MOCC's Object Focus: The Bowl

The Museum of Contemporary Craft’s enjoyable exhibition focuses on the humble, everyday object.

By Randy Gragg July 1, 2013 Published in the July 2013 issue of Portland Monthly

Let us pause for a moment to reflect on the humble bowl—something we use almost daily but seldom acknowledge. Or we can just savor the more than 200 on view in the Museum of Contemporary Craft’s enjoyable Object Focus: The Bowl. The museum’s curator, Namita Gupta Wiggers, has collected everything from an ancient stone mortar to classics by the likes of Peter Voulkos and Lino Tagliapietra to a haunting blown-glass vessel by Korean artist Do-Ho Suh, the bottom of which is molded around a pair of hands.  Exhaustive? Not even close. 

For anyone who has kicked around area collections, it’s hard not to long for a few other known examples of exquisiteness in local hands (maybe a watertight Columbian Basin basket from Robert Pamplin or a Ming lacquer from Richard Brown). Yet there is plenty to ponder, primarily through juxtaposition—the subtler the differences, the more fun. For instance, the barely discernible nuances between Oregon artist Frank Boyden’s tiny, tumorous, wood-fired porcelain tea bowls versus the molten form of Japanese artist Inayoshi Osamu are less about style or technique than the individual artists’ relation to nature—one, animalistic; the other, cosmic. Or, say, the studied casualness of Japanese firm Torafu Architects’ colorful woven bowls versus local chef Nong Poonsukwattana’s tied-paper serving wrappers for her famed one-dish food-cart fare, khao man gai (which, stacked in their virginal, sauce-free state, resemble the work of Christo).

Of course, in these ever-interactive times, Wiggers and the museum are offering plenty of opportunities for visitors (both physical and virtual) to participate, from a Tumblr site ready for written meditations on the bowl and life to a library-style, take-a-bowl-home-for-a-week checkout. Or you can just visit, look, remember, and then, at some future time, daydream of all the ways you could be served your next order of noodles.

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