Betty Woodman. An Archetypal Form

Clip from Betty Woodman: Thinking Out Loud, 1990. Filmed in New York by Charles Woodman.

Betty Woodman has an eye for architecture; she is often drawn to ornate but functional characteristics of the built environment, like the handles on a door or latches on a window. She and her husband, the painter and photographer George Woodman, spent much of their time abroad, traveling internationally and living in Italy for six months out of the year. She encountered vases everywhere, across place and history, as ceremonial objects and utilitarian forms. With a history going back millennia, ceramic vases pour water into fountains, flank doorways, and line the tops of Roman frescoes. The vase, in Woodman’s view, was the archetypal ceramic: “having fallen in love with clay . . . if I make something that’s a vase, everybody knows it’s made of clay. So, it’s about this material and the universality of it.”1 In flattening, enlarging, and fragmenting the vase, she explored the boundaries of its recognizable form—how far could she abstract it from the functional container without compromising its origin.

  1. Betty Woodman, talk with curator Vincenzo de Bellis, Institute of Contemporary Arts, London, February 3, 2016 (posted February 18, 2016), video, 1:10:30 hours, available at ↩︎