Thursday, July 31, 2008

Biography: Peter Lenzo

       Peter Lenzo         

Peter Lenzo in his studio in 
Columbia, S.C., August 2015
            Columbia, S.C., resident Peter Lenzo (b. 1955) is a widely recognized ceramic sculptor with a national profile. The New York City native, who grew up in Detroit, was selected for the 1995 and 1998 South Carolina Triennial exhibitions at the South Carolina State Museum in Columbia; the 2011 exhibition Triennial Revisited and the 701 CCA South Carolina Biennial 2011 and 2013, all at 701 Center for Contemporary Art in Columbia; and Thresholds, a 2003 exhibition of Southeastern art dealing with religion and spirituality that traveled extensively throughout the Southeast.  
            The June, 2015, exhibition Peter Lenzo & Joe Scotchie-Lenzo: Origins 2000–2002 at if ART Gallery presented the origins of Lenzo’s current work through two dozen sculptures he produced with his son, who was around five years old at the time. The exhibition was accompanied by a catalogue.
            Lenzo’s work is in several museum collections, including at the South Carolina State Museum, the Mint Museum in Charlotte, N.C., and the Renwick Gallery at the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, D.C. His solo exhibitions include those at the Spartanburg (S.C.) Museum of Art; the European Ceramic Work Center in Den Bosch, The Netherlands; Great American Gallery in Atlanta; and Ferrin Contemporary gallery in Massachusetts.
            Lenzo and his work have been featured in numerous books, exhibition catalogues and articles about ceramic sculpture and Southern art. They include the Threshold catalogue, 500 Figures In Clay (2005), Robert Hunter’s Ceramics in America (2006) and Poetic Expressions of Mortality: Figurative Ceramics From the Porter–Price Collection (2006). He holds an MFA from Wayne State University in Detroit and used to teach at the University of South Carolina, Columbia.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Article on Bedpan Altars: Columbia Record

Bedpan Altar, c. 1995
Found wood, enameled steel, varnish
20 1/2 x 14 1/2 x 5 1/4 in

The Columbia Record
December 11, 2005

Artist Peter Lenzo's 1990s series of Bedpan Altars are on view at Gallery 80808, Vista Studios, at 808 Lady Street in the Vista district of Columbia. The artworks are part of a group show called "Construction Crew". The show presents works of art that have strong constructional or architectural qualities. In addition to Lenzo, who is from Columbia, the exhibition includes work by Edward Rice of North Augusta, S.C.; Kim Keats of Okatie, S.C., near Beaufort; and Klaus Hartmann of Kaiserslautern, Germany. The exhibition is on view through December 21. Opening hours are Sunday, 1:00 – 5:00 p.m.; Saturday, 11:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.; and weekdays, 11:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m. For more information, please call the show's curator, Wim Roefs, at (803) 238-2351.

Lenzo's Bedpan Altars are the topic of an article by The State's art critic Jeffrey Day in the newspaper's Sunday Life & Arts section of December 11, page E2. Day discusses the minor controversy that has sprung up around Lenzo's altar pieces. In the artworks, Lenzo placed bedpans of enameled steel or antique porcelain in altar-like structures. After The State showed a photograph of one of the Bedpan Altars on Sunday, December 4, some readers were offended by the combination of the sacred with bedpans, which mostly are used by ill or injured, bed-ridden people unable to take themselves to the bathroom. Agitated readers presumably assumed that artist Lenzo's aim was to be critical of religion, especially Christianity. One reader wrote to The State that Lenzo's art is "sacrilegious garbage."

In the exhibition, Lenzo also shows two versions of his "Virgin Mary Gun Altar." Those are wooden boxes containing plastic and ceramic guns and statues of the Virgin Mary. 

In the catalogue to the exhibition, Lenzo says of the Bedpan Altars: "I thought they looked beautiful together. I liked the soft, succulent, curving lines of the bedpan contained by the rigid, perfect geometric lines of the altar pointing toward God." Lenzo said he began making portable altars after seeing them in European churches and a museum. The main impetus for the work was not, he says, a need to make a statement but his desire to make art that is aesthetically beautiful. “I think that in all art, no matter what message you try to convey, you need to satisfy the aesthetic element first. And if you are building something, you also need to satisfy all aspects of craftsmanship first.” 

Reading his art as social and political criticism would surpass his intent, Lenzo said, even if it would lead to conclusions about society that ring true to him. “I am not trying to hurt anyone’s feelings or disgust people or make fun of religion. I’d rather have people look at the works as beautiful.” If people look for meaning in the work, Lenzo told curator Roefs, he'd prefer them to look at the bedpans as devices of care, used by nurses and other caregivers to facilitate the natural, God-given bodily functions of patients. Roefs wrote the catalogue essay and posted this item on

Lenzo told art writer Day: "The reaction (of those finding his work offensive) makes me sad a little bit. I felt my motives were always respectful. I have always had a deep and abiding respect for God."