This summer, the High Museum of Art will present an extraordinary group of terracotta vessels and related works by the Kenyan-born British artist Magdalene Odundo.
“Universal and Sublime: The Vessels of Magdalene Odundo” traces the trajectory of Odundo’s work over the course of three decades, from its genesis in the early 1980s through her most recent innovations, including new works created especially for the exhibition which will run from June 24 through Oct. 15, 2017.
Over the years, Odundo’s art has become immediately recognizable for its distinctive, sensuous forms, some of which suggest the human figure. The sculptor builds her vessels by hand using a coiling technique and often fires them repeatedly, which results in burnished, silken surfaces ranging from bold orange to smoky, iridescent black. Her technical achievements fuse with a distinctly personal style, influenced by sources from across the globe and throughout time; and her ceramics synthesize artistic traditions ranging from Greek and Roman pottery, to Elizabethan costumes, to the art of modern masters Henri Matisse and Amedeo Modigliani, to the spherical vessels African women have made throughout the centuries to carry and store water.
“We are so pleased to present Odundo’s truly transcendent work. Her inventive approach to art making combines a mastery of materials and innovative techniques to create a body of work that honors the past but remains very relevant to today’s world,” said Carol Thompson, the High Museum’s Fred and Rita Richman curator of African art. “Odundo’s ceramics resonate with works in the Museum’s historical African art collection, such as an exquisite Mangbetu vessel — a form that Odundo acknowledges has inspired her practice.”
To provide insights into her artistic process, the exhibition will include sketches and select works on paper. A frequent visitor to Atlanta for many years, Odundo has made repeat trips to sketch in the High’s galleries with drawings from a 2011 sketchbook presenting several views of an ancient terracotta sculpture in the Museum’s collection. The sculpture was made by an artist working during the height of the medieval Empire of Mali in the region of Djenne, one of the oldest cities in sub-Saharan Africa. The ca. 13th–15th century sculpture shows a female torso wrapped in snakes.
“The sculpture’s graceful female form looks so animated that it nearly seems to dance. Similarly, Odundo’s works feature flowing, dynamic forms that are full of life,” said Thompson.
For the opening of the exhibition, the High will present a conversation between Odundo and Thompson on June 23, 2017, from 7 to 8 p.m. in the Hill Auditorium. Attendees may view the exhibition after the talk.
“Universal and Sublime: The Vessels of Magdalene Odundo” will be presented on the second floor of the High’s Anne Cox Chambers Wing.