Breaking Tradition: Contemporary Approaches to the Decorative Arts

4848 Main Street Houston, TX 77002

Breaking Tradition: Contemporary Approaches to the Decorative Arts features three artists—Sophie Glenn, Steven Young Lee, and Beth Lipman—who challenge the dominant cultural narratives of the decorative arts through unconventional furniture, porcelain, photography, and cast-metal pieces.

Historically, the decorative arts prize a strict hierarchy of material and technique set forth by a select group of arts professionals and collectors. HCCC Curator Kathryn Hall says the artists in this exhibition disrupt assumptions about the genre’s history, by making it relatable to a broader audience: “By recontextualizing traditional archetypes, patterns, and decorative motifs in a modern world, these three artists look critically at how they identify with these cultural artifacts.”

Furnituremaker Sophie Glenn challenges conventions of traditional fine furniture through her innovative use of material and technique. She creates trompe l’oeil pieces from metal that closely resemble historically revered archetypes often associated with fine woodworking. In Purple Reign (2019), she welds steel into the form of a Windsor-style bench, a common piece of wooden furniture with turned spindles that create the seatback. Glenn paints the steel and then rusts away its surface to give the appearance of a painted wooden bench that has worn over time.

First trained as a studio potter, Steven Young Lee throws beautifully proportioned Korean- and Chinese-style vessels that slump and bend during their first firing inside the kiln. In pieces like Gourd Vase with Bats and Clouds (2019), he paints deconstructed porcelain forms with his own interpretation of traditional decorative motifs that draw from popular culture. As a first-generation American, descended from Korean immigrants, Lee utilizes his work to address issues related to cultural heritage, identity, and a sense of belonging in the Eurocentric portrayal of this genre.

Beth Lipman references the rich visual language of the decorative arts in her installations, sculptures, and photography. In her Ephemera series (2010-2013), she replicates objects found in 17th-century, Dutch still-life paintings in glass form and later photographs these installations to capture a specific moment in time. The series draws strong parallels between the Dutch Golden Age and the current era of capitalism as a way of exposing the vanity that lies behind excessive wealth and materialism. She also explores the dissonance between civilization and the natural world through photography in the Alone and the Wilderness series (2014) and through cast-metal dioramas in her Distill series (2015).

Breaking Tradition: Contemporary Approaches to the Decorative Arts is curated by HCCC Curator Kathryn Hall and supported in part by a grant from the Furniture Society.

Image credit: Steven Young Lee, “Jar with Scroll Pattern,” 2017. Porcelain, cobalt inlay, glaze. 13 x 16 x 15 inches. Photo by the artist.

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