This spring, the Kansas City area has been able to boast an embarrassment of riches in ceramics exhibitions. Through early June, approximately 100 venues stretching from Manhattan, Kan., to Sedalia, Mo., featured ceramics exhibitions in conjunction with the annual conference of the National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts (NCECA) held in Kansas City March 16-19.
With so much to see, and with some shows on view for a limited time, it’s impossible to recognize all of them. Nonetheless, a number of exhibitions stand out and are still on view as of the time of this writing.
The American Jazz Museum’s Changing Gallery and the UMKC Women’s Center collaborated to present 50 Women: A Celebration of Women’s Contribution to Ceramics, curated by Alex Kraft and Anthony Merino. This large and ambitious exhibition rippled with many superb works. Particularly exceptional pieces included Lace Route by Martha Pachón Rodríguez, Faux Wood Group by Linda Sikora, and especially Şirin Koçak’s two stoneware works from her Circle Series, characterized by their striking forms, delightful asymmetries, and surfaces that beg to be touched.
At Belger Crane Yard, Objectify presents works by five artists working with animal forms; The Kansas City Connection: Victor Babu, John Balistreri, Chris Gustin and Matt Long features three artists paying homage to Victor Babu, a legendary professor of ceramics at the Kansas City Art Institute from 1968-2001. Archie Bray Foundation Resident & Visiting Artists focuses on artists associated with this esteemed Helena, Montana-based ceramics institution.
In “Objectify,” the show-stopper is Beth Cavener’s Unrequited (Variation in Peach), an outsized and all-too-human appearing rabbit formed of resin-infused refractory material. “The Kansas City Connection” opens with a stunning large charger by Victor Babu featuring his much-admired snake imagery, while in the “Archie Bray” exhibition, Keith Simpson’s gorgeous but perhaps-too-perfect basket forms challenge traditional notions of craft since they were created using 3-D printing.
At the Kansas City Museum, Pueblo to Pueblo: The Legacy of Southwest Indian Pottery brings a welcome infusion of indigenous traditions into the mix, reminding us that the ceramic arts are ancient and cross-cultural. This exhibition, drawn from the outstanding collection of the Kansas City Museum, was curated by Bill Mercer in 2010 and has since traveled to nine venues nationwide. This is its first appearance in Kansas City, and this rare opportunity to see an impressive portion of the museum’s holdings should not be missed. Two late 19-century canteens from the Zia pueblo displayed near the entrance of the exhibition feature enchanting renditions of deer and roadrunners and set high expectations for the rest of the show, which are met admirably.
Unconventional Clay: Engaged in Change at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art “explores connections between clay, art, social issues and process,” according to the museum’s website. The exhibition features 24 artists and was co-curated by Catherine Futter, director of curatorial affairs at the Nelson-Atkins, and NCECA exhibitions director Leigh Taylor Mickelson. Among many standouts here, Dylan Beck’s Cloud Fracula commands attention through its bold color and cartoon-like appearance. Jagged yellow thunderbolt forms serve as a tripod to support puffy white clouds over silvery puddles, surrounded by a vinyl backdrop with rainbow and lightning imagery. His materials list “various petroleum products,” imparting a sinister air to the work that is augmented by the menacing storm imagery.
The Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art’s Convene presents Jeffrey Gibson, Hilary Harnischfeger, Joel Otterson and Lisa Sanditz, four artists not trained as traditional ceramic artists, but who utilize clay in their artistic practice. In general, the contributions by Otterson seem a sincere homage to the ceramic arts. Gibson, Harnischfeger and Sanditz incorporate clay as part of their critique of contemporary culture. Gibson draws on his indigenous heritage to investigate colonialism; Harnischfeger examines the value of the art-making endeavor, while Sanditz places consumerism on trial.
In A Whisper of Where it Came From at the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, the works of six mixed-media artists that make use of clay present challenges for the heart, mind and sense of touch as well as the eye, perhaps exemplified best by Mark Cooper’s Jack’s Poem.
Finally, although most commercial spaces featured ceramics to coincide with the conference, Sherry Leedy Contemporary Art, 2004 Baltimore Ave., bears special consideration as the area gallery displaying the longest-lasting and most thorough dedication to ceramics. Although the conference-related show The Once and Future: New Now is no longer on view, examples by many of the artists can still be seen at the gallery. Particularly fetching are Vessel with Dimple (0906) by Chris Gustin and Sibling System by Peter Pincus.
Much of the credit for all this activity should go to conference liaisons Paul Donnelly, assistant professor of ceramics at the Kansas City Art Institute, and Amy Duke, public programs and visitor experience Manager at the Spencer Museum of Art and their teams, who energetically recruited venues for more than a year.
“50 Women: A Celebration of Women’s Contribution to Ceramics” continues at the American Jazz Museum Changing Gallery, 1616 E 18th St., through May 13. Hours are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday. For more information, 816.474.8463 or americanjazzmuseum.org.
“The Kansas City Connection: Victor Babu, John Balistreri, Chris Gustin and Matt Long,” “Archie Bray Foundation Resident & Visiting Artists” and “Objectify” continue at Belger Crane Yard, 2011 Tracy Ave., through May 21. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday-Friday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday. For more information, 816.474.7316 or redstarstudios.org.
“Pueblo to Pueblo: The Legacy of Southwest Indian Pottery” continues at The Kansas City Museum, 3218 Gladstone Blvd., through June 25. Hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday. For more information, 816.513.0720.
“Unconventional Clay: Engaged in Change” continues at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, 4525 Oak St., through June 12. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday, Saturday, Sunday; 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Thursday and Friday. For more information, 816.751.1278 or nelson-atkins.org.
“Convene” continues at the Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art, 12345 College Blvd., Overland Park, through May 22. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday, Friday, Saturday; 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday; noon to 5 p.m. Sunday. For more information, 913.469.8500 or nermanmuseum.org.
“A Whisper of Where it Came From” continues at the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, 4420 Warwick Blvd., through July 24. Hours are For more information, 816.753.5784 or kemperart.org.