Five Bay Area ceramists who first exhibited locally 10 years ago have been reunited in an exhibition entitled "Ten Years Later" at Cal State Fullerton's Art Gallery (through March 8). As before, the work of Ed Blackburn, Tony Costanzo, Robert Rasmussen, John Roloff and Richard Shaw is defined by a multiform of styles and approaches, proving beyond doubt that ceramics has transcended the limitations of its origins (functionalism, the arts and crafts movement) and entered the realms of Post-Modern inquiry.
The problem is not so much the artists' exploitation of their medium, which is uniformly competent but their attempt to annex it to issues of serious aesthetic discourse. Here, one discovers a dated, hermetic approach that is indicative of the Bay Area as a whole; as if the whole region were enveloped in a time warp stuck in the mid-1970s.
Thus, Costanzo's ceramic wall sculptures, with their architectural references and juxtapositions of delicate earthenware with sturdy wood frameworks, appear as nostalgic revampings of an already outmoded Minimalist style. Similarly, Blackburn's patterned plates and buttressed slab structures draw upon the traditionalism of Mexican and Mimbres pottery, while Richard Shaw's whimsical trompe l'oeil renditions of books, lighthouses and "junk-funk" figures recall the wacky assemblage tradition of William T. Wiley.
Only Roloff and Rasmussen attempt to push ceramics into a more self-consciously pluralist territory, but they tend to be hamstrung by mythological and mystical concepts that make their medium seem more of a liability than creative catalyst. Thus Rasmussen's "Chicken" installation, with its womb-like chamber and references to archetypal life forces could just as easily have eschewed ceramics altogether, while Roloff's organic renditions of ghost ships and hulls appear to be mere models for larger, outdoor environmental works that focus on the kiln and conceptual process rather than the object itself. Given such retroactive historical references, perhaps the exhibit would have been more appropriately titled "Ten Years Earlier."