What I love about Adrian's work is its combination of elegance with humor. It is sly and knowing, but at the same time pays serious homage to the traditions of both Jingdezhen in China and Sèvres/Limoges/Vincennes in France. Saxe knows how porcelain works; he knows how to control brilliant glazes; and he creates references to early porcelains that are smart and elegant.
Ulysses Grant Dietz, Newark Museum
If Henry Huntington's ghost is at large in his old home, he's probably familiar with ceramist Adrian Saxe, a third-generation Angelino who has been going to the Huntington since he was a boy. As early as high school he was enamored of the Sèvres and Chelsea Red Anchor period porcelains that Huntington had acquired for the Arabella D. Huntington Memorial Art Collection; by college (at Chouinard Art Institute and the California Institute of the Arts) Saxe was frequenting the place both for inspiration and because his fiancé was employed there as the first woman gardener.
Adrian Saxe stands in one of the new galleries installed during the 2008 renovation of the Huntington Art Gallery. The secrétaire à abatant by Bernard Molitor (1755-1833) incorporates a large Sèvres porcelain plaque (painted by Charles-Nicolas Dodin), added in the late nineteenth century by Alfred de Rothschild, who owned both the secrétaire and the porcelain-topped table in which the plaque was originally set. The Sèvres plaques mounted on the sides, dating to the 1770s and also by Dodin, were added sometime between 1884 and 1927, when Henry Huntington acquired the secrétaire. Steiner-Halperin photograph.
After working in stoneware and earthenware, Saxe turned almost exclusively to porcelain-putting him at odds with the American studio ceramics world of the late 1960s and early 1970s. On his frequent visits to the Huntington he studied the range of decorative techniques on the Sèvres soft-paste wares and was particularly drawn to a garniture with idiosyncratic forms of cannons and turrets that appealed to his sense of quirkiness (and remains his favorite thing at the Huntington). He also began experimenting with animal and plant forms especially those in the Huntington's Cactus Garden.
Centerpiece of 1-900-Zeitgeist by Saxe, 2000. Porcelain, stone¬ware, and mixed media; approx¬imate height (of tallest vessel) 34 ¾, overall width 55 inches. Not pictured are two additional vessels made as part of this take on a traditional garniture, cre¬ated for an installation at the J. Paul Getty Museum. Collection of the artist; photograph by An¬thony Cunha, courtesy of Frank Lloyd Gallery, Santa Monica, California.
In 1983 the French Ministry of Culture awarded Saxe a fellowship and six-month residency at the Manufacture Nationale de Sèvres. As he puts it, "when Mitterand came in he wanted to revitalize Sèvres and sent out a committee to find ceramists to come work there-and they found me!" He was allowed to use the original eighteenth-century molds and models, but rather than seeking to idealize a form in the French manner, he was spurred to experiment further with molds taken directly from nature-"I would buy vegetables in the local markets and use them," he says. (Later, he would grow his own gourds: "the double-gourd form has been around in ceramic traditions for thousands of years," he observes. "We sent Japanese seeds for some to my father-in-law in Oklahoma, and they grew like mad! I used them a lot.")
Garniture, Sèvres, 1762-1763. Soft-paste porcelain, with over¬glaze and enamel decoration, and gilding; height of center vessel 20 ½ inches. These three vases are among the largest and most extravagant ever produced by Sèvres. The central vase with goat-head handles is painted with a battle scene; the side vases, in the form of fortified towers, bear military trophies, garlands, and wreaths. These details suggest that the set was made for a military hero, per¬haps a veteran of the Seven Years' War, which ended in 1763. Arabella D. Huntington Memorial Art Collection.
Inspired by the extensive use of gilding on the French wares (Saxe was awarded a second fellowship at Sèvres in 1987), he increasingly employed it in his own work. "Each gold is different," he says, "they have to be burnished in different ways." He developed his own form of craqueleur to enhance the effect.
Untitled Ewer (Acorn Squash) by Saxe, 1990. Porcelain; height 7 ½, width 9 ½ inches. Frank Lloyd Gallery photograph.
In the tradition of fine eighteenth-century porcelains, Saxe's works are intended for display, and they almost always make a point through punning titles, juxtaposition of materials, or other devices. He has even created his own takeoffs on Sèvres garnitures, sometimes using anagrams to order and reorder his vessels: One group, called ELVIS/LIVES, has finials of quartz crystal, the largest component of the earth's crust, which, according to Saxe, "plays on the notion that Elvis, if his remains have been committed to the earth or his ashes to urn-like jars, is ever present."
Which brings us back to Huntington's ghost, who, if he haunts his house, probably finds much that is familiar and much that has changed, since the building underwent a major renovation in 2008. Several rooms are furnished much as they were in Huntington's time to reflect his style of life among the British portraiture and French decorative arts that were his and Arabella's passions. In addition, new galleries were built to provide educational displays of the European fine and decorative arts in the collection, most acquired by Huntington for the Arabella D. Huntington Memorial Art Collection. Saxe is shown in one of these galleries, beside three cases of eighteenth-century Sèvres garnitures and an early nineteenth-century secrétaire à abattant by Bernard Molitor.