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Annabeth Rosen: Fired, Broken, Gathered, Heaped

The first major museum survey of the work of Northern California sculptor Annabeth Rosen, a pioneer in the field of contemporary ceramics

With a concurrent solo exhibition by local artist Izidora Leber LETHE

July 25, 2019–January 19, 2020

Press Preview: July 24, 2019; 10am–12pm


(San Francisco, CA, April 18, 2019) The Contemporary Jewish Museum (The CJM) presents the first major museum survey of the work of Northern California sculptor Annabeth Rosen, a pioneer in the field of contemporary ceramics. Annabeth Rosen: Fired, Broken, Gathered, Heaped covers over twenty years of the artist’s work, revealing both the variations and consistencies found within her ongoing explorations of form and process. The exhibition features over 120 of Rosen’s most influential and dynamic works, never before exhibited on the West Coast. Included are both early and recent ceramic sculptures that range from the diminutive to the monumental, as well as large-scale works on paper that mirror the trajectory of her sculptural practice.

“Annabeth Rosen, an important Northern California Jewish artist, has been working prolifically for decades to redefine the genre and boundaries of contemporary ceramic practice,” says Lori Starr, Executive Director, The CJM. “We are exceptionally pleased to offer audiences in the Bay Area—a region known for its innovation in the medium of ceramics—this opportunity to discover the work of one of the most important contemporary artists working in clay today. On the heels of her prestigious Guggenheim fellowship, the timing to celebrate Rosen’s work could not be better.”

For over two decades, Rosen has interrogated the medium of ceramics in a contemporary art context. Formally trained in ceramics, yet heavily influenced by painterly gesture, Rosen has expanded her practice to include conceptually-driven sculptural forms. Composed using laborious, additive processes, her works push the medium beyond spectacle and into conversations about contemporary painting, feminist theory, endurance-based performance, and conceptual art.

Raised in a working-class Brooklyn Jewish family, Rosen’s process—grounded in resourcefulness, endurance, and a strong work ethic—can be traced to her upbringing. Drawing from the ethos that everything broken can always be fixed or re-used, the artist embraces the impulse to rescue or resurrect broken ceramic fragments. Rosen sees both her studio and the kiln as spaces of invention, where process and chance are equally essential elements in the formation of her art objects. Rosen has said of her work, “I break almost as much ceramics as I make, and I think I learn as much about the work by doing so. By being so focused on a destination for the piece, I overlook shapes and ideas. Much of the work is made by already fired parts broken, reassembled, re-glazed, and re-fired with the addition of wet clay elements if necessary. I work with a hammer and chisel, and I think of the fired pieces as being as fluid and malleable as wet clay.”

The earliest examples of works in the exhibition date from the mid-1990s and include a series of plate and tile-based sculptural objects that take their inspiration from the natural world. Rosen became fascinated with nature when she left the East Coast and moved to Davis, California, where she has been the Robert Arneson Endowed Chair in the Department of Art and Art History at University of California, Davis since 1997. Rosen’s works during this early period recall densely-imagined ecosystems of flowering plants, birds, and small microcosms in various states of development or decay. They are often stacked in layers referencing the varying strata of earth. The objects created during this period display Rosen’s interest in the shifting foliage of the seasons with their earthen red glazes, bright acidic greens and yellows, and ashen white tile works.

Between 2005 and 2015, Rosen began to push into new terrain, combining unlikely elements to create large-scale, theatrical “mashup” works. Using steel baling wire to pile up and bind together dozens and sometimes hundreds of shapes and forms, Rosen “mashed-up” extruded tubes, organ-like blobs, and voluptuous gourd shapes, often in precarious or gravity-defying assemblages. The artist turned away from the traditional support of the pedestal to accommodate these monumental works, instead employing evocative new armatures—initially readymade, then custom-designed—such as rolling metal carts similar to those found in science labs. As such, many of Rosen’s hulking “mashups” teeter on unstable supports, challenging viewers to consider the nature of symmetry and balance, vulnerability and strength.

A marked focus of Rosen’s work occurred towards the end of that same period when she refined her notion of the “mashup.” While continuing to bind separate elements together, the artist began honing in more on the tenuous relationship of form, color, and improvised construction. These bundled shapes are smaller and held in place ad hoc, under tension by long ribbons of bicycle inner tube, rather than wire.

The most recent group of works featured in the exhibition is from a series originally made for a 2017 exhibition at P.P.O.W. Gallery in New York City. Rosen created a group of mound-like objects made of remnants from other works, bits of clay, and studio detritus. Bound by wires, these most recent works leave the broken fragments exposed, and bear the marks of the artist’s signature practice of firing structures until fatigue and failure set in, then adding slip, clay, and glaze. The resulting structures are then re-fired and precariously balanced, suggesting a state of fragility offset by steel wire structural reinforcements.

The presentation of Rosen’s works on paper alongside her ceramic pieces approximates the immersive experience of entering the artist’s studio. The drawings and paintings often serve as diagrams or sketches for the sculptural works in process, allowing viewers to observe the formation of ideas in tandem with the finished artworks.

A significant monograph published by Lucia|Marquand and organized by Contemporary Arts Museum Houston (CAMH) accompanies Annabeth Rosen: Fired, Broken, Gathered, Heaped. The publication includes an introduction and essay by organizing curator Valerie Cassel Oliver, as well as contributions by Nancy Princenthal and Jenni Sorkin. The monograph also features color images of the artist’s works and a chronology of the artist’s life and work.

Annabeth Rosen: Fired, Broken, Gathered, Heaped comes to The CJM for its final and exclusive West Coast showing from CAMH, where it debuted in 2017. It also recently concluded at the Cranbrook Art Museum. The exhibition was curated by CAMH former Senior Curator Valerie Cassel Oliver, now the Sydney and Frances Lewis Family Curator at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. The CJM’s presentation is organized by Heidi Rabben, Senior Curator.

About Annabeth Rosen

Born in Brooklyn, New York, Annabeth Rosen received her BFA from New York State College of Ceramics at Alfred University College of Ceramics at Alfred University and her MFA from Cranbrook Academy of Art. After graduate school, Rosen taught at School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Rhode Island School of Design, Tyler School of Art, and Bennington College. She has also participated in residencies at the Bemis Center For Contemporary Arts (Omaha, NE); Watershed Center for the Ceramic Arts (Newcastle, ME); the Fabric Workshop and Museum (Philadelphia, PA); and the Borowsky Center for Publication Arts (Philadelphia, PA). Rosen presently teaches at University of California Davis, where she holds the Robert Arneson Endowed Chair in Ceramic Sculpture.

Rosen has received multiple grants and awards, including a Pew Fellowship, two National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships, a number of UC Davis Research Grants, a Joan Mitchell Painters and Sculptors Award, a USA ARTIST Fellowship, and most recently a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2018. In 2017, Rosen was inducted into the National Academy of Arts and Letters in New York.

Rosen’s work is in the collection of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (Los Angeles, CA), Oakland Museum of California (Oakland, CA), Denver Art Museum (Denver, CO), and Everson Museum of Art (Syracuse, NY), as well as in numerous public and private collections. Rosen’s work has been exhibited around the world, including venues in Taipei, Taiwan; Kyoto, Japan; Seoul, Korea; Mallorca, Spain; London, England; and Glasgow, Scotland.

Concurrent exhibition Izidora Leber LETHE: Peristyle

Izidora Leber LETHE: Peristyle is the first solo museum exhibition of Croatian-Swiss, Oakland-based artist Izidora Leber LETHE. Drawing from the visual languages of Yugoslav functionalist architecture and minimalist performance scores, this site-specific installation and performance imagine a reconfiguration of social relations in the face of irresolvable diasporas.

Born in the former Yugoslavia (now Croatia) in the city of Split, the site of an ancient Roman palace originally built for the Emperor Diocletian, LETHE revisits the Peristil, the palace’s column-lined central gathering square. For Peristyle, five angular pillar-like forms are gathered within the steeply vaulted walls of The CJM’s Stephen and Maribelle Leavitt Yud Gallery. Architect Daniel Libeskind’s contemporary response to the building’s neoclassical historic façade, the symbolic 36-windowed Yud is the most spiritual space at The CJM, and poetically alludes to the Jewish experience of diaspora across the millennia. LETHE’s concrete sculptures extend the architectural dialogue begun by Libeskind, introducing a Brutalist aesthetic associated with an idiosyncratic, inter-ethnic Yugoslav socialism—a particular system that simultaneously emphasized individualism and interdependence. A monument to diaspora, the installation invites viewers to consider the generative potential of non-Western, international modes of relation.

The artist’s accompanying performance interrogates the power, perfection, and neutrality encoded in archetypal Greco-Roman structures. The performance choreography reanimates classical sculptures as live bodies who tremble to hold their poses. Challenging the hegemony of a universalizing Western ideal, the performers represent diverse and diasporic perspectives that have been historically excluded from the classical canon. Like the gathering of the sculptures themselves, their interrelation offers a vision of alternative social formations and heterogeneous affinities.

About Izidora Leber LETHE

Izidora Leber LETHE is a Croatian-Swiss artist based in Oakland, California. Working primarily in conceptual sculpture, installation, and performance choreography, LETHE’s research-driven practice focuses on the formal origins and erased histories of cultural artifacts and architectural ruins throughout time.

She received her BFA from ZHdK, Zürcher Hochschule der Künste, Switzerland and her MFA at the San Francisco Art Institute (SFAI), both cum laude. LETHE has exhibited her work at venues including the Minnesota Street Project and the de Young Museum. She is the recipient of the independent artist residency at the BANFF Centre for the Arts in Banff, Alberta (Canada). Her first solo exhibition was held in 2018 at Aggregate Space Gallery (Oakland, CA). Upcoming is a residency at SASSO Residency in Vairano, Switzerland and forthcoming is a publication about Spomenici that includes performative photographs of modernist Yugoslav monuments along with LETHE’s writing.

About The Contemporary Jewish Museum

With the opening of its new building on June 8, 2008, The Contemporary Jewish Museum ushered in a new chapter in its twenty-plus year history of engaging audiences and artists in exploring contemporary perspectives on Jewish culture, history, art, and ideas. The facility, designed by internationally renowned architect Daniel Libeskind, is a lively center where people of all ages and backgrounds can gather to experience art, share diverse perspectives, and engage in hands-on activities. Inspired by the Hebrew phrase L’Chaim (To Life), the building is a physical embodiment of The CJM’s mission to bring together tradition and innovation in an exploration of the Jewish experience in the twenty-first century.

Major support for The Contemporary Jewish Museum’s educational programs for youth, young adults, and families with young children comes from Jim Joseph Foundation. The Museum thanks the Koret Foundation for major support of Jewish Peoplehood exhibitions and programs. Additional major support is provided by an anonymous donor;  Bank of America; The Covenant Foundation; Suzanne and Elliott Felson; Gaia Fund; Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation; Grants for the Arts; Walter and Elise Haas Fund; The Hearst Foundations; Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund of San Francisco, the Peninsula, Marin and Sonoma Counties; Wendy Kesser; Maribelle and Stephen Leavitt; Nellie and Max Levchin; 706 Mission Co LLC; The Bernard Osher Foundation; Lisa Stone Pritzker; John Pritzker; Dorothy R. Saxe; Seiger Family Foundation; Taube Foundation for Jewish Life & Culture; United States Department of Homeland Security; and The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts.

Major support for The Museum’s Helen Diller Institute is generously provided by The Helen Diller Family Foundation.

For more information about The Contemporary Jewish Museum, visit The Museum’s website at


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