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KIM TUCKER


February 7 - March 7, 2009 at L2kontemporary, Chinatown

by Rebecca Niederlander


Kim Tucker uses clay, a medium heavily explored in every previous artistic age but probably the most misunderstood and maligned medium in today's contemporary art scene. Tucker is aware of the issues around the ceramic medium, and embraces the shunning: her oeuvre is comprised of portraits of the misunderstood and maligned. This is a brilliant choice. These are clunky psychological portraits of the physically deformed, the ugly, the fat, and the weepy. And then there are the animals: skunks, opossums, snails and earthworms. Her portraits have an odd, superhero quality to them in that, like the X-Men or the Mutant Ninja Turtles or the Fantastic 4, explicit physical "quirks" make the outwardly hideous uniquely special and extraordinary. Even the big-toothed opossums appear to have sweet souls, and this makes the surprise of the portraits' underlying tenderness all that much more endearing.

Tucker has an ability to create a narrative with the simplest gestures. “Nature Girl's” face is repulsively dotted with eyes, yet she kneels to present the viewer with a small bouquet of hand picked flowers. “Crying Fat Man” cries huge tears that cover his body but never evaporate. The floating head in “I can't get you off of my mind” cries waterfalls that serve to prop the whole thing up. One cannot help but be touched by these freaks. They lean out toward the viewer, not smirking or shying away despite themselves. Perhaps it is their odd grounding that helps to endear them. Confidence can be a very sexy quality.

Speaking of sex, the latest creatures seem to have become their sexuality. They are covered in hair and phallic in shape. However, they have huge gaping red mouths at about the place where you'd expect to find genitalia. They also have drippy, oozy red Camilla flowers as crowns. And so another choice Tucker makes is poignant. The Camilla tree does best in the shade; it withers if given too much sun or attention.


"Hair Monster with Butterflies," 2008,
ceramic, 26 x 13 x 12".









"Hair Monster with Camelias," 2008,
ceramic, 26 x 13 x 12".









"Nature Boy with Skunk," 2008, ceramic, Nature Boy 36" x 19" x 12"/Skunk 28 x 9 x 12".

Decisions about clunky building and glazes reflect a deep knowledge of the medium's history, both in domestic items and as a sculptural medium. There are tremendously funny inside jokes in the works. There are references to the term "decorative arts" in relation to what we use to decorate and disguise our emotive states. The bas-relief Majolica portrait sculptures of Renaissance Italy get a nod, as do some of the greats in ceramic sculpture (including Tucker’s mentor Viola Frey).

Tucker installs the collection of sculptures on one large, simple varnished plywood table. Although each can be acquired separately, she conceives of the whole collection as one entity. Given that Tucker has said she wishes to expose the complex world we all share, it is also possible that all of the sculptures are actually various aspects of one personality--stories from one life, told from the various perspectives of a child, teen, adult and senior.

This body of work is titled the "Imperfect Eden" series. There is the obvious oxymoron in the juxtaposition of these two words. But are not each of us in fact imperfect Edens? Tucker certainly suggests the answer is yes.