Starting March 16th, the 50th annual National Council for the Education of Ceramic Arts (NCECA) will host over 5,000 artists, connecting and displaying their works in Kansas City, Missouri.Over the course of NCECA, there will be almost 100 exhibitions all devoted to showcasing the temperamental, powerful, and limitless medium of clay.Above image: Beth Cavener, Unrequited, 2015, resin-infused refractory material, paint, steel base, 15 x 45 x 16. Featured in Objectify. Courtesy of the artist. This recognition of the importance of art in Kansas City has produced the Kauffman Performing Arts Center, the City’s Office of Culture and Creative Services (which leads cultural development efforts for Kansas City, Missouri), and the Belger Crane Yard Studios.NCECA is a ceramaphile’s paradise and its doors open into the Belger Arts Center.The first of the Belger Arts Center shows is Every Semester: Collecting KCAI Ceramics 1995-2015 (January 8th – March 19th, 2016).Curated by 14 regional collectors who have continuously accrued student work, mainly through the popular end-of-the-semester sale, this exhibition celebrates two decades of the Kansas City Art Institute Ceramics Department.The works shown exemplify the styles, methods, and artistic investigations that are distinctive traits of the KCAI curriculum.According to the exhibition organizer, Cary Esser, professor and chair of the KCAI ceramics department, “many pieces in the exhibition reflect an interest in human and animal forms.They reveal a marriage of figure, vessel, and surface that tell personal stories.” Another show on view is Garden Party (Belger Arts Center, February 5th – May 21st, 2016), which is described by the BAC as “[exploring] the fine line between the need to preserve and the need to re-imagine, re-configure, and re-contextualize the world around us.Tapping into the rich visual and symbolic history of the garden as muse, the selected artists question artificiality, preciousness, and romantic notions of the sublime.” The five artists featured in Garden Party are Kim Dickey, Rain Harris, Jessica Knapp, Kyle Triplett, and Casey Whittier.Rain Harris, the exhibition organizer, says this about his curated show:
What do you desire?This is the question that 37 artists from 22 countries have answered in the Lighton International Artists Exchange Program’s show Desire (Belger Art Center, February 5th – May 21st, 2016).The artist’s answers to the question of desire cover cultural limitations and today’s most pressing political and cultural issues.
“The Garden Party features five artists who utilize ceramics to explore themes associated with nature and flora. Their sources range from European decorative arts, Victorian sentiments revolving around morbidity and excess, formal landscaping, Ikebana design, and a desire to better understand themselves in relationship to the natural world. They represent a small selection of contemporary artists—emerging and established—that tap into the rich visual and symbolic history of the garden as muse for their artistic pursuits. Through subtlety and humor, these artists create stylized representations that allude to the intersections between nature and culture, beauty and longing. They question artificiality, preciousness, sprawl, and the romantic notions of the sublime to create a transformative experience within the confines of the gallery walls.”
A thought provoking and visually captivating response to desire in this show is Zehra Cobanli’s Child Alyan and Others, which tells a compelling story of war and fleeing refugees through porcelain shoes.The shoes represent the lives of those who drowned trying to find safety in the borders of another country.Curator Linda Lighton talks about how “Desire is a compilation of international artists, many winners of the Lighton International Artists Exchange Program (LIAEP).The show celebrates 15 years of friendships and communities built on artists learning about themselves and the world through generative studio practice and organic networking.”The next exhibitions featured take place at the Belger Crane Yard Studios, a recent 2013 addition to the Belger Arts Center.Role Models (Belger Crane Yard Studios, March 4th – May 21st, 2016) celebrates the art of mentorship, inviting 17 artists who currently work in Florida to select one person who has mentored them and one person whom they have mentored.This exhibition illustrates the “power and importance of influence, inspiration, and trusted advice.” Out of state connections and relationships are a paramount theme in this survey. This exhibition was originally a part of the Morean Arts Center and Florida CraftArt’s Second Saturday Artwalk (St.Petersburg, FL). In Objectify (Belger Crane Yard Studios, March 4th – May 21st, 2016), artists Beth Cavener, Peregrine Honig, Jenny Kindler, Lindsay Pichaske, and Merrie Wright “utilize animal forms to mirror human psychology or serve as metaphors for social, political, or environmental issues.By rekindling feelings of interconnection and wonderment, the artists challenge viewers to re‐consider the idea of nature as something outside of themselves.” Objectify is curated by Michael Baxley. Decalcomaniacs (Belger Crane Yard Studios, March 4th – May 21st, 2016), not only is the name of a show at NCECA, but it is also a relatively new phenomenon, meaning the love for decals.Becoming popular amongst professional and hobbyist ceramic artists, the advent of decals made representation in glaze a whole lot easier- cleaner lines, continuity of form, and faster production.Belger Crane Yard Studios describes how Decalcomaniacs “celebrates this tradition and explores how 14 artists incorporate ‘ready‐ mades’ and custom imagery in their work through a variety of processes and applications.” The Kansas City Connection: Victor Babu, John Balistreri, Chris Gustin, and Matt Long (Belger Crane Yard Studios, March 4th – May 21st, 2016) features work that honors their mentor, Victor Babu.Babu inspired students through his unique views of art and philosophy and his ceramic technical mastery. Showcasing artists who have participated in the country’s first and foremost ceramic residency program, the Archie Bray Foundation: Resident & Visiting Artists show (Belger Crane Yard Studios, March 4th – May 21st, 2016) features a diverse range of work from 40 emerging and established artists who have participated in the Archie Bray Foundation Residency, established in 1951. Another ceramic residency-inspired show is Alumni Gathering: Red Star Studios Past And Current Artists‐In‐Residence (Belger Crane Yard Studios, March 4th – May 21st, 2016), which is “a reunion of national and international artists who have influenced (and have been influenced by) the Red Star Studios experience.Since 1998, Red Star’s Artists‐in‐Residence program has allowed artists to explore their practice in a new setting with new people and new materials.” The final Red Star member exhibit featured at the Belger Crane Yard Studios (March 16th – May 19st, 2016) is Home Base: Red Star Studios Member Exhibition, a display of work ranging from hobbyists to professional artists.Red Star Studios “celebrates eighteen years of its Studio Membership program, providing access to equipment and a place to work, supporting the creative process of each member artist by encouraging experimentation and the sharing of experience and ideas.The resulting work is as rich and vibrant as the studio members themselves.” We at CFile hope to see you at the 2016 NCECA Conference in Kansas City, Missouri!What do you think of this assortment of contemporary ceramic art?Let us know in the comments.