In the midst of all the fanfare of NCECA (National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts) coming to town, with its side shows of art exhibitions and independent and homegrown efforts, I was pleasantly surprised to discover a ceramics universe unto itself at the Indianapolis Art Center. The IAC, a community-focused gathering place offering art and creativity classes to laypersons of all levels, often scores right up there with the big guys when it comes to presenting exhibitions of quality art in a given genre.
In this given genre — ceramics — the Art Center does not disappoint. At least five ceramics-related exhibitions grace the galleries and hallways, so you literally can’t miss the ceramics experience no matter what beckons you inside the doors. What’s so compelling about this collection of exhibitions, and what earns them the distinction of a self-contained universe of clay, is the breadth of styles, media and expressions these artists offer us — from the traditional vessel form to large-scale sculpture. Then there’s the conceptual; and this is where the Art Center really stirs things up.
Among the many artists whose work is included in the three primary exhibits — Hoosier Expatriates: From Indiana to the World, On the Wall and Ron Kovatch — the conceptual work lining the corridor in On the Wall and the Art Center faculty work in the Clowes Gallery are among the most challenging in the best possible ways. The artists in On the Wall hail from across the country, from Pennsylvania to Oregon and points in between. Eva Kwong’s “Lament” is just that: Large porcelain “tear drops” spanning one wall contain such phrases as “I miss you” and “I want him,” emerging like ghosts from beneath the glaze.
Among the Art Center ceramics faculty, the Michael and Soyong Kang Partington installation and wall pieces are as compelling as anything I’ve seen in the ever-expanding ceramics media; perhaps more so. “Mystery Fungus Dinner for Four” is true to its title: Hyper-realistic clay ’shrooms adorn platters and dishes (also made for the occasion); and the wall pieces are suggestive of the most exotic of these mysterious fruits of the forest. Better yet, they speak to mystery ... period.
The aforementioned aren’t the only works worth calling out; but at least they give a sense of the versatility and scope of a medium that is far too often relegated to the category of “craft” or “decorative art.” The best art is not defined by its medium; its message comes first, and the medium is in service to the artist’s vision. Together they dance on equal footing.
Most “Focus on Ceramics” exhibits are on view at the Indianapolis Art Center through May 2, 2004. (Barbara Zech: Compositions in Clay, also notable, is up through May 9.) The IAC will also offer demonstrations in conjunction with NCECA this week. Indianapolis Art Center, 820 E. 67th St., 244-2464, www.indplsartcenter.org.