Critics’ Picks

Bettina Samson, Ann Lee, 2019, glazed stoneware ceramic, 20 x 17 7/10 x 27 1/2".

Bettina Samson, Ann Lee, 2019, glazed stoneware ceramic, 20 x 17 7/10 x 27 1/2".


Bettina Samson

Galerie Sultana
10 rue Ramponeau
September 5–October 5, 2019

For her latest exhibition, “Hinkum Looby,” Bettina Samson debuts four sculptures made this year and inspired by the Shakers—that New England sect known as much for their ecstatic, church-rocking worship as for their minimalist furniture. These dual legacies live on in Samson’s stoneware objects: rough, twisty things perched on austere pine boxes and christened after various believers, from Ann Lee—a name familiar to anyone who’s seen Dan Graham’s Rock My Religion, 1983–84—to Emily Babcock, who the press release tells us was an “instrument” who received a “gift” from the spirits (the show’s title derives from a trance-making alternative to “The Hokey Pokey”). Such backstories imbue each form with a distinct personality, as do the fruity glazes into which the sculptures’ tops and bottoms appear to have been dipped.

The modernist influence on these protean, biomorphic shapes is obvious, yet they also recall at times the bathers in Picasso’s paintings, Jacques Lipchitz’s “transparent” sculptures, or Sergei Eisenstein’s drawings from Mexico. In other moments, they seem plantlike, or even visceral. Whether rounded or angular, smooth or granular, they are predominated by a sense of movement as convulsing as the contortions of the Shakers’ bodies during ritual. This is conveyed both by the varied “faces” of the sculptures and the manipulation of the material, which revels in the artist’s aleatory process, as if to say: These dancers are forged as much by fire as they are by faith.

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.