Christopher Knight, Art Critic of the Los Angeles Times, writes “With outrageous humor and unspeakable beauty, (Saxe) makes intensely seductive objects that exploit traditional anthropomorphic qualities associated with ceramics. Having pressed the question of the utility of his own art in a post-industrial world, his work engages us in a dialogue about our own place in a radically shifting cultural universe. The result is that Saxe has become the most significant ceramic artist of his generation.” Rare among artists working clearly within ceramic traditions (as contrasted with artists like Anthony Caro who may use clay as a material in their practice), Saxe receives critical comment and review in articles by writers in art journals and other publications that regularly exclude artists working in craft media. Peter Schjeldahl, poet, and art critic for The New Yorker, has written that “Saxe is a virtuoso in sharp focus and at a screaming pitch, nothing if not overbearing. His fantastically ornate vessels, their academic orders exaggerated, are spectacularly skilled, harshly jokey, and show-off erudite. Saxe’s ceramics are engines of simultaneous seduction and insult. This work that can be neither resisted nor succumbed to is a sort of materialized, exploded history and philosophy of ceramics, putting into play disparate lore and analysis of the medium. Saxe makes of the collectibles trade an improbable site of reflection on civilization and its discontents.” And, “I get the same relaxing feeling from his work that I have from the very best work in any field: of being in good hands, and of those hands being entirely visible, all cards on the table.” Saxe’s early work was primarily concerned with site-specific sculpture that employed large arrays of modular ceramic elements on the walls (and sometimes the floor) that affected and distorted perceptual readings of the space they occupied. These works also explored systematic development of formal compositions. Some of these pieces were exhibited in the early 1970’s at the (now defunct) Pasadena Museum of Modern Art, as well as at the Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo, and the Museum of Modern Art, Kyoto. Saxe has made pottery since the early 1970’s. When he began exhibiting in France in the 1980’s, and was an artist in residence for six-months at the Manufacture national de Sevres, his work was characterized by the French as sculpture whose subject was pottery. He has worked with the ceramic vessel because he saw a unique opportunity to deal with challenging and complex social and cultural content in a format that was utterly appealing and accessible to a broad audience. Since the early 1980’s, Saxe has sought to reinvent, and bring up-to-date, a role for ceramic art that employs decorative art conventions to mirror, comment upon, and redirect social and cultural expectations surrounding a number of topical themes. Saxe has had numerous solo shows at Garth Clark Gallery, New York, and at Frank Lloyd Gallery, Los Angeles. Other one-person exhibition venues have included the Everson Museum of Art, Syracuse, NY, Thomas Segal Gallery, Boston, the Gallery of Art at the University of Missouri, Kansas City, and The American Hand, Washington, D.C.. He participates in numerous national and international invitational exhibitions. His work has been seen in important museum exhibitions such as Going for Baroque at The Contemporary / Walters Art Gallery in Baltimore (18 artists including Jeff Koons, Derek Jarman, Andres Serrano, Bryan Hunt, Frank Stella, and Cindy Sherman, with catalog), and the large traveling survey Color and Fire: Defining Moments in Studio Ceramics, 1950-2000, (catalog), organized by Jo Lauria for the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). He was selected by Janet Mansfield, Editor of Ceramics: Art and Perception, as one of the ten most outstanding artists working in ceramics for the invitational exhibition, Artisti dal Mondo, May 1999 through January 2000, at il Museo Internazionale della Ceramiche in Faenza, Italy. Saxe was commissioned to create a major work for the first exhibition of contemporary art at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles. The exhibition, Departures: 11 Artists at the Getty, included artists John Baldessari, Lari Pittman, Stephen Prina, and others. It was on view from late February through May 2000. The artists were commissioned to create a work in response to the permanent collection. Saxe made a large installation of seven large porcelain and stoneware sculptures presented on 18th century French Rococo gilded furnishings from the Getty’s collection. The piece was presented in an articulated architectural setting built specifically for the exhibition. A catalog of the exhibition is available. Saxe’s work was the subject of a major mid-career survey organized by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in 1993-94. The exhibition traveled to the Museum of Contemporary Art in Shigaraki, Japan, and to the Newark Museum of Art. The Clay Art of Adrian Saxe, published in association with this exhibition by Thames and Hudson and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art includes essays by Martha Drexler Lynn, curator of the exhibition, and Jim Collins of Notre Dame University. This 160 page hard-cover book contains 164 illustrations, 64 color, in addition to an extensive annotated checklist explicating the development and specific undertaking of individual works included in the exhibition.
Saxe fixes his objects with the witty rejoinder, indirectly refiguring objective purpose to warp the viewer’s or user’s perspective on why tradition might endure. “Ewer (Clear Face Gothic Extra Bold Ampersand)” is from a series that finds the silhouettes of a teapot in typeset, the reflection of form a dry observation on object emphasis in typographic iconography, and a continuation of Saxe’s skill for perfect craft in unexpected and asymmetrical structures. The sharp geometric angles of Clear Face Extra Bold offer a particularly opposing force to the gentle curvature and classically decorative styling of the pot’s handle and spout, the diagonal structure of the ampersand body fusing with the texture of the porcelain but bluntly refusing its form — making the signature “cactus” lid look even more displaced.
Saxe fixes a sharp wit into his series’ of ceramic vessels, gently undermining their functionality whilst refining their sense of craft. ‘Untitled Mystery Ewer (Priscilla)’, like many of Saxe’s pieces, raises itself as a clashing of old and new. Figuratively traditional, the folky, milk-maid-like rendering of the female form is cut with a faint, indismissable contemporariness in its realisation. The subtle metallic finish and affixed gemstones applied across the teapot present a calculated reflection on post-modern vulgarity masqueraded as neoclassicism, the application of the teapot itself also hijacked as a further, brusque psycho-sexual disruption.