For her first present at PPOW since 2015, Madonnas and Hand Warmers, Ann Agee has produced a bounty of polychrome ceramics that vividly telegraph her wit and inventiveness. Within the entrance gallery, on a room-size platform, are 66 Madonna sculptures, most with toddler or youngster in tow, ranging in measurement from slightly below eight inches to 3 ft tall, all made throughout the previous two years; within the entrance window, at 4 ft, is the most important Madonna, carrying gaily patterned bell-bottom slacks and a tank high, with the becoming title “Exquisitely Dressed Madonna” (2021). Within the gallery’s again room are dozens of shoe-shaped sculptures that compose an ongoing collection Agee calls her Hand Heaters. Every Madonna or shoe is stamped with the artist’s mark, AGEE MFG, referring to her years’-long enterprise of creating works in lots of mediums — from wallpaper to garments, books, toilet tiles, and even marmalade — that blur the traces between home life, inventive manufacturing, and social connectivity.
The impetus for Agee’s Madonna collection is the quite easy concept she had, years in the past, to create another world to that of medieval statuary, which privileges the male youngster. What if the kid had been a woman? Agee’s mom was an artist, as is her daughter, and the present is one thing of a generational tribute, as her daughter has just lately left house and her mom handed away. Consequently, all the kids within the present are women, with their intercourse discreetly marked. They sleep, fidget round, and suckle their moms, elongated girls who convey a barely contained balletic vitality and poise.
Their dynamism is as a lot a results of chroma, nonetheless, as it’s of underlying kind. Agee has deployed a wealth of generally unconventional strategies to paint her figures, incorporating pigment evenly in uncooked clay; marbling slabs that she rolls out and slices; screenprinting, taping, spraying, and in any other case stenciling glazes; and, in fact, straight china-painting, to create the sensible vary of patterns and hues that give these sculptures such distinctive life. Lengthy influenced by 18th-century German and Italian porcelains of commedia dell’arte performers, she has by no means shied away from the polychromy that was anathema to modernist sculptural aesthetics. Right here, she has stepped up her recreation, infusing the work with a level of gravitas that obtains in medieval devotional figures. Certainly, among the Madonnas are perched on bases with tiny drawers, a reference to the reliquary perform that a lot medieval statuary carried out.
The fabric cleverness of those sculptures is likely one of the many pleasures they provide an attentive viewer, as is so usually the case with nice ceramics. Agee’s irreverence is considered one of her items. “Full-On Striped Madonna” (2021), with its purple, white, and yellow stripes, which summary it like a machine-age Léger, is made to seem like painted cardboard. (Cardboard is definitely a medium Agee loves; she used it to make the enduring turquoise-and-orange torches many New York girls carried within the protests following Trump’s election.) The massive-haired “Moira Orfei Madonna”(2020), named for an Italian circus impresario, is a striated piece of lustered, black-stained porcelain with purple overglaze fashioned of clay-molded dried spaghetti. The combination of excessive and low is all over the place. “Colander Madonna” (2021), with its small holes that appear to drizzle inexperienced glaze, refers to Italian ceramic colanders, which Agee first admired on the Italian house of her shut buddy, the late Betty Woodman, whose love of tough people ceramics Agee shared.
Expressive particulars masks structural duties. Seams could also be cinched in beaded traces that double as decoration. Solid-bronze necklaces or copper waist bands that seemingly embellish the figures disguise a perform of strengthening joints between components. The bigger figures needed to be fired in two sections, and sometimes incorporate stoneware because the decrease, supporting half and porcelain because the higher. In consequence, the identical coloration can modulate barely, as within the pink of “Exquisitely Dressed Madonna”; she resolves the distinction by way of a unifying stenciled floor sample. The smallest items, Agee says, had been usually probably the most troublesome to execute: their kinds are extra open, the our bodies extra kinetic, and the probabilities for a fail seemingly limitless. Many of those littler items are a single coloration.
Among the Madonnas, missing kids, proffer as an alternative a big open gap, as in “Raised Curtain Madonna”(2020); made from porcelain with a matte blue glaze, she hunches ahead whereas opening her skirt. The revealed gap suggests the house of a lacking relic, or maybe the lacking youngster, but she is as strong as Picasso’s 1906 portrait of Gertrude Stein. Certainly, Picasso is a continuing presence within the present, in its sheer playfulness and ingenuity — be it within the smiling, off-kilter faces of “Veiled Madonna” and “Folk Pietà with Drip”(each 2020), harking back to his ceramics, or the crisply folded joints, in these and elsewhere, that evoke his cut-metal sculptures, which Agee admires. There’s a macho bravado in one of many present’s most serene and delightful items, the monumental, sky blue “Cult of the Penis Madonna” (2021), who wears a talismanic necklace with a phallus bauble, a form based mostly on fertility objects from historic Rome that Agee produced and hung on the partitions of an earlier exhibition.
Agee first confirmed her ongoing Hand Hotter collection on a big desk at Frieze New York some years in the past; she has continued producing these works to the current. They’re based mostly — just like the “salt-cellar” Madonnas within the different room, who carry curved plates — on objects she first noticed on the Davanzati Palace, a home museum in Florence.
On show on the museum had been a variety of hole shoe-shaped ceramics of imprecise origin and performance; they could have been wedding ceremony souvenirs that initially held wine. Agee imagines them in a different way, nonetheless. She photos aristocratic girls confined to their spacious palazzi, ice chilly in winter; the sneakers, she believes, had been crammed with scorching water and carried about in pockets or luggage. Why not, she asks? So she dubs them Hand Heaters, and she or he provides them an inexhaustible multiplicity of shapes, glazes, and kinds, from old style slippers with pompons to trendy loafers, and even a slip-on shoe “branded” throughout, like a Louis Vuitton bag, with AGEE MFG. Sometimes they barely represent a shoe, as in an arabesque kind that Agee borrowed from a Thomas Nozkowski portray. Roughly organizing them in teams by palette, she affords the sneakers up as singles, as if their mates are ready behind the scenes in a retailer room. Funky and stylish by flip, they testify to an creativeness run wild; although clay, they’re as free as sketches.
Ann Agee: Madonnas and Hand Warmers continues at PPOW Gallery (392 Broadway, Manhattan) via July 23.