Glitter and Gold: Horse Headed Robot No. 10 by Toby Buonagurio

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Toby Buonagurio, Horse Headed Robot No. 10, 1981, earthenware, 23 x 12 x 12 inches, Everson Museum of Art; Gift of Mr. Sidney Wolgin; 27th Ceramic National, 1987, 82.40

Toby Buonagurio (b.1947), a lifelong New Yorker, is known for her flamboyant sculptures of sci-fi robots, peculiar clowns, surreal bionics, and souped-up hotrods, many often festooned with rhinestones and glitter. Buonagurio discovered her love for clay in a ceramics course during her final year at The City College of New York. Of that experience, she says, “Working on the wheel was wonderful, but I slowly realized that it wasn’t functional pottery that really fascinated me; it was the material itself. It’s amorphic; it can take any shape. And that was the spark that led me away from pots and into image making.” After she graduated in 1969, Buonagurio stayed at City College to complete her Masters in Art and Education, which she received in 1971. Buonagurio currently teaches at SUNY Stoney Brook University.

Buonagurio expertly plays with recognizable images from pop culture—robots, skulls, retro cars, impossibly high stiletto heels—and distorts their scale, color, and surface texture. She constructs her sculptures in several parts, and they undergo multiple firings in order to achieve Buonagurio’s signature over-the-top vibrant designs. This elaborate and somewhat unconventional decoration de-familiarizes her ceramics. Buonagurio explains, “Ceramic is an important medium for me, but that’s not the first thing I want people to see. I want them to look at the art and be interested in its expressive ideas and sculptural components.” The natural qualities of clay are not what draws her to the medium. Instead, Buonagurio uses clay to build what does not already exist in the world as a means to both celebrate and critique popular culture.

Buonagurio’s lighthearted, humorous approach is another unifying component to her work. “I don’t want people to take my works too seriously,” Buonagurio commented. “Humor is important to me, and my work is admittedly a little tongue-in-cheek. If something gets too serious, I twist it a bit to bring out the humor. What the piece requires, I do.”

Horse Headed Robot No. 10 exemplifies Buonagurio’s sculptural style. The galactic hybrid robot stands bravely with its legs apart, with a blaster in place of the right hand and a neon orange giraffe in place of the left, both raised as if ready to fire. The robot wears teal, purple, and fiery orange armor, which gleams and sparkles due to its golden luster glazes and the glitter and rhinestones decorating its body.

Horse Headed Robot No. 10 ranks among the public’s favorite works in the Everson’s collection, and is currently on display in Beyond the Blue, an exhibition showcasing life-affirming works from the Everson’s collection that are filled with joy, humor, and color. Beyond the Blue is on view through November 21, 2021.

-Grace McCormick, Curatorial Intern

Sources

  • Damsker, Matt and the Courant Special to. “A Glittering Spectacle of Color and Kitsch:
    [Statewide Edition].” Hartford Courant, Jun 13, 1999.
  • Mackin, Jeanne. “Toby Buonagurio.” Ceramics Monthly, December 1982, sec. Feature Articles.
  • Times Square Times: 35 Times About Toby, 2008. http://www.tobytimessquare.com/about.html.
  • “Toby Buonagurio.” MMoCA. Accessed July 13, 2021. https://www.mmoca.org/learn/for-teachers/teaching-pages/toby-buonagurio.
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