Abstract, bulbous and bizarrely beautiful, Annabeth Rosen’s sculptures have challenged the norms of ceramic art and, perhaps, the laws of gravity as well, over the decades, with their unconventionally crafted, precariously balanced assemblages of bits and blobs.
Curated by Valerie Cassel Oliver, “Annabeth Rosen: Fired, Broken, Gathered, Heaped,” continuing through Jan. 19 at the Contemporary Jewish Museum, contains more than 120 sculptures and works on paper created over two decades by the Brooklyn-born, Northern California-based artist whose honors include a 2018 Guggenheim Fellowship and whose work is in collections of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and Oakland Museum of California.
Rosen, whose influences include earlier-generation female sculptors such as Lynda Benglis and Eva Hesse, is an intensely hands-on artist whose process involves additive methods and combinations of purpose and accident.
She rescues misfires from the kiln and, reassembling, re-firing and re-glazing them, turns failed items into new art. Bucking ceramics-art convention, Rosen combines wet, fresh clay with already fired clay components. Her individual sculptures often contain dozens of ceramic pieces.
“I break almost as much ceramics as I make, and I think I learn as much about the work by doing so,” Rosen, who teaches at the University of California, Davis, where she holds the Robert Arneson Endowed Chair in Ceramic Sculpture, has said.
Her sculptures contain black, white, green and reddish tones. Her forms resemble human organs, jugs and vessels, and shells and bones. Her expressively applied glazes bring to mind everything from lava and sludge to chocolate sauce.
The earliest works in the exhibition, dating from the mid-1990s, include plate and tile-based pieces that reflect Rosen’s traditional training and interest in nature. Flora, birds, cycles of life and decay are referenced. Stacked sandwich-style, as in “Sample” (1999), her tile pieces suggest layers of the earth.
Also are on view are “mashup” and bundled constructions, created from 2005 until about 2015. Separate ingredients are bound together with wire or rubber strips in these works.
“Untitled #100 (Twig)” (2005-06) contains fired ceramic tubular forms resembling tree branches.
Larger mashups feature bunches of forms mounted on creatively conceived armatures, like wheeled carts. Piled high with biomorphic-looking objects that appear barely held in place, these assemblages seem ready to topple. Rosen generates tension from such appearances of instability.
A few years ago, Rosen began making moundlike sculptures — smaller works resembling tilting haystacks, rocky cliffs and melting snowmen. Particularly striking is the entertainingly titled “Boogaloo” (2015), a fired black-and-white ceramic mass with cracked glaze and a primordial look.
On the walls surrounding the sculpture displays are large-scale drawings and paintings on paper, some created as sketches for her clay pieces and some stand-alones. Like her sculptures, these two-dimensional works, which include the dynamic “Tube II” (2012), reflect an interest in painterly gesture.
IF YOU GO
Annabeth Rosen: Fired, Broken, Gathered, Heaped
Where: Contemporary Jewish Museum, 736 Mission St., S.F.
When: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily except through 8 p.m. Thursdays and closed Wednesdays; through Jan. 19
Tickets: $12 to $14; free for 18 and younger
Contact: (415) 655-7800, www.thecjm.org