Critics’ Picks

Peter Shire, Scorpion (Black) Teapot, 1996–2013, ceramic and steel, 13 x 31 1/2 x 12".

Peter Shire, Scorpion (Black) Teapot, 1996–2013, ceramic and steel, 13 x 31 1/2 x 12".

Los Angeles

Peter Shire

MOCA Pacific Design Center
8687 Melrose Avenue
April 22–July 2, 2017

In an iconic 2001 essay by Jules Prown, the careful study of a teapot reveals the values of the Revolutionary War–era United States, a “symbol of the act of giving, of charity,” not to mention serving as “a structural metaphor for the female breast.” What would happen if we took Scorpion (Black) Teapot, 1996–2013, or any of Peter Shire’s many other teapots here, not only as evidence of an artistic repetition compulsion but as psychic condensations of our own cultural unconscious, soothing decanters for our postmodern hangover? The artist’s titles often index a modernist legacy, as in Early Bauhaus Teapot, 1975; Bauhaus Derrick Teapot, 1983; or Right Weld Chair, 2007, a play on the surname of De Stijl designer Gerrit Rietveld. And yet Shire’s works demonstrate a clowning fascination with surfaces, mimicry, and pastiche rather than a purist “truth to materials.” His investment in ceramics does not reveal clay’s earthy essence but rather exploits its plasticity. For Shire, the material can approximate anything: the iconic shape of kitschy cookies in Fortune Cookie Teapot, 1974; the sleek metal of Marianne Brandt’s own teapot in Hourglass Teapot, 1984; or an erotic, gravity-defying column of ceramic fruit, in Stacked Peaches Teapot, 2005.

This pantomime continues in his Memphis-style furniture, such as Harlequin Table, 1983, where white-on-black paint mimics a marble slab. In works throughout the show, such as the Obelisk Cabinet, 1981, or Right Weld Chair’s beachy gradient, a splatter paint of atomized colors makes a fetish of the object’s surface, encouraging the viewer to savor the exterior rather than investigate the core. Tirelessly translating graphic, abstract fantasies into sculptural reality, Shire’s works fly in the face of soft-spoken good taste and formal restraint, as if this were a world without precedent, convention, or oppression.