The functional ceramics showroom upstairs at the Radius Gallery has a catchy but unofficial name that helps it blend in with Missoula’s growth.
They call it “the Radius Potty Shop”, but at least not for the front desk clerks if they put such a name on Google.
For the opening, the featured lineup includes artists from Montana and a wide range of design and style.
The one thing that unites them all is a way of thinking about functional objects as artistic containers.
“One of the things that puts them on the side of art, even though they’re functional, is the identity of the artist,” said Lisa Simon, co-owner of the gallery. Objects draw attention to themselves, rather than blending in.
At one end, the cup wall covers a lot of ground in Montana, both in terms of territory and career stage. Not far from a young designer like Michael McCullough, you can see a piece by Josh DeWeese, who teaches at Montana State University and was director of the Archie Bray Foundation for the Ceramic Arts. His parents, Robert and Gennie DeWeese, helped establish a modern art movement in Montana.
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Among the cups, butter dishes, dishes and vases, there are a few surprises. Missoula artist Alison Reintjes has worked on a new form of furniture, the stool, which has the same geometric and color palette as her plates and cups. Clay as a medium for larger objects like these has spread over the past decade. For example, Casey Zablocki, who is based in Missoula, has made it his specialty.
The upstairs space was once occupied by Relic, a gallery that offered vintage art of all types, whether historically interesting and important or simply fascinating, unusual or rare. It was started by Tim Gordon, a nationally-based evaluation expert based in Missoula, and Brian Sippy. The latter purchased the property at 120 N. Higgins Ave. and built the new two-story building that Radius calls home. Relic is moving into the property being renovated next door, where it will have its own storefront.
This piece was cleared for the “pot store,” which has a skylight, plants, and earth tones to match the gallery’s longstanding slogan, “live with art.”
The gallery wants to highlight the importance of the art form in the art history of the state, so you can see several large-scale sculptures by Rudy Autio resting on pedestals. They are technically pots, Simon said, and also remind viewers of her place in the international ceramic world. A graduate of the University of Montana, he and Peter Voulkos helped build the reputation of the Archie Bray Foundation for Ceramic Arts in Helena.
He also “pushed through the wall” and started making sculptures, Simon said. These jars are a kind of “symbol of all those other handmade works that are artfully crafted, not just for function, but really to give the user a lot of artistic and aesthetic pleasure”.
Cups are also the most accessible pieces, in terms of price. Adrian Arleo, who is based in Bitterroot, doesn’t consider herself a potter, but she does make mugs – porcelain with intricately carved faces. Someone might not be able to buy one of his large sculptures, but a mug is a “mini-sculpture” you can drink red wine from, Simon said. University of Montana professor Julia Galloway is a “symbol of someone trying to maximize aesthetic experience through function,” Simon added. Her salt cups have a lid that works like a rattle. (Radius sold hundreds.)
The gallery as a whole calls April its “Ceramirama” month. In its other upstairs exhibition space, you can see “Make/Believe,” by Yeonsoo Kim, a South Korean artist who is now in residence at the Archie Bray. In the ceramics showroom, “North American Bounty” opens on April 15, expanding geographic reach to creators across the country. On April 22, the gallery is hosting its seventh annual Ceramics Invitational.
On April 29, they will return to pieces by Montanans, Rudy Autio, David Shaner and Frances Senska.
After the opening month, the space will showcase new, commercial-style works as it leaves the gallery.
Simon attributes some of the medium’s growing popularity to the pandemic, when people started looking for ways to enliven their living spaces.
“In a way, you have the spirit of the artist with you, this thing that has more life” than the manufactured goods, she said.