In Pictures: The Museum of Arts and Design’s ‘Funk You Too!’ Exhibition Traces the Irreverent Roots of the Contemporary Clay Craze

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The new show “Funk You Too! Humor and Irreverence in Ceramic Sculpture,” at New York’s Museum of Arts and Design (MAD), articulates the links between groups of artists working in a once-neglected, now-valorized medium. It unites artists from the Funk generation, an anti-establishment movement that emerged on the West Coast in the 1960s, with artists carrying on their subversive spirit in clay today.

Comprising some 50 artworks, the show “arrives at a moment when clay as a sculptural medium is receiving unprecedented attention from the art world,” said Elissa Auther, MAD’s deputy director of curatorial affairs and chief curator, in a press release. “Taking advantage of MAD’s significant collection of historical Funk ceramics, ‘Funk You Too!’ examines the critical contexts that gave rise to the prominence of humor in ceramic sculpture and advocates for the ongoing relevance of Funk ceramics to a new generation of artists.” 

Artists of the Funk generation from the 1960s to the 1980s, such as “father of Funk art” Robert Arneson, Viola Frey, and Patti Warashina, are juxtaposed with up-and-coming younger artists who also express humor in clay. The younger figures include Genesis Belanger (the subject of a recent New Museum exhibition), Ruby Neri (lately highlighted in the New York Times’ T Magazine), and Woody De Othello (who had a breakout moment at Art Basel Miami Beach a few years back).

Alake Shilling, Baby Bear Loves Alake (2021). Courtesy of the Museum of Arts and Design.

While the original Funk artists toiled in a medium that was relegated to craft status, clay today is on a much more equal footing with other media. Ceramic artists such as Betty Woodman, Ron Nagle, and Ken Price are enjoying museum retrospectives and buzzy markets, as the rigid boundaries between art and craft have become more porous, if not entirely eliminated.

“Many of the contemporary artists in the exhibition have attracted widespread critical attention,” said Angelik Vizcarrondo-Laboy, independent curator, writer, and curator of the exhibition, in a press release. “Yet, their work has rarely been contextualized in relation to the history of ceramics, craft and the broader history of Funk art.”

“Funk You Too! Humor and Irreverence in Ceramic Sculpture” is on view at the Museum of Arts and Design, New York, through August 27. See more images below.

Genesis Belanger, You Never Know What You’re Gonna Get (2021). Photo: Jenna Bascom, courtesy of the Museum of Arts and Design.

Diana Yesenia Alvarado, Lista Para Volar (2022). Courtesy of the Museum of Arts and Design.

Installation view of “Funk You Too! Humor and Irreverence in Ceramic Sculpture” at the Museum of Arts and Design, New York. Photo: Jenna Bascom, courtesy of the Museum of Arts and Design.

Viola Frey, Group Series: Questioning Woman 1 (1988). Courtesy of the Museum of Arts and Design.

Patti Warashina, Pitter-Podder (1968). Courtesy of the Museum of Arts and Design.

Installation view of “Funk You Too! Humor and Irreverence in Ceramic Sculpture” at the Museum of Arts and Design, New York. Photo: Jenna Bascom, courtesy of the Museum of Arts and Design.

David Gilhooly, Bread Frog as a Coffee Break (1981–82). Courtesy of the Museum of Arts and Design.

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