A cracked jar with classic Asian designs inside. A long-legged rabbit with an evil eye that looks ready to spring. These aren’t your grandmother’s china plates. Contemporary ceramics are often misunderstood or underappreciated.
Billings collectors Carol and John Green are hoping that displaying 11 of their unusual ceramic works at the Yellowstone Art Museum will stretch the imagination of visitors so they can appreciate artwork that goes beyond being functional ware. The works line the front hallway of the YAM and are part of the “Curious Finds ... Selections from Billings Private Collections’’ exhibit that is up through Jan. 10.
The Greens became interested in contemporary ceramic works after attending a lecture in 1994 at the Yellowstone Art Museum shortly after moving from California to Billings, which is Carol’s hometown. The talk on the Archie Bray Foundation for Ceramic Arts in Helena inspired them to visit the 15-acre Helena artist residency site. They have since become passionate collectors of works that have a tie to Bray resident artists or Bray’s founders Peter Voulkos and Rudy Autio.
“We don’t buy anything where we don’t know the artist or the artist’s work,’’ John said recently.
Carol added that the Archie Bray is known more on an international level than it is known around Montana. Voulkos is considered the abstract expressionist of clay and Autio’s work is admired throughout the world.
The “Pensive Hare,’’ on exhibit next to the front desk at the YAM, has become a highlight for school groups. It is a painted bronze work that looks ceramic. The piece by Beth Cavener Stichter is among a series of works that examine a moment of tension in feral animals. She uses human psychology to create animals that display human gestures and expressions.
YAM curator Robert Manchester said the hare can be startling because the eyes seem to follow you.
“It’s great when you go into the Green’s house because it sits on top of a shelf above the stairway and gives you that look,’’ Manchester said.
The Greens purchased the rabbit at a New York City gallery where they were pleasantly surprised to see works from the one-time Bray artist-in-residence.
Another piece in the YAM show is Steven Young Lee’s work “Escape,’’ a jar that exploded in the kiln that cleverly captures an Asian vessel with the imperfection of a big fracture and a peek at surprising images inside. Chelsea Greninger’s “Typewriter’’ with its jammed up keys overlapping one another is a curiosity for young visitors who have never seen a typewriter.
The exhibit also features works by Christina Antemann, Shay Church, Junya Shao, Frank Stella, John Utgaard, Eric Van Eimeren, Jason Walker and Betty Woodman.
“Stewardship of seminal works of ceramics and photography is our goal. We hope the works themselves will continue to inspire others long after we are gone,’’ the Greens wrote in a brochure for the show.