Madonnas and Hand Warmers
For her latest solo show at P.P.O.W., Ann Agee has turned the interior of the gallery into a tchotchke shop. Two overlapping pale-wood tables display the goods: a crowd of ceramic shoes (not a pair among them), seemingly huddled together as if for warmth. "Madonnas and Hand Warmers" is the exhibition's title—to wit, footwear-shaped ceramics would be identified as hand warming devices in Renaissance-era Italy. The Madonnas, however, retain perennial recognizability across Agee's sculptural depictions of the figure: be it a kneeling Madonna, a vaguely Cubist Madonna, or even Dorothea Lange Madonna (2019), which renders Dorothea Lange's iconic photograph in neon orange-tinted porcelain.
Markings on many of these wares cheekily indicate their place of origin as the "Agee Manufacturing Company"—a pseudo-factory trademark that has long embellished Agee's work. But this playfulness veers into a questionable realm with the decision to write "Made in USA" in Chinese on the bottom of some of the "hand warmer" shoes, thereby appropriating the "Made in China" aesthetic associated with mass-produced consumer goods to contrast such items with the rarefied, hand-made ceramic pieces created within her studio.
Ann Agee, Reclining Nude Madonna, 2020. Earthenware, white slip, 9 x 13 3/4 x 8 1/2 inches.