The following is a juror statement by Anders Ruhwald from the catalog to the NCECA 2015 Biennial exhibition in Providence, RI. It is ideally read in tandem with a forthcoming review by Jordan Taylor of the exhibition itself and Justin Crowe’s controversial overview. Next week Jordan Taylor reviews the exhibtion itself.
Above: Sculpture, courtesy of and copyright of Anders Ruhwald.
“It’s a crime.”
Spoken by Linda Christianson with a thick Minnesotan accent, this was the judgment laid upon several decisions by my fellow juror, Jo-Ann Conklin and myself, when we would take out a piece of functional ware during the selection.
As with any juried show we had only the submitted material to work with. Hereby the selection shown is not essentially a statement of current trends in ceramics, but only a collection of what is deemed to be best by the jury of the work submitted. And this is a very particular collection: We saw a very large number of figurative works, a surprisingly small number of functional (I had hoped for a lot more- particularly the wood fired kind), many non-functional objects (for lack of better words), some installation, a little video and no performance. This may be a result of the application requirements. The submitted work had to fulfill several criteria, mainly that the artists needed pay $20 or $40 to enter (which is rarely a good sign), that the work must mainly be made of clay (which for a ceramics biennial makes sense) and that it needed to fit through a standard door (which is practical for the museum).
These parameters gave us one 1,147 submissions to work with. We managed to bring this group of works to fifty works all in all. Taking out almost 1,100 pieces was not easy. We had to let go of a lot of good work that could have made it into the Biennial with a different jury. It probably did not make it easier that the three jurors had never met before and that we each had our specific take on what could and ought to be considered. Rarely did we agree to accept a certain piece right off the bat. As a result we ended up with the hotchpot that is the 2015 NCECA Biennial.
This being said, there are a number of entries that I got very excited about. Too many to mention, but a few warrant a shout out. Marissa Neuman’s odd little accumulation called 90 Degrees and Sunny seems to have nothing on its mind (and this is good). It is a lump of amorphous ceramic lounging on a foam mattress on a table in the shadow of a palm leaf. It is a slippery little tableau- unwilling to state an explicit content; it sits complacently and unapologetically accepting the status quo. It refuses to engage you, and I can’t help to feel as if this this piece is poking fun at me—productively that is.
Jeremy Brooks on the other hand has left his clothes out to dry- literally. Nothing is hidden here. The Shino ware plate of Brooks is a clever little play on language and identity. It is good to see an artist subverting the stereotypes ascribed to wood firing.
And while we are on the topic of process, Joshua Clark, Sean Michael Gallagher and Karin Karinson Nilsson all have been messing around with the very DNA of ceramics: melting, fusing and joining found objects into fluid accumulations that are oozing of all that is messy and seductive about molten material. The work seems to be stopped midway, frozen in a moment of transformation, neither here nor there… things that are found and then changed.
But while I am excited about individual works in the show, the 2015 NCECA Biennial does not point in any particular direction. If anything this show is about what the three of us could agree upon after a couple of long sessions of looking at images in late July in 2014. It is a show by consensus, and in certain cases, by disagreement. With this selection, I hope that we are able to introduce some new talent to the general public and prompt a deeper investigation of their practice. By including a few more established figures, I hope we are able to show their continued relevance. But, any other conclusion on the Biennial would be a stretch.
Thinking back upon this jury process, I frankly wonder if this is the best way to go about making an assessment of what is current in ceramics in this day and time. Initially I was happy to have the invitation to look through the many submissions. But as I left Providence after some longs days of jurying, I felt less sure about what was really achieved. It was a mixed feeling of excitement for the good pieces that had made the cut and disappointment for all the good work I know is out there, but never got to see.
I am not saying this to discount the great work that is in this show. Each artist is deserving of the honor.
The juried art show as an idea seems dated, and while it is probably the most (cost) efficient way to make a show like this happen, I have strong doubts that it is the best way. It is a convenient format for NCECA. Let’s not forget that the six hundred-some applicants bringing in somewhere between $12,000-$24,000 [the actual entry fee revenue for the 2015 NCECA Biennial was $16,200] which is below projection based on recent historical performance for the exhibition.
The jury process is relatively simple and inexpensive in comparison to a curated show at the same scale. Even more so, the work arrives at no cost on the doorstep of the museum, and only part of the return shipment is reimbursed. But what is the result really? It is not a statement of anything but fifty individual works selected in a somewhat illogical process by three jurors brought together for this to happen.
Surely there is a more thought provoking way to contextualize the good work produced by the artists in this show.
Anders Ruhwald is a sculptor and Artist-in-Residence and Head of the Ceramics Department at the Cranbrook Academy of Art , Bloomfield Hills.
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3 thoughts on "Commentary | Anders Ruhwald: It’s a Crime: NCECA 2015 Biennial"
Granted, these are opportunities for artists to show work and its due provides an exhibition forum that is hard to do without. But its also an opportunity for museums to CURATE exhibitions and thereby educate the general public with a concept/theme based exhibition. It also suggests that museums and institutions need to do more in their efforts to fundraise in other quarters rather than rely on their same constituency year after year. Can I re-print this quote again:
“Let’s not forget that the six hundred-some applicants bringing in somewhere between $12,000-$24,000 [the actual entry fee revenue for the 2015 NCECA Biennial was $16,200] which is below projection based on recent historical performance for the exhibition.”
Great review, some good points. The show was lack luster. With around 5000 in attendence this is a small show. Also it would be nice to have the nceca show in the space where the exhibitors are, that would allow more visibility, a shorter exhibition but visiblity.
Underwhelmed is the operative word here.