Robert Ellison Jr., collector of modern ceramics, dies –

Robert A. Ellison Jr., a ceramics collector whose donations of more than 600 works spanning centuries helped transform the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s collection, died Friday.

Born in West Texas in 1932, Ellison began collecting in New York City in the 1960s and has amassed formidable collections of ceramics of all kinds, especially modern and contemporary works of the genre featured in “Shapes from Out of Nowhere: Ceramics from the Robert A. Ellison Jr. Collection,” an exhibition that opened at the Met in February and runs through August.

“I consider ceramics as a kind of intermediary between painting and sculpture. It can use some of both, with more flexible three-dimensional shapes,” Ellison said. ART news in March, shortly after the opening of the Met show.

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In an essay for an exhibition catalog published around the same time, Ellison wrote about his first contact with ceramics as a painter, with a wandering eye that focused over time. “My painting and collecting activities coexisted peacefully while I was learning; I was self-taught in both areas,” he writes. “There was very little information available on the type of ceramic I was finding. That didn’t discourage me; prices were low. I kept acquiring parts to see what had been done, hoping the details would come later. (They did.) Buying blind without knowing the context of the coin was exhilarating; there was no right or wrong, it was about learning.

Vase Georges Ohr

George Ohr, Vase1897-1900.
Private Collection of Robert A. Ellison Jr./Courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art

An early revelation for Ellison followed his first encounter with the work of American iconoclast George Ohr, whose abstract ceramics of the late 19th and early 20th centuries proved radical in ways that are still ongoing. treatment. “His brief and singular role in the history of ceramics, from about 1890 to 1910, was to demonstrate what freedom was possible if one altered the strict symmetry imposed by the potter’s wheel,” Ellison wrote in the catalog of “Shapes from Out of Nowhere”.

From there, Ellison developed interests ranging from 16th-century stoneware jugs and European Art Nouveau ceramics to the so-called “American art pottery” classified in a category whose parameters he helped define. . Also central to its collection are important modern and contemporary works by Peter Voulkos, Axel Salto, Kathy Butterly, Arnie Zimmerman, Lynda Benglis, Ken Price and many others.

Thinking back to his life as a collector in 2021 ART news interview, Ellison, at the age of 88, spoke of a sort of self-taught expertise that took decades to perfect.

“I started out knowing nothing, so everything I learned was discovered on my own,” he said. “When I started doing this in the 60s there weren’t many books on contemporary ceramics, so I just used my eyes to look and try to figure out who was interesting in what had been done. It pretty much guided me forever. I have people I talk to, but mostly I don’t have advisers or curators or assistants or anything like that. I’m just a guy who does everything myself, the best I can.

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