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Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Villa Terrace's Fully 'Formed' Exhibit

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Pink satin-lined drawers remain open in the refurbished dressing room of Agnes Smith's landmark Milwaukee home, Villa Terrace. Inside are feminine instruments and human organs made from clinical white porcelain, several with touches of pink glaze. The delicate ceramics, titled Fictilus Organum,are part of the exhibition "Formed: Karen Gunderman and Linda Wervey Vitamvas" at the Villa Terrace Decorative Arts Museum.

Gunderman, a UW-Milwaukee art professor, and Wervey Vitamvas, Gunderman's award-winning former student, collaborate on ceramic pieces inspired by anatomical, biological, sexual and scientific perspectives. Wervey Vitamvas' artwork, with its sparse, smooth and often matte white glazing, appears on the gallery's pedestals, juxtaposing the intricate, glossy, verdant wall sculptures by Gunderman. The works create a serene ambiance throughout the gallery.

Gunderman's matte ivory Tangle is a three-dimensional form with a celadon green, calla-lily-shaped vessel at the top. The sculpture, which could represent the human heart with a large aorta, hangs above the fireplace mantel—the heart of the room. After you observe Tangle's highly textured surface, enter into the adjacent dressing closet, where a glass cabinet holds ceramic condoms and diaphragms covered in floral blue-and-white decorations, similar to hand-painted Ming porcelain. The instruments almost become unrecognizable when exhibited as precious art.

Turning these organs and instruments into aesthetic forms elevates the exhibit, be it through Vitamvas' organic porcelains or Gunderman's full wall suite titled Espalier, which features ceramic trellises textured with buds, seed pods, snails and worms in a tightly controlled botanical maze.

Through art, human hands can create beauty that speaks to life's multiplicity of forms, from the microscopic to the macroscopic, the masculine to the feminine. Gunderman and Vitamvas celebrate these concepts while enticing viewers to consider the nature of existence and its related sciences. ("Formed" continues through May 15.)
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