UNITED NATIONS

The Buffalo News

UNITED NATIONS

Date: Friday, November 30, 2001
Section: GUSTO
Edition: FINAL
Page: G17

By: By BRUCE ADAMS – News Contributing Reviewer

NEIL TETKOWSKI AND THE COMMON GROUND WORLD PROJECT

WHAT: A ceramic sculpture to be installed in the United Nations building

WHEN: Through Jan. 20

WHERE: Burchfield-Penney Art Center, Rockwell Hall, Buffalo State College

ADMISSION: Free

INFO: 878-6011
At the heart of Neil Tetkowski’s multi-faceted, artistic global undertaking, the “Common Ground World Project” is a singularly clever concept. Collect clay and sand samples from all 188 United Nations member states, formulate them into a single “world clay” base, and create a 7-foot circular ceramic sculpture symbolically celebrating the oneness of the world.

There is an elegant simplicity to this idea, made remarkable by the fact that the project was endorsed by the United Nations, and will be permanently installed in the UN building in 2002. A model of the work, along with photos, drawings, video and other items on display in the Burchfield-Penney Art Center, document the complicated process from inspiration to fruition.

The exhibit’s centerpiece is the model of a “mandala,” a circular design comprised of dark red clay with elevated edges. The dish-like motif, which Tetkowski has developed throughout his career, serves as the foundation for a spiral pattern of 188 small clay tablets, each set in place by a representative of a participating nation.

At the center is an impression of a 102-year-old woman’s hand superimposed over that of an infant. The entire piece is mounted on a steel grid hemisphere and anchored to a marble base. The layering of clearly spelled out symbols somewhat undercuts the inherent power of the fundamental concept. One wishes that Tetkowski had had allowed the viewer to do more of the work.

In contrast, the benefits of simplicity are illustrated in a far more affecting companion piece to the mandala titled “188, 2000.” A single straight row of 188 sealed numbered bottles containing earth samples from the contributing countries is arranged on a slender aluminum table. The range of earth tones suggest skin color variations, and the stark simplicity of the design prompts reflection on global relativity. The minimalists were right – less is more.

Unfortunately the exhibition presents more, and in so doing diminishes the overall impact. Early clay works tenuously related to the project seem extraneous, even distracting. Photos of diplomats posed with Tetkowski placing their tablets in the mandala hint at self-promotion.

A large compellation photo titled “190 People Connect” is comprised of smaller images of Tetkowski mugging with world diplomats – laughing with Afghanistan, arm wrestling with Iraq, and so on. On Sept. 11, this became awkwardly poignant or painfully ironic, depending on your view.

To me, the installation seemed to lapse occasionally into sentimentality – but perhaps I was just responding to the ubiquitous video soundtrack playing “Oh Happy Days.”