Flow in flux

Flow in flux

Sprinkled among the multitude of objects that fill our Material World; ceramics whether industrially manufactured or hand crafted, from the recent or distant past, even fresh out of the kiln, collide in the present.  Continually in flux as their function and relevance shifts, ceramics objects move through time and space adjusting to present tastes, trends and values.  Artists exploring the flow between factory and studio, museum collection and discard pile, the domestic table and the pedestal bring diversity and challenge to Flow.

Meissen, the pioneer in the manufacture of European court porcelains continues to play a significant role in contemporary ceramics.  Instrumental in fostering a connection across time and space, Meissen facilitated the collaboration between their great modeler, J.J. Kaendler and Chris Antemann.  The Paradise Chandelier utilized Kaendler’s centuries old molds in combination with Antemann’s fresh romantic figures spiced with a dash of satire and feminism to create a chandelier intended to move beyond its function as a lighting fixture and into the realm of enlightening.

Working on the Meissen factory floor, Arlene Shechet viewed the discards, overspills and rejected bits of porcelain as fodder for her dynamic porcelain assemblages.  Unbound by function or traditional notions of craft, Shechet involved the factory in assisting her in a subversion and re-imagining of the potential of their porcelain as material and object, creating works of delicate beauty with unexpected twists of irony questioning taste and the role of precious ceramics in our throw away culture.

Working with found ceramics manufactured for the middle class, Billie Theide takes the conversation about ceramics into the realm of the decorative and the domestic.  Her three humble plates from the Guise series, transport familiar, if passé ceramic objects from grandma’s cupboards into an alien, even “undeserved” museum setting.   Her clever and amusing fabric embellishments force their viewer to consider the role of often overlooked, even camouflaged ceramic objects in domestic interiors as worthy of attention and consideration.

Individual objects in Swarm by Tsehai Johnson originated from a humble slip cast “restaurant” cup.  Transforming each pliable clay cup with handbuilt drips, Johnson arranges her installed flock to respond and flow within its environment in fanciful, seeming haphazard fashion that references human patterns associated with food, drink and community highlighting the function of ceramic as a catalyst for conversation and commune in our Material World.

Investigating labor, collaboration and skill in the global ceramics community; both Jae Won Lee and Rain Harris traveled to Jingdezhen, China to research the production of elaborate decorative ceramic florals.  Long fascinated by questions of beauty and taste, Rain Harris allowed her decorative, resin transformed “cheap” plastic and silk flowers purchased from the Dollar Store to completely overwhelm their “precious” porcelain structure creating Dribble, a glowing object of great beauty and mystery that gives pause as to the intersection and prestige of material, process and product in current ceramic practice.

Living in the space between East and West; Korean born, Jae Won Lee presents Seize the Flower in the Mirror, an elegant ceramic still-life in an antique European style cabinet, emblematic of the fluid connections between cultures as artists travel and move across the globe following opportunity and inspiration.  This black abstraction hints at the dark side of not truly belonging or being understood by either culture, giving the work a poignancy and mystery that is at once beautiful and fragile, but melancholy and heartbreaking.


A Guide to Flow part 2: The Physical Flow of Materials

A Guide to Flow part 2: The Physical Flow of Materials

Sound flows.  A sculpted sound translation of Santiago Calatrava speaking the native word thought to be the basis of the name Milwaukee, Jeffrey Mongrain’s spare and elegant signature form represents the flow of sound.  Just as a speaker in a sound system vibrates or a vinyl record records sound, this minimal black circle mysteriously reveals its vibration to those willing to pause, observe closely and allow the work to reveal its subtle variations.

Shadow and the play of light is an even more essential ingredient in Jarred Pfeiffer’s Torus.   A torus is a geometric form created by following a circle around a circular path. Composed of 36 torus forms carefully arranged in a mathematical pattern with alternating beginning points, the direction of light on the forms creates a shadows that constantly shifts in natural light.  When artificially light, these shadows create a intertwining mesh of values that diminish the actual porcelain forms and dominate the wall.

Mihaly’s Drift, references the title of a book on the subject of flow or that intense state of satisfying focus and timelessness an artist feels in studio mode. Ryan LaBar’s Mihaly’s Drift is testament to the enormous labor, craft and dedication he devoted to his vision for filling a wall in the Milwaukee Art Museum until the sculpture spilled or flowed onto the marble flooring. Selected to represent the flow of heat in the glaze kiln, the movement caused by time and temperature on porcelain is clearly evident in the deformation of the pieces as they melt and transform themselves and each other in a dynamic dance of muscular movement.  The mesmerizing play of light and shadow on the hundreds of thrown and intricately pierced porcelain elements in Mihaly’s Drift invites the viewer to pause and enter the work, becoming part of the Flow. Backing away, Mihaly’s Driftsurprisingly alludes to another craft; quilting, as the tiles become quilt squares and the porcelain forms a whole, hugging the wall in drapery folds before it crashes to the ground.

A guide to Flow, part 1: The movers

A guide to Flow, part 1: The movers

Flow: The 2014 NCECA Ceramic Arts Invitational is currently on view at the Milwaukee Art Museum.  The space is stunning with a wall of windows facing Lake Michigan and spacious with nearly 8,000 square feet of space.  IMG_0062A long corridor that connects the main lobby or Windhover Hall to the museum proper, the Baumgartner Galleria is now a meander of ceramic delights and challenges.  Curated by Linda Ganstrom, NCECA Exhibitions Director and Mel Buchanan, NCECA On-Site Liaison,  twenty artists are featured in Flow, an exhibition conceptually centered on the physical property of fluid movement.  The exhibition functions as a centerpiece of the 2014 NCECA conference theme, Material World.  Enriching the literal interpretation, the selected works connect to the theme of flow; symbolically, esthetically and historically.

IMG_0044While ceramics normally sits still and stays on the pedestal, a number of works in Flow actually move.  As you enter the gallery, City by France Goneau, gently flutters in the air currents.  At first read, City has a piano keyboard rhythm as it stretches over 30 feet across the gallery wall.  As you move closer, you notice small ceramic bricks, the building blocks of many cities, carefully suspended on grosgrain ribbons.  Up close, you see hand stitching evoking a sense of feminine labor, then notice that the bricks and their supporting ribbons are balanced on ribbon loops.  As you back away your eye flows from the dark ribbons and the white negative space becomes a cityscape.

IMG_0086Chris Antemann’s Paradise Chandelier created at Meissen ever so softly twirls near the windows of the Baumgartner Galleria, its twinkling lights beckoning the viewer further into the space.  Using molds originally created by 18th century, Meissen Master, J. J. Kaendler; Antemann added luscious fruit and her distinctive couples to the installation.  Originally designed for European palaces and great houses, the chandelier now appears quite at home in one of the great art palaces of our age, available for the enjoyment and pleasure of the general public.

IMG_0064Seep by Linda Swanson releases tiny droplets of water onto an soft earthen carpet formed of bentonite, salt and red art.  Each drop sculpts and paints a tiny landscape.  As the puddle enlarges, then dries and recedes, the work is constantly changing.  Symbolically, we become the drops that interact with our planet, changing it and ourselves.  Seated on a bench near this installation, one is invited to relax, slow down, and observe the evolution of the piece and its changing geology.  Just as a Rothko painting draws the viewer into its abstraction, Seep encourages the viewer to enter a world of texture, color, action and inaction, in a quiet, artistic and possibly spiritual experience.

IMG_0007Tangled Up in You by Beth Cavener hangs suspended, in the center of the space, gently swaying.  Gripping a thick rope, the snake strives to consume a large captive hare depicting a conflict with no resolution, a psychological state powered by tremendous emotion.  Elegant tattoo patterns illustrate this story of conflict, striving and beauty on the skin of the snake in subtle blue on blue, adding to the watery aesthetic.  Requiring the intent viewer to follow the muscular movement of the snake around the tortured hare to read the tattoo, the careful observer is rewarded with secret insight as they decipher the poetic symbolism.

12179_552187641554998_410066668_nDel Harrow’s Air_Breath employs computer generated motion graphics in his installation.  Beginning with a scan of a Sung dynasty bottle form and a British apothecary jar, Harrow studied the many permutations between the two forms as seen in the large delicate mechanical drawing and finally in the series of slipcast vases.  The video screen clears depicts the breath of the pot as the silhouette moves between these two iconic forms.


Express Yourself: National Student Juried Exhibition

Express Yourself: National Student Juried Exhibition

In its fifth year as a national competition and exhibition, the 2014 NCECA National Student Juried Exhibition hosted by the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design is the largest in number of works presented, exhibiting 59 works by 57 artists from across the USA. Juried by Tara Wilson and Jeffrey Mongrain, the NSJE showcases authentic and relevant art created by the emerging talent in the academic ceramics scene.  Expressive, experimental and emotionally charged; the desire for a deeper, more profound understanding of personal and cultural identity is the exhibition’s dominant theme, finding voice through figurative, abstract and functional genres.  Seeking to make a cultural impact through communication, connection and community involvement; hope threads through a variety of strands that resonate with student artists such as psychology, science and technology, design and function, sustainability, play, natural and built environments.  Presented in formats that range from large-scale installations to the intimate cup, self-reflective works full of skill, humor, wit and beauty offer insight into the private lives of the artists, while their historical and global references display the artists’ education, experience and motivation in finding their place in the larger culture and age-old ceramic story.

Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design will host the 2014 NCECA National Student Juried Exhibition,
March 4 – March 22, 2014.  Public reception Thursday March 20 6-9pm.

As NCECA’s Exhibitions Director, it has been my pleasure to oversee the expansion of our student exhibition from a regional to more inclusive national competition that offers an international platform for emerging talent at the annual NCECA conference.  I am very excited to share in the effort to create our first NSJE stand-alone catalog.   As always I want to acknowledge and offer gratitude to the many people who worked to make such an exhibition possible.  Thank you to the exhibiting artists, as well as the many other artists who were not accepted, but helped form a strong talent pool and are the fertile soil from which the next generation of ceramic art will spring. Thank you to their teachers and mentors.  Deepest appreciation goes to our jurors, Tara Wilson and Jeffry Mongrain for selecting a dynamic and vital exhibition. My heartfelt gratitude to Mark Lawson and his staff at the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design for hosting this large and diverse exhibition.  Another note of thanks goes to our award sponsors.  And much gratitude goes out to the NCECA staff and board, especially Josh Green for his leadership, support and detail work in editing and catalog design, to Kate Vorhaus for her support and work with our artists and Candice Finn who has earned a special acknowledgment for her smart catalog design. It has been a pleasure to work with our Student Directors at Large and I would like to acknowledge the efforts of Kevin Ramler and Maccabee Shelley for their roles in bringing the 2014 NCECA National Student Juried Exhibition to our audiences.

Flow: The NCECA Invitational

Flow: The NCECA Invitational

Twenty ambitious and energetic artists selected by co-curators Linda Ganstrom and Mel Buchanan transform the Milwaukee Art Museum’s Baumgartner Galleria with extraordinary ceramic art, much of it created specifically for Flow: The 2014 NCECA Ceramic Arts Invitational on view February 22 through March 23, 2014.

With the emphasis placed on material in the NCECA conference theme of Material World, a large number of works in Flow focus on how various physical elements literally move and behave.  A beloved and inherently unique quality of glazed ceramics is the interaction of time, heat and materials to produce glaze flow.

Multi-faceted, the theme of Flow is broad, layered and nuanced.  The museum as site of collecting and communicating cultural values through artists objects from the material world is a type of stream, a conduit that allows objects from the past and across the world to connect in sometimes unexpected ways that impact the present and influence the future.  Inspiration or reference to collected materials or decorative objects figure widely in Flow.  Flow also refers to the movement of materials or time.  As a state of mind, flow is a pleasurable state of intense focus often experienced by artists.  As a design element or aesthetic, flow embodies fluid movement and subtle shifts.  Clay contains water. In its wet or plastic states, the fluidity of clay’s material property embodies flow as it responds to the artist’s touch.  Each of the accomplished and innovative artists exhibiting in Flow connects to theme on numerous levels.

Designed to evoke a conscious awareness of the flow of water in its various states, the Baumgartner Galleria’s arching wall of windows connects the viewer to nature through a dramatic view of Lake Michigan.  Santiago Calatrava’s inspired architecture embraces the concept of the museum as a cathedral of culture, an inspiring setting for reflection, contemplation, insight, even celebration.  Re-imagining the functions of the museum to more fully integrate community, the Milwaukee Art Museum invites their patrons to celebrate life in unique and artistic spaces such as the Baumgartner Galleria, demanding new approaches to the installation and presentation of art in the middle of a sometimes active and interactive social setting.  Functioning as a conduit from the grandeur of Windhover Hall to the more traditional galleries displaying the historic collections of the Milwaukee Art Museum, the Baumgartner Galleria’s tunnel of light encourages the transition from our more mundane reality into the world of art.  Intervening and confronting the viewer with artifacts and objects connecting us to the cultures of the past, nature and life, Flow invites one to pause, contemplate and experience the Material World through engaging ceramic works of art.

I extend an invitation to join me in the vast and ethereal setting of the Baumgartner Galleria in the Milwaukee Art Museum.  A powerful physical presence, its light-filled, almost otherworldly, vast space commands attention and emotional response.

(Preview the 56 page exhibition catalog here)

A limited quantity of Exhibition Catalogs will be printed, reserve yours here!