[Clayart] About NCECA

Snail Scott claywork at flying-snail.com
Tue Mar 25 11:21:28 EDT 2014

On Mar 24, 2014, at 4:36 PM, Vince Pitelka wrote:
> ...Whatever you have to say about NCECA will be
> interesting...

NCECA...I went to a number of presentations, though as usual, fewer 
than I intended due to impromptu discussions in the hallways.  None 
of the sessions stood out as life-changing to me, though I heard good 
things about some that I missed. 

The keynote address was by Theaster Gates, whose rather conceptual 
installation work was familiar to me in a contemporary-art context. I had 
no idea that he also had a strong background in clay. He was an 
engaging and energetic speaker - and singer! - whose theme was the 
racial imbalance in ceramics. He alternated personal anecdotes, general 
observation and humor, ending with a call for individual action. This 
seemed to be part of a deliberate effort this year to have a greater black 
presence by speakers and artists, and a presentation on Dave the Slave 
by the guy who wrote the recent book.

I teach in St. Louis, but having grown up in the Southwest (where racial 
attitudes are very different and 'black' isn't even a category on many
local forms), it was a good to be reminded of how my St. Louis students 
see these issues: in a highly dualistic way that sometimes catches me 
flat-footed in discussion. 

There was a 'demonstration' track in half-hour increments, with a 
succession of artists doing a brief bit of their own work. Hadn't seen 
that before (I missed Houston), but it was heavily attended. This was 
in addition to the regular all-day demos. The Phelps brothers did a
joint demonstration - fascinating to watch them work as a team. 

The quality of the simultaneous video and audio was much higher than 
in the past, and having the big-screen projections allowed a very good 
look at the work in progress (or related slides) that usefully augmented 
the 'live' view. In the most crowded sessions, it was tough to really see 
the presenter directly, and the better cameras and microphones really 
improved the experience. Even when I had a great view, the alternate 
angle provided by the camera was an invaluable supplement.

The exhibitions at the conference center were quite good, numerous, 
and well-attended. I hope the trend toward on-site shows continues. 
There seemed to be fewer off-site shows than in the past, and I wasn't 
excited by most of the ones I saw. The 'Flow' show at the Milwaukee 
Art Museum was excellent, though smaller than I expected. Beth 
Cavener (no longer Stichter)'s piece was a definite show-stopper - 
visually exciting, emotionally poignant, and technically impressive. The 
rest of the museum was worth seeing - it's a shame no one thought to 
point the way to the ceramics scattered through the permanent collection, 
like Rodin's bust of Balzac, the 200 BCE Chinese village model and a 
flambe-glazed vase, and a couple of Arnie Zimmerman's big 'vases' on 
an inaccessible roof deck. And it was lovely to finally see Calatrava's 
building in person.

For me, the best came last - a trip down to Racine to see their museum 
show. They had five exhibitions up - all ceramics. Just inside the door 
was the show of work using metallic lusters and leaf, including Adrian 
Saxe, Bennet Bean, Cindy Kolodziejski, and more. I didn't expect to be
interested, but it was dynamite work - mostly small, shown in vitrines, 
but really varied, top-notch stuff. There was a solo show from Sergei 
Isupov, including large-scale drawings along with the ceramics - 
equally meticulous even at four feet high. There was an installation of 
large forms by Toshiko Takaezu ranging from four to five feet tall, with 
Egyptian titles - walking among them was a very different experience 
than seeing her smaller pieces. There was also a small show of pottery 
and printmaking by Frank Boyden - rather elegant, gestural prints of 
(surprise!) fish. Best of all was the show compiled from the permanent 
collection - a who's-who of ceramics, including things I've seen in books, 
but how different to see them in person!  Paula Winokur's glacier (four 
feet across - I never knew), Bill Daley, Michael Lucero, Jack Earl, a terrific 
piece by Christina Cordova, lots of pots, too, including a Karen Karnes 
teapot. Really excellent!  They also opened the museum library, which 
houses their teapot collection (the stuff in the 'Artful Teapot' book) and 
some other sculpture as well. To top it off, the museum shop actually 
sells real art!  Work by Toshiko Takaezu, Bennet Bean, and more, plus 
non-clay artists like Carol Eckert and Albert Paley.  (I'd've hocked my car 
for his candelabra!)  Pick up and fondle, cash and carry - just wonderful. 

Gotta put in a good word for the dance this year. The band, an Afro-
Cuban outfit called 'De la Buena', had five horns and three drummers 
and an excellent groove - things were still rolling when I left around two 
am. Their Latin-style cover of 'War Pigs' was memorable! I got the T-shirt...

The Clayart room was less busy than in the past, not sure why. Perhaps 
due to convenient, comfortable seating elsewhere? Also, the public 
location and signage makes it a bit less of a 'clubhouse' than it's been 
when located more remotely, and the six-o'clock shutdown prevented 
late-night socializing. My 'mug' exchange item (a little rocketship) was 
stolen right off the table, so I didn't get to do the exchange, so I played 
as a Muggette instead.  (Thanks, Rebecca, for organizing it all yet again!) 
I missed seeing some folks from past conferences, but it was great to 
see all the folks who made it.


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