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Upcoming | Marianne Nielsen: Leaf, stem, twig

HB381 Tribeca

May 3 – June 15, 2024

Press Release

Opening Reception with the artist: May 3, 6 - 8 pm

HB381 is pleased to announce Leaf, stem, twig, an exhibition by Marianne Nielsen (b. 1971, Denmark). Nielsen sculpts delicate ceramic arrangements, which expose the synthetic and psychological aspects of the natural world. Her works are defined by a scientific methodology and an interest in the phenomena of the very obvious, the banal, and the often overlooked. Through the lens of botany and a naturalist approach, Nielsen produces an herbarium of gestural, somatic forms.

Glenn Adamson’s essay Intelligent Artifice marks this exhibition within Nielsen’s practice, positioning her ceramics as an art of details and craftsmanship: “She is a miniaturist,” Adamson writes, “operating at the trim scale of a poem, rather than a novel, or even a short story; this quality of compression makes her creations all the more potent, and poignant. On the surface – and what surfaces they are! – her works may seem to be about nature. In fact, they are perfect specimens of craft, that most human of phenomena, probed to its deepest root.”

In her sculptures of botanical forms, Nielsen applies handmade glazes with an airbrush. Encased within the sheen of a gloss glaze overcoat, their lustrous surfaces hint at artifice and the decorative arts, enacting a metamorphosis: “A trivial thing is transformed into an icon for contemplation,” Adamson continues. A broad hosta leaf, for example, reads like a signboard with two spray can blasts of red and yellow pigment; another leaf, its scale exaggerated, becomes an elliptical shield. A wall of plant specimens seems to sway, shift, and demarcate space as if runic letters in an ancient alphabet. 

Meanwhile, Nielsen’s three-dimensional sculptures capture intricate renditions of the small minutiae of nature: the slight rustle of a sprig of bamboo under a gust of air, the momentary claw-like gesture of a drooping chestnut branch, a rhododendron bush hammered by a downpour’s tattoo, or the tension drawn close to breaking of a bundle of twigs sutured by the gossamer of an overnight spiderweb. Regardless of its source—which often feels so familiar—Nielsen captures the moments in which nature asks us to look again, absent of the straightforward cultural readings of its forms. The symbolism of an oak tree, bamboo leaf, or chestnut branch are returned to their wilder engagements.

In evoking the ephemeral forms and arrangements of overgrown spaces, Nielsen directs us to the still-life genre and its ability to crystalize the transient and fleeting. The artist isolates botanical scenarios and chance compositions from field and forest through the slow and detailed observation of her surroundings. As Adamson writes, “This dynamic is exactly what’s at stake in Nielsen’s artifice. It is elaboration of the simple idea that acts of looking are already transformative, and potentially destructive. She slows that process way down, almost to a dead stop, the better for us to feel its vast implications.”


Nielsen graduated from the Design School Kolding in the department of ceramics and glass. Her work has been exhibited at the CLAY Museum of Ceramic Art, the Vejen Art Museum, the Biennale for Craft & Design in Copenhagen, and the Nordic Craft Pavilion at the Grand Palais in Paris. She is a recipient of the Annie and Otto Johs. Detlefs Ceramics Prize, the Danish Arts Foundation Award, the Danish Crafts Award, the Danish National Bank Jubilee Fund of 1968, and the Ole Haslund Foundation Grant. Nielsen’s works are in the collections of the CLAY Museum of Ceramic Art, Middelfart, Denmark; the Designmuseum Danmark, Copenhagen, Denmark; and the Vejen Art Museum, Vejen, Denmark.

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