Installation view, Ruth Duckworth, “She’s Clay,” 2021. Courtesy of the Estate of Ruth Duckworth and Salon 94, New York.  (Photo: Dan Bradica).

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Salon 94 presents “She’s Clay, a collection of works by modernist sculptor Ruth Duckworth at its magnificently elegant space on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. Ruth Duckworth, whose career spanned six decades, was one of the very few artists who used clay as a medium for sculpture in the late 20th century;  this latest collection showcases her most significant works in that material. 

WHAT: She’s Clay, Estate of Ruth Duckworth

WHEN: Through Aug. 27th. The gallery is open Tue.—Fri. from 11 a.m.—6 p.m.

WHERE: Salon 94, 3 East 89th Street, NYC

Installation view, Ruth Duckworth, “She’s Clay,” 2021. Courtesy of the Estate of Ruth Duckworth and Salon 94, New York. (Photo: Dan Bradica).

A Jew born in Germany, Duckworth left the country in 1936 to study sculpture in London. She relocated to the United States at the invitation of the University of Chicago in 1964, where she taught ceramics. The artist spent the following four decades in Chicago, creating small-scale geomorphic sculptures as well as monumental ceramic murals commissioned by various institutions (UChicago and the Dresdner Bank, among others). 

Ruth Duckworth, Untitled, 2009. Painted porcelain, 26 x 16 x 12 1/2 inches (66 x 40.6 x 31.8 cm). (Photo: Jonathan De Cola).

Her work, influenced by great modernist sculptors, such as Henry Moore, Isamu Noguchi, and Constantine Brancusi, morphs natural forms into abstract sculpture. Many of the works convey relationships and similarities between human and animal psyches. For instance, one of the pieces features the legs of a bird, perhaps a crow, resting on a convex platform that appears to be attached to a human body. A similar piece features a headless figure wearing a short but heavy white winter coat with only the legs and feet visible cast in black porcelain standing on a black rock. Duckworth created her versions of man-made objects as well, one such work, for example, resembles a small hammer with earthly toned mauve and yellow colors encompassing the bottom half of the handle and the face of the hammer.

Ruth Duckworth, Self-Portrait, circa 1950. Hopton Wood Stone, 15 x 10 x 8 1/2 inches (38.1 x 25.4 x 21.6 cm). (Photo: Dan Bradica).

The most captivating work in the show is her self-portrait — a  bust carved from stone, which, in contrast to traditional bust sculptures, features the artist’s arms folded under her exposed breasts; its style bringing to mind the life-sized sphinx by Kara Walker that was on view in 2014 in the former Domino Sugar factory in Brooklyn, NY. 

Ruth Duckworth, Untitled (Mama Pot), 2009. Hand-built stoneware, oxide colors, reduction fired 17 1/2 x 16 x 20 inches (44.5 x 40.6 x 50.8 cm). (Photo: Dan Bradica).

Duckworth’s stoneware works on view, all informally titled “Mama Pot,” are pretty down to Earth with the rusty brown color given off by fired clay. As the name suggests, these works are deep, round, sturdy structures securing whatever its contents might be, resembling a motherly nurturing embrace. By contrast, another stoneware piece suggests the idea of something separated by a natural force such as an earthquake. A round block of glazed stoneware is split into two parts right down the middle revealing an anatomical structure that was binding them together.

Ruth Duckworth, Untitled, 1994. Porcelain. 4 1/2 x 6 1/2 x 4 inches (11.4 x 16.5 x 10.2 cm).(Photo: Jonathan De Cola).

Reminiscent of nature is also a porcelain leaf sculpture with a curved stem: a large semi-circle representing the leaf made to look realistic with microscopic specks. Similarly, a 2-foot tall piece depicting a tree or a plant coming out of a flower pot features three wavy curved shapes on top representing leaves. One of Duckworth’s less geomorphic pieces, a porcelain piece with its two semi-circle structures facing each other and two thin lines in the center of each half lined up as though forming a kiss, reminded me of Brancusi’s “The Kiss”