Contemporary clay artists make a smooth landing at Rough Point


If you haven't been to Rough Point, Doris Duke's Bellevue Avenue estate, this year (or ever), make a plan now to visit before November 8—you'll be glad you did.

Duke was a renowned collector of decorative and fine arts from around the world, and her collection of ceramics is extensive. While some—including many of the rare Asian pieces she purchased for Rough Point in the 1970's—are on display throughout the home, much of the collection has long been out of the public eye.

"Fired & Inspired," a ceramics exhibit that put many more of Duke's  pieces on display, has been open much of the year, and is slated to close when the house closes for the winter, on November 8.

Though remarkable, Duke's collection has taken on a bit of a supporting role in this exciting exhibit.

Over a year in the making, "Fired & Inspired" is guest-curated by Warren artist Allison Newsome. Drawing on her contacts in the art world, she reached out to several diverse artists whose work she admired and invited them to Rough Point to experience the space and propose sculptures designed for particular places throughout the home.

Thus inspired (and locations vetted by Newsome) the artworks were fired in the six months prior to being installed at Rough Point in January.

The creation and exhibition of site-specific artwork is a fairly new trend, one that has been going on around the world in recent years, and this exhibition that incorporates contemporary art is the first of its kind at Rough Point.

"There were not a lot of rules," says Newsome, referring to the directive given the artists. "Just no new holes in the walls," says Rough Point curator Kristen Costa, with a laugh. "No damage to the permanent collection."

"I'm so thankful Rough Point allowed this to happen," adds Newsome. The admiration—and benefit—flows both ways. The artists get their inspiration from the permanent collection, while the contemporary works enable visitors to view the house and its collection in a new light, whether it's your first visit or you are intimately familiar the the estate. By placing the artwork in the site from which it was conceived, the work gives visitors a new context for interpreting the house’s collection, as well as the way they perceive a historic space's interior and exterior.

"The house doesn't really change," says Costa. "This exhibit makes you view it differently."

The seven contemporary clay artists chosen by Newsome range from an up-and-coming young man with a formidable artistic pedigree to a well-established artist who has been named one of the top 10 to watch in the world.

Among the most striking works is "Beasts" by Zhu Yang, in which a digital projection of the changing seasons is projected on two white ceramic "beasts", a contemporary interpretation of the painted ceramics  for which his home in China is known.

Warren Mather focused on Rough Point as it might have been experienced by Duke's beloved dogs, and his ceramic murals were taken from what would have been their point of view.

Judit Kollo's chandelier, inspired by Duke's love of orchids, particularly her eponymous 'ophalaenopsis' Doris orchid, continually opens and closes in a super-slow movement evocative of a blooming flower.

Some of their works, at first glance, blend seamlessly into the space, while others bring a different quality to the table, whether playing off a horizon line or pulling in design elements and mixing them up in some new and unexpected way. It's just as Newsome intended. "I like gutsy work that confronts the visitor in some way," she says. "Having a negative reaction is as important as having a positive one. It's just another way of looking at and thinking about art."

The summer crowds have quit Newport, and there are still 3 weekends remaining to catch "Fired and Inspired" at Rough Point, 680 Bellevue Avenue. It's open Tuesday through Sunday, with the first tour beginning at 10 a.m. and the last at 3:45 p.m. Adults are $25; children 12 and under are free. For more information visit or call 401/849-7300.


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