Demonically grinning heads star in the first New York show of American ceramicist Kirk Mangus (1952-2013). The works draw from East Asian traditions, in both technique and form, though the carnivalesque results are anything but traditional. Green Guardian, a snarling head, as well as nearby cohorts Kat and Pearl (all 2008), are laugh-out-loud funny; convention would suggest that they represent gods, but they look more like portraits of friends. The selection of ceramics and drawings from the last thirty years of Mangus’s life possess the slapdash, lighthearted touch of folk art, but the artist was no outsider. Raised by parents involved with the American Studio Craft Movement in the 1920s and ’30s, he became a master ceramicist and taught at Kent State University in Ohio for decades.
A row of smaller pieces—misshapen bowls, vases, and baskets from the eighties and nineties—combine Asian and Classical influences. Bunny Love Amphora (1992), for instance, riffs on the ancient vessel, with leering skulls and peeking faces amid a border of laurel leaves. The frenetic ink drawings included in the show evoke comics and Japanese woodblock prints. Like Ken Price, Mangus sometimes depicts his sculptures in his drawings, bringing his charming imagery full circle. —Julia Wolkoff
Pictured: Kirk Mangus: Golden Child, 2009, glazed earthenware, 9¼ by 5 by 5 inches. Courtesy James Cohan, New York.