The Nightmare of Enduring Bliss (detail), 2013. Ceramic with terra sigillata and goldleaf. Approx. 52 x 144 x 144 inches. Courtesy of the artist. Photo: Jim Escalante.

Madison, WI


At first glance, Lisa Gralnick’s installation is reminiscent of a Zen garden; but far from a place of tranquility, this sculpture has ominous undertones. Approximately thirty ceramic orbs, ranging in size from the diminutive to eighteen inches in diameter, lay scattered atop a pebbled plinth. Art making tools, musical instruments, and other cultural objects, beautifully rendered in clay, are in various phases of absorption: the spherical masses threaten to engulf all of material culture into a morass of uniformity. This work, humorously titled The Nightmare of Enduring Bliss, is the artist’s searing criticism against all things culturally generic and sensually void. In sharp contrast to a certain direction in art that disregards fine craftsmanship, Gralnick embraces and celebrates the aesthetics of objecthood and the history of making.

A metalsmith by trade, Gralnick embraced a new medium in creating The Nightmare of Enduing Bliss, a project that constitutes an immersion into the world of ceramics. In keeping with her previous explorations of the history of gold and its function as both an artistic medium and contemporary commodity, her new work examines historically-based forms and processes in unglazed clay. Gralnick coats each ceramic orb in terra sigillata, a refined slip favored by ancient Romans. Integrating technique, material, and narrative content, the project exists, in the artist’s words, “as a commentary on time, preservation, process, and an archival impulse.”


Lisa Gralnick received an MFA in Metalsmithing from the State University of New York at New Paltz in 1980. Before joining the Art Department at the University of Wisconsin–Madison in 2001, she taught at Kent State University, Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, and Parsons School of Design in New York. Her work has been exhibited both nationally and internationally. It has been acquired by a distinguished list of museums, including the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.