Sacred and Profane
Here at the gallery I’ve recently had the chance to take a closer look at a wonderful work by Adrian Saxe that I haven’t seen in quite some time. Sacred and Profane is a garniture from 1973, and was included in LACMA’s 1994 survey of Adrian’s work titled The Clay Art of Adrian Saxe.
These days, Adrian is known to many as an artist who combines technical mastery of his material with a whimsical interpretation of historical decorative arts traditions and a provocative sense of humor. It’s amazing to see how these qualities were present in his artistic practice over forty years ago, and that his work from that period still maintains its freshness and fun.
This garniture consists of twin vessels in porcelain, with incised and painted glaze decorations, as well as gold luster banding. Atop each vessel stands the figure of a girl, charmingly dressed in skirts and matching bonnet. The innocence and preciousness of these ladies is cunningly subverted however, as one sports devil’s horns while the other blows an enormous bubble with her pale pink chewing gum.
The title provides a natural question – which of these girls is sacred, and which profane? It’s also possible that Adrian is drawing an equivalence here between the two. This of course only opens the work up to more questions. If gum-chewing is analogous to devil’s horns, does the piece function as a playful indictment of gum or an illustration of the banality of horns?
It’s entirely likely that these questions will never be resolved, and they probably aren’t intended to be. Adrian often seeks to provoke as well as entertain his audience by mixing the academic with the irreverent.