InCiteful Clay offered an unparalleled overview of an emergent movement in contemporary ceramics dedicated to social commentary. Artists have long used their creations as powerful vehicles to confront society with major problems of the day, expanding from paintings, sculptures, prints, and photographs to installations and electronic media over the last century. Social concern had also become an area of increasing interest in contemporary craft.
Incorporating a broad range of work, the selection of 27 ceramics looked at artists who have mustered an age-old medium to issue provocative critiques of current social and political inequities. The premise of the exhibition was organized around five themes: war and politics; the social and human condition; gender issues; environmental concerns; and popular and material culture. The artists conveyed their messages in styles that are aggressive, violent, disturbing, irreverent, and at times, humorous, but ever passionate. They relied on figurative imagery, narrative content, and a range of expressive avenues, including caricature, parody, satire, obscenity, erotica, and the grotesque.
Featured artists in the exhibition included Akio Takemori, Toby Buonagurio, Nuala Creed, Michelle Erickson, Anne Potter, Ehren Tool, Richard Shaw, and Paula Winokur. Among the specific topics they addressed were the social consequences of war, the impact of declining moral values on children, capital punishment, consumerism, and global warming.
Traditionally ceramics have served functional and decorative purposes and have been associated with positive experiences. Visitors to the exhibition came away with a new appreciation for the expressive capabilities of clay media to convey substantive content and to deliver the powerful critiques more routinely seen in painting and sculpture. They also discovered the distinctive avenues of expression associated with ceramics, arising from ironic adaptations of traditional forms and functions and the cultural meanings ceramics have acquired over time.
Artist Bonnie Seeman departs from the standards of embellishment traditionally associated with functional ceramics in Untitled (bowl), where she juxtaposes botanical and anatomical images to convey the fragility and resiliency of life. Chad Curtis’s Cows uses sterile and homogenized materials to explore the ethics of the food production system, and Adrianne Crane’s eye-catching flower grenades in Artillery Field are a sinister representation of the destructive hand grenades used in war. InCiteful Clay affirmed the significant contribution of ceramics to contemporary art of social concern.
InCiteful Clay was curated by Judith S. Schwartz, Ph.D., an internationally recognized specialist in contemporary ceramics. A professor and director of craft media in the Department of Art and Art Professions at New York University, Schwartz recently published a groundbreaking study on this movement in ceramic art titled Confrontational Ceramics: The Artist as Social Critic (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008).
A Program of ExhibitsUSA, a national division of Mid-America Arts Alliance, with the Arkansas Arts Council and The National Endowment for the Arts.