January 30, 2023

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The Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art at Auburn University was the first American museum to present a solo exhibition by Masaomi Yasunaga, a Japanese artist known for his experimental forms, when it hosted the spring semester opened.

In Holding Close is on view at the Museum’s Grand Gallery and Fuller E. Calloway Box through Sunday, May 7. Objects made in the South, including more functional ceramics, are juxtaposed with his work and exhibited simultaneously at the Noel and Kathryn Wadsworth Dickinson Gallery and the Chi-Omega-Hargis Gallery. Museum administrators planned both of these engagements around the Alabama Clay Conference, which will be held in Auburn for the first time in its 38-year history. Entry to the museum is free.

Yasunaga is a second-generation student of Sodeisha, a post-war avant-garde movement. The artist’s conceptual approach and technique differ from Eastern ceramic traditions. Translated to “Crawling through Mud Association”, the style contradicts simple forms used in everyday Japanese life.

Instead of building structures out of clay, Yasunaga works with glazes, earth and other raw materials and coats them with layers of sand or clay for firing. Once the mold has cooled, he unearths the remains of the vessel, thereby questioning what is known about sculptural pottery and the concepts of the time.

The accompanying exhibition of objects from the collection and loans, on the other hand, is devoted to more traditional forms and techniques. Pottery and stoneware are as distinctive as Alabama’s red clay and play a significant role in Southern culture. The more than 40 works in “Clay Body – Pottery and Stoneware of the Southeast” come from the university’s art collection and private lenders, some of whom are alumni. Despite their simplicity, advanced skill is evident.

The creativity of the makers elevates functional objects and sheds light on the state and its people for more than 200 years.

“As an academic museum, The Jule serves university audiences and the people of Alabama through education and outreach,” said Cindi Malinick, executive director. “When conference organizers named Auburn to host the nationwide event, we recognized the opportunity to teach with art objects to showcase a variety of styles and treatments that reflect a wider range of what is possible through this medium.”

Malinick added that in addition to art and design, the exhibition also appeals to students from other disciplines, such as geology, chemistry and history.

Located on the Auburn campus, the Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art is the cultural heart of an Alabama public research institution serving students, faculty and citizens of the Southeast. The university’s art collection spans works from the 17th to the 21st centuries and includes photographs, works on paper depicting the South, ceramics and visionary art of the South. Accredited by the American Alliance of Museums, the museum will celebrate its 20th anniversary in August 2023. Visit the museum’s website for more information.

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