AD PRO - Donzella's Latest Ceramics Show Displays the Power of Collecting What You Love—and Exploring on Social Media

white ceramic vessel
A Roseanne Sniderman vessel on display at Donzella as part of "Clayforms."Photo: Courtesy of Donzella

Many great buyers of art and antiques will tell you that the supposed "secret" to their success is simple: Buy what you love. For Paul Donzella, who has been showing 20th century design at his eponymous Tribeca gallery since the 1990s, this has always been a driving factor, but the gallery's latest show, Clayforms (which opened last night), is a prime example of this attitude.

The show, which takes over the front space of Donzella's massive White Street gallery, shows ceramic work by David Haskell, Lucien Petit, and Rosanne Sniderman. Two of these artists—Haskell and Sniderman—are longtime friends of Donzella's, and his close relationships with the two of them are to thank for the unique pieces they've contributed to the exhibition. "David is a longtime friend," Donzella says of the multi-hyphenate creative (Haskell is also an editor at New York magazine). "When he had his first show, with the design shop Coming Soon, on the Lower East Side, he was very into these sculptural cacti, so he was making these pots with cacti in them. When you bought a bowl, you got a plant. I went to the first show and I was really taken with the work. I bought one or two pieces and then he did shows three years in a row, so each year I bought one or two more."

three green ceramic forms

David Haskell ceramics, which the artist created in close consultation with Donzella.

 Photo: Courtesy of Donzella

There was just one problem with the growing collection: "I am just so bad at keeping the cacti alive," Donzella admits. "I just wanted the bowl!" A few years later, he came to Haskell with a proposition. "One night at dinner I said to him, 'I'd love to show your work if you want to do something in a different capacity.' We sat down and started working on something that would be different than what he had done before. It's more sculptural, more utilitarian."

Interestingly, the resulting works—organic shapes in mottled hues of green—look less like the bowl without the cacti and more like the cacti have turned into the bowl. You could say it's the green thumb challenged's perfect houseplant.

Donzella's relationship with Sniderman, who was a student of Betty Woodman's in the 1980s goes back even further—though it wasn't always that of dealer and artist. "We've known each other since the 80s, but she wasn't doing anything like this and I wasn't doing anything like this," explains Donzella, gesturing to a shelf of Sniderman's large-scale, amorphous sculptures and then abstractly around at the surrounding gallery. The two ended up connecting thanks to social media. "We'd always maintained a friendship and one day on Facebook, she posted a picture of a few things going into the kiln and I wrote her saying "what is this work? I need to see it!'" He's now been representing her for five years.

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La Face Chachée de la Lune ("The Dark Side of The Moon") by Lucien Petit.

 Photo: Courtesy of Donzella Gallery

Lucien Petit, a native of the La Borne region of France (which is famous for its ceramic work), is a more recent discovery for Donzella—this one, too, thanks to social media. "I got turned onto Lucien's work through Instagram and I just started digging," Donzella recalls. "I've discovered more different living artists on Instagram than anywhere. It's amazing what you can find. A lot of people who make art don't know how to make a website. But they all can take a picture and start an Instagram account." Petit, like Sniderman, works in stoneware, though his has a much rougher-hewn texture thanks to mineral glazes and wood kiln firing. This is his first time showing in the U.S.

Despite the difference in technique between the three artists, their work all plays off of each other in ways that manage to bring out intricacies in each piece. The variation in color of Haskell's green glaze becomes more obvious when set against Sniderman's brighter colors; Petit's texture looks especially grainy next to Haskell's smoother finish. "I wanted to do something that wasn't just focused on one artist—it's more interesting," Donzella says. Plus, he adds, "I feel better with the idea of mixing because thats what I do anyways."

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Petit uses mineral glazes with rocks and salt added in for a rough, irregular surface.

 Photo: Courtesy of Donzella Gallery

That's part of what makes Donzella's gallery such an interesting backdrop for a ceramics show; instead of being viewed in a white box, these pieces are set against a full floor of vintage furniture and lighting. "When people come in they spend just as much time walking around the gallery than in the show," Donzella observes. Plus, in a world where ceramics have long been overshadowed by big-name midcentury furniture designs, Donzella's space offers the opportunity to see the two together.

When I mention the market's recent increased interest in ceramics, Donzella whispers a long, drown out "fiiiiiinally!" "I've been collecting ceramics since I first got in the business, but I think it's been building for awhile," he says. "If you think back to the mid-90s, the Swedish ceramics were really taking off. Those were really soft forms though, easy palette wise, you could mix them. What's happening now is this cross breed between ceramic and sculpture. There's harsher tones, more bold and daring colors. People are realizing that a beautiful ceramic sculpture is a great thing to sit on a tabletop."

For Donzella, it's a satisfying confirmation of his choices. "As a dealer it can be hard when things are quiet and you sometimes have this sense, am I out of fashion?" he muses. "It's great and very rewarding when you bring in things and people say, 'Oh my God, I've been looking for this.'"

But don't expect Donzella to adhere too firmly to market watching—he's gotten this far with that simple strategy: "I really buy what I love, so whether it's selling or not, I'll probably keep buying it!"

Clayforms runs through November 12 at Donzella, 17 White Street.