The Bacchanalistas at New York Ceramics Fair

Sex pots on show in wild and wonderful cultural debauchery

Refined surroundings might seem an unlikely place to celebrate the pleasures of the flesh, but this January visitors to New York’s Ceramics Fair (January 21-26, tickets $20) will be able to do just that. Contemporary ceramics expert Leslie Ferrin, director of Ferrin Contemporary, will be curating a selling exhibition entitled The Bacchanalistas: Passions + Pleasures, which concentrates on the themes of passion, eroticism, sexuality, abundance and an excess of food and wine. The pieces will encompass figural sculpture, animated painted vessels and still life from the 16th century to the present day.

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“Bacchanalia, the Roman festivals of Bacchus – the Greco-Roman god of wine, freedom, intoxication and ecstasy – were attended by a secret society and became legendary,” says Ferrin. “Ancient ceramic objects were in use during these parties and then later created to specially commemorate such events. Today, a generation of artists draws inspiration from those objects and creates its own pieces for celebratory experiences. The decorative art and fine-art worlds collide with references to feast, sexuality and over-the-top pleasures.  While not exactly a mystery cult, our contemporary art scene appears to some to operate today as the Bacchanalia did during Roman times – with wild parties and excess in the name of pleasure and culture.”

The sex pots, so to speak, are also exceptionally fine works of art. One of the most impressive is contemporary ceramicist Michelle Erickson’s The Rake’s Progress: Billingsgate Bust, available for $18,500 (first picture). “My time in London as artist in residence at the V&A in 2012 gave me the opportunity to bring elements of the city into my practice,” says Erickson. “The Rake’s Progress is the culmination of that exploration and experimentation that includes life casting specimens foraged in the early hours at Billingsgate fish market and shells collected while mudlarking on the Thames. The subject is a central but somewhat mysterious figure in the orgy scene: a young woman, an exotic dancer, preparing for her performance in a brothel. Her expression has such distance from the chaotic debauchery of her circumstances that it seems to open a portal through time and place.”

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Other pieces include Leo Kaplan’s Ayotte paperweight entitled Bacchus with a cluster of grapes, for $1,650 (second picture); Katherine Houston’s contemporary Flemish Fantasia, hard paste porcelain with polychrome 18th-century over glazes, for $20,000 (third picture); and Rodney Woolley’s 18th-century stoneware punch bowl, probably from Nottingham. Sprigged with figures hunting mythical heraldic beasts, together with images of Adam and Eve and the Devil, it is quite a rare piece and revels in drinking, temptation and hedonism. It is available for $6,850. Earle D Vandekar of Knightsbridge is also offering Fornasetti Fleming cook plates for $500 each (fourth picture) and John Howard is selling a Staffordshire Bacchus mug c1780 for $1,460 (fifth picture).

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