The soul-shattering shock of World War II rattled American art to its core. From the ashes of Auschwitz and Hiroshima, humanity's wartime collapse into barbarism propelled a roiling wave of artistic urges aimed at starting over. Two absorbing museum shows lay out a critical part of the story.
One is a sprawling survey that beautifully articulates the breadth and diversity of postwar studio ceramics, charting how they came to be. The other is more closely focused, homing in on the potent artistic revolution that grew from the larger context. Together they unfold one of the most distinctive tributaries of American art being chronicled in the raft of postwar Southern California exhibitions presented under the Getty-sponsored umbrella of Pacific Standard Time.
Perhaps nothing better expresses the prescient yearning for renewal than a 1944 Surrealist painting by Russian immigrant Mark Rothko. "Slow Swirl By the Edge of the Sea" is a hallucinatory vision of spindly, archaic forms rising up from the vapors of the primordial ooze. Painting was powerful, a sophisticated visual language in which those fundamental urges could be spoken. Yet it had its limitations. Painting wasn't omnipresent at human society's inception.
Pottery, on the other hand, was. Pottery was global in its origins, the material of the earth shaped by prehistoric humankind from the Red Sea to the Yellow River to the Rio Grande. And pottery as a primary postwar vehicle flourished nowhere more than in Los Angeles.