Upon your first glimpse of Beth Katleman's Folly you may feel that you have been fortunate enough to return to some world you once knew or imagined, an enticing but safe and proper place. Creamy-white islands, each just the right distance from each, float through a blue world, like clouds floating across a sky or islands in a waveless ocean. You know exactly where you are. At once pastoral and classy, neo-classical and faux-Orientalist, it's the world of blue-and-white china or of 18th century wallpaper toile de jouy come to vivid three-dimensional life. And I do mean life. Because approach more closely and you will find yourself increasingly puzzled by goings-on in this Arcadia.

POST-IMPERIAL LONGINGS: Beth Katleman's Naughty Arcadia

Anthony Haden-Guest


Borrowing the language of rococo decoration, my sculptures and installations evoke a world of genteel pleasure. Beneath the surface, however, there are hints of misbehavior, even wickedness. An elf rides a colossal snail toward the Sacre Coeur Basilica, a reindeer answers nature's porcelain call, and bridesmaids whisper, oblivious to the baby drowning in the pond.

Theoddities populating this strange paradise come from my collection of flea market treasures. As I cast the trinkets in white porcelain andarrange them, stories begin to emerge. Often the narratives touch on domestic disturbances or themes of lost innocence. The tales have a cinematic quality, moving across the wall like stop-motion animation: a bridesmaid sinks lower and lower into the pond until all that remains is a ripple on the water's surface.

I am interested in blurring the lines between the fine and decorative arts. Porcelain suggests both the opulence of royal porcelain and the kitsch exuberance of mass-market souvenirs. When I walk through the rococo period rooms at the Metropolitan Museum, violins play in my head. I love the power of objects to hold memory, but I am not immune to the price we pay for our obsession with consumption.