Igloo Mini Playmate Cooler, by Matthias Merkel Hess, is porcelain (celadon), at James Harris Gallery. courtesy of James Harris Gallery

The ceramics on the floor are in the shapes of things kept in the garage, where ceramics would get broken. They're useful things—milk crates, flashlights, a trash can of the type that homeowners drag curbside, a white five-gallon bucket, an Igloo Mini Playmate Cooler—dressed in aesthetic drag, as ceramics with beautifully glazed surfaces. Igloo Mini Playmate Cooler is celadon, that washed-out green porcelain that originated in Chinese ceramics and has become a staple of refinement in upscale-soothing home decor. Here, it conjures a vision of Chevy Chase leading his sticky family down the Silk Road. It is both sad and reassuring that the cooler is sealed. It never will get gross. It never will have anything to offer except what you see. No beer, no sandwich.

In the realm of things you see—let's say you aren't starved for a sandwich—Igloo is quite something. Stupid gorgeous, intentionally both. The series is by Los Angeles–based artist Matthias Merkel Hess in his first show at James Harris Gallery. When did ceramics become more refined than useful? When did durable goods make the final changeover to metal and plastic? These are historical and environmental questions. Another, closer-to-the-skin question: When do aesthetics come into practical decision making? We eat from ceramic. That's mostly where we touch it now, right in our mouths. Oh, and porcelain toilets. Trash cans and sludge buckets never to be shat in or buttered embody an impossible nostalgia for cleanliness.

Also to-be-handled: paintings by Patrick Driscoll of Portland, also in his first show at James Harris. Paintings are the ultimate surfaces for viewing, seldom touched. (This triggers a body memory of the time I took home a painting that had hung in a bar for years and cleaned it with Q-tips and water, which only caked it in dirty fuzz. When I looked at it on my wall thereafter, I felt the actual sensation of grimy knobbiness on the skin of my fingers.)

Driscoll has a saggy stack of pieces of dun-colored cloth on the floor. Each piece of cloth is a painting. You have to handle them to see them—pick them up like shed skins, lay them down like bodies in a stack. Each is a different style: gooey cartoon, brushy design, primordial soup of abstraction. Making a show of stylistic noncommitment comes as no surprise in a young contemporary artist. What's interesting instead is the enduring discomfort of certain eye-skin meet-ups. recommended