Must-See: Julia Isídrez’s Worlds of Clay

At Kasmin, New York, the artist’s anthropomorphic vases underline the cultural value of ceramics

BY Mariana Fernández in Exhibition Reviews | 04 JUL 24

This review is part of a new series of Must-See shows, in which a writer delivers a snapshot of a current exhibition  

Julia Isídrez hails ceramics as an art of the everyday. The practice is embedded within the social fabric of her hometown of Itá, Paraguay, well known for the art form, one she learned at a young age from her mother, the renowned ceramicist Juana Marta Rodas. Working in the millennia-old Guaraní tradition of ceramic funerary urns and votive vases, Isídrez’s vessels combine a sense of the prosaic with a unique physicality and autonomy.

Julia Isídrez, Mono de Juana Marta, 2023, ceramic, 60 × 56 × 61 cm. Courtesy: © Julia Isídrez and Kasmin, New York; photograph: Charlie Rubin

Isídrez’s current show at Kasmin, ‘Mundo de Julia’, showcases her extensive practice ranging from anthropomorphic vases with heads and appendages like Vasija con ocho cabezas (2024) and Cantaro con relieve (2024), to figurative, sometimes cartoonish renditions of animals native to Paraguay: a smiling centipede with sharp spikes for legs, anteaters whose elongated mouths sometimes double as the openings of vessels, a tiny armadillo nestled within the thick ridges of its shell. Some of the best works on show are amorphous conglomerations of both and neither. In Mono de Juana Marta (2023), a bulbous form with a small slit for a mouth and a cluster of beady-eyed appendages resembling children protruding from its belly, Isídrez pays homage to her mother and other ceramicist maternal ancestors, leaning into both the historical and improvisational nature of working with clay.

Julia Isídrez, ‘Mundo de Julia’, 2024, installation view. Courtesy: the artist and Kasmin, New York; photograph: Charlie Rubin

Even now, with the art world attempting to make up for centuries of exclusion, recognition of the aesthetic and cultural value of ceramics continues to be thwarted by stratified divides between art and craft, high and low, leisure and labour. So it is refreshing when work, no doubt laden with social meaning, is allowed to just be. The sculptures at Kasmin are installed in loose groupings with no real affinities of form, technique or subject matter, allowing organic and austere forms to commingle and gently make their claims for better forms of cohabitation – across species and artistic divides.

Mundo de Julia is on view at Kasmin, New York until 9 August 

Main image: Julia Isídrez, ‘Mundo de Julia’, 2024, installation view. Courtesy: the artist and Kasmin, New York; photograph: Charlie Rubin

Mariana Fernández is a writer and curator based in New York, USA.