top of page

Jo Lauria

Betty Woodman:
Interrogating Form

Monday, March 14, 2022

2 PM via Zoom

Illusions of Domesticity Installation at David Kordansky Gallery, 2015, Courtesy of David Kordansky Gallery, Los Angeles, Photography by Jeff McLane.

Illusions of Domesticity Installation at David Kordansky Gallery, 2015, Courtesy of David Kordansky Gallery, Los Angeles, Photography by Jeff McLane.

A select group of artists can claim the territory of change-makers.  Their work charts a new direction that creates the unimagined path to new perceptions and insights.  Betty Woodman (1930-1981) belongs to this rarefied group.  This presentation will explore the arc of Betty's career and evaluate her contributions to ceramic art and her standing among prominent artists of the late 20th century.

Humble Beginnings: Betty's entrance onto the ceramic stage was typical for the era: after graduating from the School of American Craftsman, she taught pottery classes at various community centers in Boston. Marriage to George Woodman, a painter who had just received a faculty appointment at the University of Colorado, led to a move to Boulder in the mid-1950s.  Betty became a successful studio potter of functional forms for the next two decades and taught ceramics at the University of Colorado.  Along the way, son Charles and daughter Francesca were born.

Transformative Years: The breakthrough came in 1980 when Betty and George moved to New York City seeking "stimulation of the art world."  Betty began a lifelong interrogation of sculptural ceramic forms, especially the classical vase, and its potential as a conveyor of decorative information. This exploration is enhanced by extensive travel and study of the arts of other cultures and periods. Long summers spent working in her Tuscan studio at the family's farmhouse in Italy also informed her palette and encouraged an exuberant approach to pattern.

Experimentation to Recognition: Decades of intense "play" deconstructing and reframing the vase as sculptural object brought forth countless combinations: the single animated vase of imposing scale; vessels in pairs or groupings alluding to the figure; vessel as wall relief cavorting with architectural fragments; and vases staged within a setting of wall and floor paintings, anchored on shelves and pedestals, performing as both object and architecture. Galleries and museums responded to Betty's groundbreaking installations with exhibitions featuring her sculptural and painterly environments.  In 2006, Betty Woodman was the first living female artist to be given a one-person show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  The retrospective recognized the artist's lifelong pursuit of challenging the limitations and expanding the possibilities of her medium.

Jo Lauria is a Los Angeles-based curator, author, and educator who received her curatorial training at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.  She is a specialist in the fields of craft, design, and decorative arts. She has organized many museum-based surveys and national touring exhibitions, and has authored more than sixteen major publications in her field.

Lauria received the 2016 American Ceramic Circle Book Award for Ralph Bacerra: Exquisite Beauty.  She is currently the Adjunct Curator of the American Museum of Ceramic Art (Pomona, CA) and Mentor Faculty at Otis College of Art and Design (Los Angeles, CA). Forthcoming is the first comprehensive monograph on modernist architect William F. Cody, which she has coauthored with Catherine Cody and Dr. Don Choi (Monacelli Press, September 2021).


home page image:

Italian Vase by Betty Woodman (United States, 1930 – 2018). Glazed earthenware, circa 1982. 13 1⁄4 x 12 x 6 in. (33.7 x 30.5 x 15.3 cm).

Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of Dorothy and George Saxe


bottom of page