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San Francisco Chronicle: Ruth Braunstein Collection Helps Mold Clay’s Reputation

Julian Guthrie

June 11, 2014Updated: June 12, 2014 8:45 a.m.

Even before Ruth Braunstein opened her first art gallery in Tiburon in 1961, she was collecting pieces that made her happy and was drawn to works in clay.

A new exhibit of Braunstein’s private collection of ceramics that opens Saturday at the Richmond Art Center pays tribute to her advocacy of clay as a fine-art medium. Many of the pieces – by well-known artists including Peter Voulkos, Richard Shaw and Robert Arneson – have never been shown before.

“I love the exhibit on several different levels,” said Richmond Art Center curator and exhibitions director Anthony Torres. “It’s paying homage to Ruth’s life and work, but the collection is also a form of portraiture. It tells a great deal about who she is, and shows how she worked hard to democratize art.”

He added, “It’s diverse and beautiful, and there’s a whole myriad of objects.”

Braunstein, the founder of the San Francisco Art Dealers Association who closed her eponymous South of Market gallery in 2011, after 50 years, recently told Torres: “When I came to San Francisco and saw what people were doing with clay, I flipped out. This was before I knew there was a thing called craft and craftspeople. So when I opened my gallery in Tiburon, I showed clay.”

The exhibit at the Richmond Art Center includes a range of clay objects, from freestanding sculptures to utilitarian-style works, such as teapots, bottles and cups. There is a 3-foot-high vase by Voulkos and an assemblage of objects by Shaw. There are tiny sculptural forms that allude to modern dancer and choreographer Martha Graham (Braunstein was a professional dancer early in life), and a self-portrait by Arneson.

Braunstein, now 91, told Torres: “It has taken many years for people to accept clay as an art form. It has happened in Europe, Korea, Japan and places like that. It has been very hard for Americans to cotton to clay, for some reason or another, (but) Richard Shaw and Peter Voulkos have been recognized all over the world.”

Braunstein is expected to attend the opening-night reception on Saturday.

“Focus on Clay” is one of three new shows offered by the nonprofit Richmond Art Center, founded in 1936. The other exhibits include “Sculpture,” featuring mixed-media works by established and emerging sculptors, and “Slusky and Sullivan: Sculptures, Drawings, and Related Antics,” with works by noted University of California artists and professors Joseph Slusky and Chip Sullivan.

If you go:

Ruth Braunstein: Focus on Clay: Reception 5-7 p.m. Saturday. Through Aug. 22. 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday. Richmond Art Center, 2540 Barrett Ave., Richmond. (510) 620-6772.


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