Interview with Gwen F. Chanzit, the curator of Overthrown: Clay Without Limits exhibition at The Denver Art Museum, July 2011
This is the first interview we’ve made for the special Overthrown feature. The special feature for The Denver Art Museum covers more interviews with artists exhibiting at the Overthrown: Clay Without Limits, which is on view June 11 through September 18, 2011. Subscribe here to receive the special edition of our newsletter.
Ceramics Now Magazine: How did you find the artists for Overthrown: Clay Without Limits exhibition? Was it hard or you already had their names in mind?
Gwen F. Chanzit: I spent many months researching, talking with artists in the field, and visiting artists in their studios. I also participated in symposia at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where I was introduced to the work of additional artists.
From well over 100 file folders with research on the work of individual artists, I narrowed my selections by reviewing these regularly, moving the folders into piles that grew into “yes,” “maybe,” and “no.” I was particularly interested in showing the breadth of work that ceramic artists are accomplishing today. Sometimes when I made a studio visit to see one artist, I discovered another artist or two.
Ceramics Now Magazine: What are the criteria on which you selected the artists for this exhibition?
Gwen F. Chanzit: I look for quality, inventiveness, and artists who are pushing the limits to develop new methodologies.
Working in all scales, from architecturally expansive to almost impossibly small, the artists in Overthrown employ twenty-first-century technology hand-in-hand with standard modeling and molding techniques. They use digital cameras, computers, laser cutters, 3-D printers, and computer-controlled mills along with more traditional tools. Some push the forms of functional objects. Others push the limits of fragility. They take risks that draw on material chemistry and maverick kiln techniques. Some of their works include not only clay, but also found objects such as metal, plastic, and abandoned industrial materials. Overthrowing our expectations of ceramic art —its size, its context, its methods, and its meaning—these artists show us new ways of using this versatile and timeless material.
Ceramics Now Magazine: Did the exhibition space offered many obstacles? How did the artists adapt to the space?
Gwen F. Chanzit: The exhibition space is a dynamic Daniel Libeskind design with angular walls and interesting spaces that are wonderful for exhibiting three-dimensional work. The soaring ceilings provide particularly good opportunities for large scale work. Each artist was encouraged to utilize these exciting spaces—which they did.
Most of the works were made especially for this exhibition, and many are in direct dialogue with the site—they move beyond the pedestal to the wall, the floor, and even the ceiling. A few extend across the entire museum complex. They break boundaries that are physical, technological, conceptual, and spatial.
Ceramics Now Magazine: On what principles do you guide on preparing an exhibition like this, with more than 20 artists participating?
Gwen F. Chanzit: It’s important to show each artist’s work with integrity, to enable the work to have enough space to show itself well. It was a particular goal for each work in this exhibition to be seen independently—-with the added bonus of long vistas across the gallery from work to work.
Ceramics Now Magazine: Do you have any guidelines for the artists? How long ago did you contact and proposed them to exhibit at the Denver Art Museum?
Gwen F. Chanzit: I encouraged each of the 25 artists to be very ambitious—not to be hindered by cost of materials or limitations of space. Most artists had just over a year to prepare the work—a very short time in the world of these ceramic installations where challenges of materials and techniques had to be resolved. In some cases, kilns had to be built..
Ceramics Now Magazine: Significant support was provided by different foundations and citizens. What is DAM’s relationship with foundations and donors?
As most non-profits, the Denver Art Museum appreciates the significant support received by foundations and donors.
Ceramics Now Magazine: What part or what limits of this exhibition you find yourself connected to?
I am connected to all parts of the exhibition.
Ceramics Now Magazine: What expectations do you have from this exhibition?
Gwen F. Chanzit: I very much hope this exhibition will overthrow some expectations of what ceramics might be. It is a versatile and timeless material that is being used in new inventive ways in the 21st century.
Gwen Chanzit is curator of modern and contemporary art and the Herbert Bayer Collection and Archive, Denver Art Museum. She has organized many DAM exhibitions including Bonnard, Matisse from the Baltimore Museum of Art, Martha Daniels Grotto, Vance Kirkland: The Late Paintings and Color as Field, as well as numerous exhibitions on Herbert Bayer. Her rotation in the modern and contemporary art galleries for Marvelous Mud is Focus: Earth and Fire.
Among her many publications, Chanzit has authored two books on Herbert Bayer; contributed essays to DAM exhibition catalogs, RADAR: Selections from the Collection of Vicki and Kent Logan and The View From Denver; served as editor and authored essays for the 2009 exhibition catalog, Embrace!; and published an essay in the Austrian exhibition catalog, Ahoi, Herbert: Bayer und die moderne (2009).
For Marvelous Mud, Chanzit is curating Overthrown: Clay Without Limits, an exhibition in the Anschutz Gallery that features new work by 25 contemporary artists—most of whom work very large scale. She is also preparing a catalog and organizing a related symposium in September 2011.
Chanzit is a frequent lecturer locally, nationally and internationally. She often serves as juror for art competitions and exhibitions and has been a guest curator at the Aspen Institute and the University of Denver. Chanzit holds a Ph.D. in art history and contributes to the future generation of museum professionals as director of the graduate program in museum studies at the University of Denver’s School of Art and Art History.