Distribution

Dora De Larios
at Beta Main

Dora De Larios: Other Worlds at Beta Main. Image courtesy of The Main in Downtown Los Angeles. Photo: Chris Wormald.

Dora De Larios sits cross-legged in a kiln, young, pretty, wearing a white lab coat and holding a creature-like vessel with outstretched arms. This photo from 1955 hangs at the entrance to Dora De Larios: Other Worlds, up now at Beta Main, the Main Museum’s temporary exhibition space. Its attractiveness makes me wish it away. The work in the exhibition, which spans over six decades, is not tied to that moment of youth, nor is it as obviously composed and beautiful as this image.

De Larios, who died this past January, has had survey shows before, specifically in 2009 at the Craft and Folk Art Museum. But the context of this show—in a young institution that’s early programming took a conceptual bent—emphasizes her importance beyond ceramics-as-craft. She came of age during the California ceramics boom, a contemporary of John Mason and Ken Price. De Larios knew their work, but while their commitment to non-functional abstraction fit them nicely into modern art’s trajectory, she moved between function, figuration and enigma.

Among the first works in the show, Porcelain Goddess (1990), would look kitschy if it weren’t so precisely nuanced. The goddess’ torso resembles a shield made of glazed and unglazed patterns of porcelain; a long rectangular mosaic of gold leaf and white and off-white shapes stand in for her legs. De Larios’ dirt-red stoneware sculpture, Overpopulation (1990s), shows a sun shape atop a conical body covered in animal heads with eyes and noses jutting outward. Earlier works quote animal-shaped pre-Columbian vessels: Boar (1960s), with its aggressive grin, or the comically complex Horse and Opera Singer (1950s) with its multiple heads, orifices and tattoo-like abstractions.

That De Larios spent decades pursuing an off-trend hybrid of tradition and experiment increases the work’s power: by not fitting in, it seems weirdly ubiquitous. Perhaps that’s why the photo, of her youthful figure in the square kiln, rankles. It appeals to an impulse to fetishize and compartmentalize older women—the narrative of a late, under-recognized artist “getting her due.” De Larios’ work tells a far more fascinating, non-linear story, in which a fluid relationship to time takes precedence over historical position.

Dora De Larios: Other Worlds runs February 25–May 13, 2018 at the Main Museum (114 W. 4th St., Los Angeles, CA 90013).

Dora De Larios, Inner Vision (1982). Image courtesy of The Main in Downtown Los Angeles. Photo: Elon Schoenholz.

Dora De Larios, Black Feelie (date unknown). Image courtesy of The Main in Downtown Los Angeles. Photo: Elon Schoenholz.

Dora De Larios: Other Worlds at Beta Main. Image courtesy of The Main in Downtown Los Angeles. Photo: Chris Wormald.

Dora De Larios, Set of Animals (1990). Image courtesy of The Main in Downtown Los Angeles. Photo: Elon Schoenholz.

Dora De Larios, Ram (date unknown). Image courtesy of The Main in Downtown Los Angeles. Photo: Elon Schoenholz.

Dora De Larios: Other Worlds at Beta Main. Image courtesy of The Main in Downtown Los Angeles. Photo: Chris Wormald.

Dora De Larios, Milagros (date unknown). Image courtesy of The Main in Downtown Los Angeles. Photo: Elon Schoenholz.

Dora De Larios, Blue Goddess (1990). Image courtesy of The Main in Downtown Los Angeles. Photo: Elon Schoenholz.