As the Missouri dust and euphoria we experienced at this year’s NCECA, in Kansas City dissipate into normality, the gallery exhibitions, personal encounters, and life-altering lectures, continue to linger. One of the most memorable and life altering exhibitions a student can experience at NCECA is the National Student Juried Exhibition (NSJE), which can forever change and undoubtedly charge the lives of both the exhibitors and attendees. Some students leave with a new perspective, a renewed sense of purpose, and a deeper gratitude for clay, the community, and their own passion and dedication.
The 2016 NSJE was held at the Leedy-Voulkos Art Center from March 4 to April 23. Consistent with this year’s conference theme, Makers, Mentors and Milestones, the plentitude of new student art situated in the main gallery was bracketed by exhibitions of works by seasoned ceramic legends and NCECA’s 2016 Emerging Artists in the adjacent front and back galleries. Shapers of the Field: NCECA Honors & Fellows preceded one’s path through the venue into the student exhibition, displaying an array of works by seasoned makers who influenced the organization and the field at large. Beyond the main gallery housing the student show was a selection of works by 2016 NCECA Emerging Artists. The situation and proximity of the exhibitions symbolized next steps, ensuing breakthroughs, and dreamed-of career milestones for many of the students exhibiting in the NSJE.
With no overarching theme guiding their selection beyond the well-executed, innovative, and academically compelling, the exhibition’s jurors offered us a glimpse into the future of ceramic art as it is currently being explored and expanded by the field’s next generation. The main gallery was devoted to the NSJE alone. Remarkably the space didn’t feel like a mixed bag, but was rather an impressive indicator of the different genres at work in studio ceramics today. Rife with subtle innovation, coupled with tradition, many pieces invoked similar themes hinging on the subversive, social commentary, or celebration of clay as material.
Human and animal sculptures or figurative imagery captured in glaze, were prevalent. Among the memorable works in this vein was Melinda, Casey Taylor’s sculpture of a seated woman trying to communicate using a tin can phone. In contrast, Chris Drobnock’s Still Life (Numen) involved a terra cotta composition of commonplace objects—a stool, plant, and watering can—suggesting commentary on the banality and centrality of everyday experiences. Across the gallery, ceramic abstraction bulged, crumbled, dripped, and crystalized in works including Shiyuan Xu’s Through the Lens. Among the many excellent pieces of pottery exhibited, Man-Ho Cho’s White-Teapot-Construction-Base demonstrated that fresh takes on the functional and familiar remain vibrant territory for exploration.
As invited exhibition jurors, Quackenbush and Somers, also selected works for merit awards on behalf of NCECA. Prized pottery and representational sculpture were favored for awards over the many memorable examples of new media, gestural, and abstract sculpture, such as Jonah Amadeus’ Childhood Home, Emily Chamberlain’s Containment, and En Iwamura’s Dear My Heroes. Graduate Awards for Student Excellence went to Ariel Bowman, University of Florida (Gainesville) for The Colossal Collapse; Andrea Denniston, Syracuse University (New York) for Egg Basket; and Carly Slade, San Jose State University (California) for Blue Language. Undergraduate Awards for Student Excellence went to Donut Goshorn, Kansas City Art Institute (Missouri) for Body Map; Jacob Wilson, University of North Carolina (Asheville) for The American Dream; and Matt George, Edinboro University (Pennsylvania) for 4-Eyed Nimrod Cup.
Thanks to Facebook, Instagram, and many other social media platforms, followers of these artists don’t have to wait until Portland 2017 to see where they are headed and what they will create next. Viewers who made the time to visit this show and perhaps chat with the artists know that we have a lot to look forward to and discover about these students and their work in conferences to come.
Sara Morris is currently a graduate student at San Jose State University, CA. studying contemporary art history with a specialization in American ceramic art. Morris was a 2015 Windgate Museum Intern at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston and has also written for Ceramics: Art and Perception.