Kathy Butterly wins Smithsonian Contemporary Artist Award

The American sculptor Kathy Butterly has been announced as the winner of this year’s Smithsonian Art Museum’s Contemporary Artist Award.
Butterly, who is known for her quirky, colourful and abstract works of art, was described by the institution as “an inventive and independent sculptor whose works reflect the fading boundary between craft and contemporary art”.
Her brilliant, wacky and cartoonish creations are celebrated for their ability to communicate a multitude of conflicting messages. They are, at any given moment, funny, gruesome, lavish and provocative.
Hence, any typical engagement with one of the sculptures leaves the observer feeling as though they have been on a ghost train at a fair, where they’ve simultaneously felt at unease while laughing uncontrollably.
“The selection of Kathy Butterly for the 2012 Contemporary Artist Award provides inspiration and validation for the increasing number of artists today employing traditional craft practices in their work,” commented Joanna Marsh, the James Dicke curator of contemporary art at the Smithsonian.
It’s a bold choice then for the museum to bestow the artist with the $25,000 (approximately £15,636) award, but a good one. Butterly’s frank approach to sculpture has been refreshing, bringing new thinking to the art form.
She was chosen by a panel of five illustrious jurors, all of whom have extensive insight into contemporary art. This included Alma Ruiz, Ian Berry, Monica Amor, Irene Hoffman and James Nares.
“Butterly’s voluptuous ceramic objects explode traditional conceptions of earthenware art through careful manipulation of the medium, resulting in unconventional forms, colours and surfaces,” the panel explained in a statement.
“Her small, nuanced, labour-intensive sculptures are richly communicative and wildly imaginative. Each enigmatic work balances between humour and horror, seduction and repulsion, abstraction and figuration.”
Considered one of the most inventive sculptors of her generation, Butterly has previously revealed that she approaches all of her works in a very intuitive way, not knowing how the final piece will look until it is finished.
There are no sketches, no concrete ideas in her head, just impulse, blind rapport with clay, followed by one reaction after another. Once a sort of rhythm has been settled into, the idea, perhaps buried in her subconscious, will identify itself.
David Pagel, an art critic and professor who regularly writes for the Los Angeles Times, commented that Butterly “does for sculpture what digital technology does for information: pack so much into such small spaces that it’s impossible to reconcile an object’s literal dimensions with the kick it delivers”.
Butterly therefore stands alongside other contemporary sculptors including the late Ken Price, whose retrospective is currently showing at the Los Angeles Contemporary Museum, and Ron Nagle, famous for his petite, vibrant and playful pieces.
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