Our America/Whose America? is on view at Ferrin Contemporary, North Adams
August 6 – October 30, 2022
Our America, Whose America? presents a dialogue between 22 contemporary artists and a collection of commercially produced ceramics. This collection of historical objects, collected over many years by gallery founder and director Leslie Ferrin, are in the form of plates, souvenirs, and figurines from the early 19th through mid-20th centuries. The items were produced in England, Occupied Japan, and various factories in the USA. The exhibition title was chosen from a series of plates produced by Vernon Kiln that features illustrations of American scenes by the painter Rockwell Kent.
In response to this historical collection, contemporary works by participating artists will provide new context and interpretation of these profoundly powerful objects. Seen now, decades and in some cases centuries later, the narratives they deliver through image, characterization, and stereotype, whether overt and bombastic or subtle and cunning, form a collective memory that continues to impact the way people see themselves and others today.
These 22 contemporary artists use their work to assert their autonomy and subjectivity by presenting intertwined cultural critiques through lenses of their own choosing, starting with race, gender, and class. Each of these categories is tentacular and touch upon myriad other ideas including nature, warfare, food and water inequity, and more.
The exhibition is co-curated by Ferrin and Lauren Levato Coyne.
“Throughout our forty year history, we have used multi-artist survey exhibitions as a platform to explore social issues. We’ve focused on gender and feminist perspectives, broached relationship taboos, and challenged historical notions of ceramics and art. Last summer we partnered with Heller Gallery to present MELTING POINT as a way to use the mediums of ceramic and glass to address issues surrounding climate change. Now we feel it is time to turn our lens on the racist representations in mass market ceramics,” says Ferrin.
“Ceramic souvenirs and commemorative plates are exactly the type of ubiquitous household goods that have shaped perceptions of generations of people across the globe,” said Levato Coyne. “Big public monuments honoring a one-sided past are being addressed, and those towering figures have certainly shaped and reinforced dark or false narratives. But what about the seemingly passive domestic items that have populated the cupboards and walls of countless generations? The most normal looking things—transferware plates, ashtrays, porcelain figurines—can deliver very serious and deleterious messages, especially when viewed daily over the course of time.”
1315 MASS MoCA Way
North Adams, MA 01247
Photos courtesy Ferrin Contemporary. Installation photos by John Polak.