The death of betty wodmen the multimedia art

Betty Woodman, a sculptor who took an audacious turn when she began to transform traditional pottery, her usual medium, into innovative multimedia art, moving her work from kitchen cupboard shelves to museum walls, died on Tuesday in Manhattan. She was 87.

Her son, Charles, said the cause was pneumonia.

Ms. Woodman’s evolution from artisan to fine artist culminated in a retrospective in 2006 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, its first for a living female artist.

“I am coming out of left field,” she told The New York Times when the exhibition opened. “They don’t know what they’ve got hold of.”

One of the 70 works in the show, “The Ming Sisters,” is a nearly three-foot-high triptych of cylindrical vases arranged side by side — each with irregular, winged cutouts — that depict Asian women in gowns on one side and brightly colored paintings of vases on the other.

Reviewing the show for The Times, the critic Grace Glueck wrote that the “sharply outlined spaces between the figures, ghostly gray intrusions, play an important part in the presentation of the figures.”

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Another work in the retrospective was “Aeolian Pyramid,” which reflects Ms. Woodman’s late-in-life shift to very large installations of ceramics, some of them fused with paintings. “Aeolian,” which comprises 44 pedestal-mounted vase shapes, gradually tiers upward in a dramatic, pyramidal design.

“The composite keeps squeezing out real space, which keeps muscling back in,” the critic Peter Schjeldahl wrote in his review in The New Yorker. “The result is a visual ‘Hallelujah Chorus.’ ”

He added: “At the age of 76, she is beyond original, all the way to sui generis.”

Ms. Woodman’s “Aeolian Pyramid,” which Peter Schjeldahl called “a visual ‘Hallelujah Chorus’” in his review in The New Yorker.
Credit Salon 94

“The Ming Sisters” is a triptych of cylindrical vases that features paintings of Asian women in gowns on one side and paintings of vases on the other. Credit Salon 94
Using clay as her primary medium, Ms. Woodman’s vividly colored ceramics drew on innumerable influences, including Greek and Etruscan sculpture, Italian Baroque architecture, Tang dynasty glaze techniques, Egyptian art and Islamic tiles.
They also evoked paintings by Picasso, Bonnard and Matisse. “You should be able to think of Matisse,” she told the Canadian newspaper The Globe and Mail in 2011, “but hopefully you don’t stop there; you realize that it makes a reference, but it goes beyond.”

Ms. Woodman — usually attired in a kerchief, a boldly striped dress and wildly patterned stockings — worked at her potter’s wheels and kilns at her studios in Boulder, Colo., the Chelsea section of Manhattan, and Antella, Italy.

Her husband, George, a painter and photographer, died last March; her son is an electronic artist, and her daughter, Francesca, was a photographer whose erotic and melancholy pictures won her acclaim before she committed suicide in 1981, when she was 22.