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March 16 - April 13, 2002 at Frank Lloyd Gallery, Santa Monica

by Mario Cutajar

The virtuosic facture of Wouter Dam's thin-walled ceramic shells clears away whatever distraction might get in the way of appreciating the rich interplay of associations that these morphed manifolds conjure out of thin air. They are so delicate that they might indeed be nothing more than air; the very porosity of the clay out of which they are made imbues them with an immateriality that color and the delicate modulations of light only serve to enhance.

What are these things? A long time ago they might have been jars or pots. But we no longer call on potters to turn out by hand what machines effortlessly provide. And yet this very obsolescence of pottery as a technique for fabricating functional vessels allows for the making of metaphorical objects. Instead of providing means for storing and dispensing water, wine, milk, or oil, the potter-turned-sculptor fashions containers of meaning. So in a way, Dam's objects are, among other things, a bit like the husks of jars and pots. A memory of pottery's original function and history resides in these otherwise Platonic forms, and gives the artist something to hold onto as he explores the limitless potential of abstract form.

It turns out that Dam's allusion to ancient forms actually facilitates rather than inhibits his connection to forms of the moment. By playing with and fusing together shapes that once belonged to amphorae, pitchers, and vases, Dam manages to come up with forms whose gamut of suggestion runs from the organic to the high-tech, oftentimes in the same object. A billowing turquoise form combines the qualities of wind-filled sails, marine shells, and engine manifolds. An orange Siamese pairing of cylindrical and tapering vases is a giant pencil eraser mutating into an electric connector. Making full use of the plasticity of his chosen material, Dam's forms are in a perpetual state of exacerbated ambiguity. Their finish is exquisite, yet they are unfinished in the same way that snapshots of a transition are unfinished. They are rigorously and painstakingly elaborated yet elusive. They are precious, hyper-aesthetic objects that remind one of the ubiquitous, disposable casings, housings, and packaging of the plastic age.

And in the end, they are also fragile objects, as seemingly fragile as a thought. Lying on their side, open at both ends, they are metaphysical conduits (ribbed channels, birth canals) able to move us beyond graspable form and toward synaesthetic ecstasy.

“Brown/White Piece," ceramic,
12 x 12 x 9 1/2", 2001.

Photo: Anthony Cuñha

“Red Shape," ceramic,
12 1/2 x 10 x 11", 2000.

“Black Shape with White Lines,"
ceramic, 12 x 12 x 9 1/2", 2000.

“Light Blue Shape," ceramic,
7 x 10 x 10", 2000.