The Museum of Arts and Design presents Coille Hooven: Tell It By Heart, the artist’s first solo exhibition in over two decades and her first-ever solo museum exhibition in New York. The exhibition spans more than 30 years of Hooven’s 50-year career working in porcelain to create psychologically charged sculpture that explores domestic-centered narratives. One of the first ceramists to bring feminist content to clay, Hooven uses porcelain to honor the history of women’s work, confront gender inequality, and depict the pleasure, fears, and failures of partnering and parenting.
“For Coille, the raw clay becomes a manifestation of the unconscious out of which she coaxes characters, objects, and vignettes with a tender urgency,” said MAD's William and Mildred Lasdon Chief Curator Shannon R. Stratton. “Mining fairy tales, fables, myths, and religious parables, Hooven often takes universal symbols—everything from Eve to a security pillow—and recasts them into a personal and feminist narrative. Coille’s delicate, diminutive work boldly embraces a subject and style historically marginalized in art for being too personal, trivial, or even vulgar.”
“I liken my work to dream interpretation,” explained Hooven. “It is both literal and symbolic, intended to invoke a feeling that lingers. The shoe is a shoe, but also it is an animal, a vehicle, and a stage for the play within.”
Hooven’s 55 sculptures on view range from teapots and vessels to figurative busts and dioramas, and they mine the domestic psyche to produce vignettes that resonate with familiarity despite an undisguised use of the fantastical. Developing her own vocabulary of archetypes, she regularly revisits certain creatures and forms: a domestic palette of aprons, pillows, shoes, and pies, as well as a cast of characters that includes mermaids, fish, snakes, and anthropomorphic beasts that appear part-dog, part-horse, and part-human. While these creatures may appear familiar and amiable at first, tension lurks underneath. Inspired by Jungian psychology, Hooven’s sculptures conjure a vision of the unconscious—both the joy and buoyancy of dreams, as well as the discomfort and despair of anxiety and doubt.
Coille Hooven studied at the University of Illinois under David Shaner and graduated in 1962. That same year, at the age of 23, Hooven submitted a piece to the Museum of Arts and Design (then the Museum of Contemporary Crafts) for the Young Americans exhibition. From there, she built up the ceramics program at the Maryland Institute College of Art before moving west to Berkeley, California, with her two small children. At the time, Berkeley was the stronghold for experimental work in clay, and Hooven joined an artistic community that included Peter Voulkos and Robert Arneson. Unlike many of her peers, Hooven worked independently of academia and made a maverick career in California as both a studio potter, designing and making functional wares, and an artist working in porcelain sculpture to create the figurative work on display in Coille Hooven: Tell It By Heart. In 1979, Hooven became the second woman to be in residence at the Kohler Co. plant in Kohler, Wisconsin, as part of its renowned Arts/Industry residency program.
Coille Hooven: Tell It By Heart is part of MAD Transformations, a series of six exhibitions presented this fall that address artists who have transformed and continue to transform our perceptions of traditional craft mediums. Building upon the exhibition Voulkos: The Breakthrough Years, which celebrates the work of an artist known for drastically changing the way clay is categorized as an art material and as a discipline, the MAD Transformations exhibitions consider fiber, clay, and jewelry and metals—disciplines (along with glass and wood) that form the bedrock of the Museum of Arts and Design’s founding mission and collection, and that continue to morph in the hands of contemporary artists today.