Garth Clark 1 2 3 4 5 6 - PRINTER VERSION
Published in New Art Examiner
, 13(1), September 1985.
The ceramic world has in the past five or six years enjoyed an unprecedented amount of attention
from the fine arts world, and Garth Clark has been one of the figures who has worked hard to bring
this about. He has written five books on ceramic art since receiving his masters degree in
ceramics from the Royal College of Art in London in 1976, but his greatest contribution to the
field was the exhibition he organized with Margie Hughto titled A Century of Ceramics in the
. This and the accompanying text attempted to provide "roots" for contemporary
ceramic art in the United States. This lineage, although somewhat dubious, enabled ceramic art to
begin to shed its status as the bastard child of the fine arts. It worked, and the boom has begun.
There were some in the ceramics world, however, who started to entertain serious doubts about the
academic objectivity of Garth Clark's writing when he became an active ceramics dealer in 1982 (he
now has galleries in Los Angeles, New York, and London). He has continued to organize exhibitions
and symposia, deftly juggling his dual roles as dealer and historian. Lately, though, many feel
that the views of writers like Clark on what is significant in the field should be accompanied by
what Jack Troy calls a "Surgeon Generals Warning: A writers enthusiasm may be directly
proportional to anticipated market trends" (Ceramics Monthly
, June 1985).
Garth Clark's enthusiasm for ceramic art, both as writer and entrepreneur, has in the past
been important to ceramics and its struggle to gain entry into the more celebrated world of fine
arts. Whether or not he will be able, in the future, to maintain credibility while exercising
these dual roles is altogether another question.
RB: The ceramic world is beginning to merge with the art world, and ceramic art is becoming
financially viable now. To what do you attribute this movement from university patronage to the
art marketplace? What are the dynamics of that?
GC: It's difficult to actually pinpoint the transition. It started to take place about five years
ago. My feeling is that it really has to do with quality. All art has to do with quality in one
degree or another. But an unfashionable art activity has more to do with quality; it relies more
upon the quality of individual pieces than an area, which is, perhaps, more fashionable and rides
on the hype and energies that surround it. What started to happen was that a number of major
ceramic artists began to produce exceedingly mature work. Some very bright, young-minded
collectors started to collect it. And it became apparent that there wasn't that much around.
Competition developed for the work and the marketplace began to suddenly take hold. You began
having $10,000 Rudy Autio's and $35,000 Peter Voulkos'. Of course, what happens is that the art
market, no matter how much it denies it, values things by dollars. To some collectors, things just
under a certain amount of money just simply are not worth collecting. So when these prices started
to rise, a lot of collectors who ordinarily wouldn't have thought of ceramics began to look at it
more closely. I'm not saying that they bought it simply because the prices were going up, but I am
saying that they looked at it closely because the prices were going up. What we have found is that
when we started, perhaps 40 to 50 percent of our clients were what you could call traditional clay
collectors, people who either collected only ceramics or who considered themselves part of the
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