece, made roughly 2,500 years ago, is well preserved and beautifully decorated.
While much of “Common Ground“ is organized on the basis of chronology, the exhibit also pursues other directions. For example, a display case presents an effigy vessel portraying a monkey. It was created between 1200 and 1350 A.D., by a member of the Chimú society in Peru. The vessel is situated in close proximity to an ancient Mexican ceramic depicting a mother and child and to “Big Mountain” and “Marcielago,” works by Natalia Arbelaez, a Colombian American sculptor active today.
Arbelaez interprets folk tales from indigenous cultures. This is just one instance in which the exhibit makes connections between contemporary work and narratives from the past.
“Common Ground” also displays a porcelain by Steven Young Lee, the son of Korean immigrants and an artist who delves into links between traditional and contemporary ceramics.
In addition to the various works previously cited, the show presents other noteworthy ceramics. You can’t miss “Ayainar Horse,” a life-size sculpture created by Muthukaruppan Palaniappan, an artist from India. He worked on site at the Everson in 1990.
His artwork is in the same gallery space as “Talking Earth” by Steve Smith, a contemporary Mohawk sculptor; “Tango in La Boca,” featuring Luis Perlotti’s lush portrayal of tango dancers and musicians; and an untitled work by Marguerite Wildenhain. It has a rough surface and faint imagery of several people. Wildenhain moved from Europe to the United States to escape Nazi persecution.
The overall exhibition develops the theme of ceramics as a medium with global implications while also referencing the many paths followed by people who have shaped and worked on clay. Artists have created works that are large and small, figurative and abstract, grounded in dozens of cultures. “Common Ground” deals with universal themes and specific forms of expression in a tangible way and does so with a spirit of celebration. Thus, it’s well worth a visit to the Everson Museum.
“Common Ground” is on display through April 3 at the museum, 401 Harrison St. The Everson is open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Wednesdays and Fridays, from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Thursdays, and on Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Admission is $10 for adults, $8 for seniors and students, $1 for people with an EBT card, free for Everson Museum members, children age 12 or younger, and those with a military ID.
For more information, call 315-474-6064 or visit everson.org.
Carl Mellor covered visual arts for the Syracuse New Times from 1994 through 2019. He continues to write about exhibitions and artists in the Syracuse area.