Philadelphia Art Alliance Blog

Paula Winokur: Quiet Immensity

At the heart of Material Legacy, in the central gallery on the ground floor, is the work of Paula Winokur. Her quietly monumental porcelain forms ground the exhibition as a whole, rooting it in the clay of the earth and conveying a sense of the immensity and antiquity of the frozen landscapes that form the subject of her recent work. Like Lewis Knauss and Adela Akers, Winokur makes us aware of the slow passage of time. Rather than the human scale of minutes, days, and years, however, Winokur evokes the passage of time on a geological scale, emphasizing the almost inhuman monumentality of the landscape. Despite this, she also makes us aware of the power of human intervention–and invention. Winokur’s work draws attention to the difficult dichotomy of destruction and creation, the permanence and transience of human engagement with the earth.

Paula Winokur, Shattered Ice (2008)

Paula Winokur, Shattered Ice (2008)

Clustered together in the center of the room like ancient standing stones are the porcelain forms of Shattered Ice (2008). The apparent solidity of these forty-two individual pieces is deceptive, for they are hollow inside, composed of individual porcelain slabs. On the inside of the circle, the porcelain slabs are smooth, while their external faces have a rougher texture, as though exposed to the elements. This sharp contrast in texture between rough and smooth is highlighted by Winokur’s monochromatic palette of black and white, the pristine austerity of the white porcelain appearing both solid and fragile at the same time.

Paula Winokur, Aerial View: Glacier (Detail) (2015)

Paula Winokur, Aerial View: Glacier (Detail) (2015)

Winokur also experiments with perspective, putting viewers in the position of looking down over an expansive landscape. We see this especially in Aerial View: Glacier (Detail) (2015), placed on the floor to give viewers a bird’s eye view of the work. While this perspective removes the viewer from the intimate details of the landscape, Winokur also wants to draw us closer, make us aware of how our collective actions have a very real, tangible effect on the glaciers of the far north and south. While this piece emphasizes the dark side of the environmental destruction that humans have wrought, it also recalls ancient earthworks found across Europe and North America, such as the man-made but deeply mysterious earthwork known as the cursus, near Stonehenge in southern England. Human beings need not always be a destructive force; even a glance at our own shared past reveals a complex story of coexistence, written on the landscape itself.

Like all of the other artists whose work is on view in Material Legacy, Paula Winokur has an important legacy as a teacher for generations of artists in the Philadelphia region. She taught for thirty years at Arcadia University in Glenside, PA, while her husband, who also works with clay, taught at Philadelphia’s Tyler School of Art. The legacy of all of these artists is thus both material and intangible, and will continue to endure.

Text by Flora Ward, intern

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