Sunday, June 8, 2014

Gehry's Pods, Ohr's Pottery

We arrived in Biloxi with the expectation of finding an antebellum flavor to the architecture and the culture of the city. Driving along Beach Boulevard we had that expectation jolted to its core when we viewed the buildings that make up the campus of the Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art.
We continue our tour begun in yesterday’s entry of the buildings with a walk around the “Pods.” Architect Frank Gehry’s towering, twisted stainless steel hulls jutting from the ground are in stark architectural contrast to the bright, blinking attractions along the Boulevard's casino row.

The entire system employs a micro pile foundation system intended to minimize impact on the root systems of the live oak trees.
The grove of three dozen trees around the museum was reduced by half following Katrina’s destructive onslaught. But fortunately, Gehry’s design objective of having the pods “dance among the live oaks” can still be observed.
From some angles, the pods take on the form of sails under a full wind; other times they appear to be seeds—very large seeds.
Each of the four pods will eventually hold 30-40 of George Ohr’s pottery creations, but the collection when we visited the Museum was keeping company with exhibits in the Gallery of African American Art. Altogether, the museum owns about 200 of Ohr's works.
Artistic designs created by natural lighting in the Gallery of African American Art

“Ohr (1857-1918) called himself the ‘greatest art potter on earth.’ And who is to say he wasn’t. He lured Gulf Coast tourists with silly souvenirs such as dribble cups and tiny rustic cabins, but he also won at least one prestigious award, a silver medal at the 1904 Louisiana Purchase International Exposition (better known as the St. Louis world’s fair).
Bowl, c. 1895, 4-1/2" x 6-1/2"

“But Ohr’s ground-breaking work wasn’t widely appreciated in his time. In fact, the Mad Potter might have drifted into obscurity had he not packed up crates of his creations in 1910 like an artistic time capsule. An antiques dealer purchased the trove of Ohr’s preserved pots in the early 1970s, a half century after the potter’s death, and they quickly became an art world phenomenon.
Face Vase, c. 1895, 7-1/2" x 6"

“To modern eyes, Ohr was a visionary. He seems to have been obsessed with stretching clay to its physical limits. In the making of cups, pots and other vessels, he squeezed the spinning clay walls to seashell thinness. The three pairs of images below show examples of this thinness.
Biloxi Lighthouse Pot, c. 1895, 9-1/4" x 8-1/2"


Vase with Cloverleaf Rim, c. 1895, 7-3/8" x 4-1/2"


Footed Vase, c. 1900, Height: 7-1/2"

“And no one had seen anything like them. As museum director Denny Mecham succinctly put it, the Mad Potter’s art was ‘not within the aesthetic vocabulary’ of his time.
Grapevine Pitcher, c. 1897, Height: 10-3/4"

It was a magical coincidence that Ohr’s pots were rediscovered in an era when it was fashionable for avant-garde artists to test the limits and encourage the self-determination of art-making materials much like Ohr had. It’s a further coincidence that it was the same era that saw Canadian-born Gehry begin his climb toward architectural superstardom—an ascent that was fueled by his Ohr-like eagerness to work beyond the aesthetic vocabulary of the late modern era.

“The combination of Frank Gehry and George Ohr is a perfect match. They both pushed the limits of what's expected in their fields," Meacham said. "All good art creates discussion."

The extent of Ohr’s push will be shown in tomorrow’s entry.

The quoted information is from Doug MacCash, The Times-Picayune, November 5, 2010 (nola.com/arts/ index.ssf/2010/11/the_ohr-okeefe_museum_designed)