Katie Poterala Embraces Jewelry's "Decadence and Decay"

Ever gone to the mall and found yourself feeling like you're just looking at yourself looking at decaying jewelry in a cracked mirror?  

This week, you can literally do that (hopefully, for cathartic effect) in Night Gallery at Tempe Marketplace, with "Decadence and Decay" by metals artist Katie Poterala.

Poterala attempts to "undermine the perceived value of jewelry" in her ASU MFA thesis exhibition by re-appropriating old materials and non-precious stones into otherwise tasteful and wearable pieces.

Sometimes stones are missing, or the jewelry is sprawled unnaturally as if it has been dug out of an excavation site and temporarily stored in the gallery.

The South Carolina native has studied Metals since her undergrad years at Winthrop University, but says she chose to focus on jewelry to explore this theme because of its long history and tradition in our culture.

With jewelry, there is "so much focus on materials and what is precious," Poterala says. "There is an expectation. And I thought [the exhibition] would be a good format to break that expectation." 

In short, "Decadence and Decay" asks: Which is flawed, this rusty necklace, or your idea of what a necklace should be?

"I hope the analysis on value goes beyond the show, and that people can sort of project the same sorts of questions onto other things," Poterala says.

All the work in "Decadence and Decay" is new from the past year and a half, she says. The artist challenged herself to fabricate all the wooden jewelry boxes, which look like a cross between jewelers' fancy display cases and antique toy treasure chests, herself. Poterala also utilizes concrete and plastic in this body of work, marking her foray into mixed media territory.

"But 90 percent of it is still metal," she says. "Metal is still the basis of everything."

The pieces in Poterala's "Decadence and Decay" look like relics, carefully arranged to warn future generations of ... something; it's not clear exactly what, but it's important that we decode the message. Cracked mirrors, gloppy paint, and fragmentary wallpaper prints help create this atmosphere. Installation is one of the exhibition's strengths.

Pictures of models show off Poterala's work as wearable jewelry on the gallery's east wall. This reinserts modernity into the space, although baroque frames anchor even these images in the past. However, as this section draws the viewer back into present-day, it rips the viewer out of the time capsule effect that Poterala so meticulously creates elsewhere. 

Decadence and Decay" is also sandwiched between two other Night Gallery exhibitions (all ASU artists) this month: "Concretion" by ,Laurie Papa Minnick, and "Brawl At The Mall" by Ben Willis and Eddie Mitchell. In particular, "Brawl At The Mall" is expansive and eye-catching, and the visual busyness threatens to distract from Poterala's more subdued, smaller-scale metal works.

While she doesn't expect all the pieces (priced from $35 to $1,800) to find a home in someone's jewelry collection, Poterala hopes her work starts some conversations among the outdoor mall window-shoppers.

"[But] I think it would be awesome to see someone wearing one of the crazy spiked pieces," she says.

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