Renegade Humor

Melt by Walter Robinson

My trip to San José to see Mexicanismo also meant that I could take in the Renegade Humor exhibition. It’s a spottier exhibition consisting of some pieces which I really reacted to and others which didn’t grab me much. But that’s to be somewhat expected from a bunch of work which is expected to be earthier and flippant. Flippancy doesn’t always age well.

Those pieces I reacted to though I tended to really like. I have a wry sense of humor which appreciates the obscure and the dark.* There’s definitely a lot of that here. Some of the newer pieces such as Walter Robinson’s Melt, or Brian Goggin’s Desire for the Other are especially interesting in this regard as they use dark humor to comment on the state of things today. Those two pieces are also the two most visible in the exhibition.

*Yet another reason I enjoyed Mexicanismo.

David Gilhooly
#10 Sampler by David Gilhooly

The most interesting part of the exhibition for me though was getting a better appreciation for Robert Arneson as I only just realized how non-functional ceramics are still fighting to be included as real art. They’ve been around as long as I’ve been alive but I still find myself not really reacting to most ceramic sculptures.* It’s nice to be made aware of my blinders. I may not dismiss ceramics as “not art” but I’m motivated now to think about why I react the way I do.

*I do react well to pottery, stoneware and other functional stuff.

Some of my reaction is due to the fact that most of the non-functional ceramic art I’ve seen is in the context of student or community center art. A lot of it is based on how museums still aren’t sure how they fit in with other pieces. It’s definitely still an emerging medium which makes photography* look like the establishment.

*Photography is still in a weird position in the museum and we’re still seeing confusion about what kind of photography is art.

If you want to get in on an art medium at the ground floor, consider this a recommendation to embrace non-functional ceramics. They’re not cool yet. And you’ll be able to make jokes about David Gilhooly chocolate frogs the next time you read Harry Potter.

Author: Nick Vossbrink

Blogging about Photography, Museums, Printing, and Baseball Cards from both Princeton New Jersey and the San Francisco Bay Area. On Twitter as @vossbrink, WordPress at, and the web at

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