Annual Conference Prepares to Cover Houston in All Things Clay
Fresh on the heels of the NBA All-Star Game, followed by weeks of rodeo festivities, Houston is preparing for another moment in the spotlight. Up next: a ceramics invasion.
The 47th National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts (NCECA) annual conference comes to Houston this month, extending opportunities for cultural discovery to approximately 5,000 visitors at over 100 exhibitions presented simultaneously in more than 70 venues throughout the city.
NCECA is known as a dynamic membership organization that fosters global education and appreciation for ceramics, arguably one of the world’s most prolific artistic mediums and oldest creative forms. Hosted by a different city annually, the organization crosses the country corner to corner and coast to coast to offer the only ceramincs-dedicated conference in the U.S., presenting current worldwide trends and happenings in the field of ceramics.
Highlights of this year’s conference include a highly anticipated keynote address from MacArthur Fellow Janine Antoni, an artist who works within the realms of performance and sculpture using her body and incorporating various materials to create artworks informed by process, transition, touch, and everyday activities. For her keynote, Antoni shares with the Houston community some of her recent work with fired and unfired clay.
Earth/Energy is the 2013 Houston conference theme, recognizing the natural resources employed by the ceramic arts, as well as the city’s industries, and honoring the enterprising spirit of the local arts community.
“With each visit, we felt very positive about the energy of Houston,” says NCECA executive director Josh Green. “We continue to be impressed by the city’s arts ecology, including its accessible exhibition spaces, world-class art institutions, and community habit of working together as a network with individual artists and organizations.”
NCECA encourages participation from conference host city galleries and other exhibiting venues that may not have previously engaged with ceramic arts; after the conference many participants continue to be involved in the local and global conversation about and support for a clay-based artistic practice. Further, NCECA often experiences organizational growth with new members coming from that year’s host region.
These are not the only indicators that NCECA, and ceramics in general, reach a broad audience. While some conference events require registration, nearly all concurrent exhibitions and programs are free and open to the public – a distinctive characteristic that adds not only appeal but also accessibility.
“There is a Grateful Dead concert aspect to … our conferences,” Green says. “NCECA plans the main event and others make creative contributions that shape the perimeters through related experiences. People come from all over to explore these exhibitions and events in the communities surrounding the conference.”
So rest assured you will have plenty to do and see even if you aren’t officially with the band (or registered for the conference). But if you decide you’d like the full experience, registration is available at the George R. Brown Convention Center and covers participation in the four days of on-site NCECA programming, including access to the Resource Hall, program rooms, lectures, presentations and more. (One-day passes are also available.)
In addition to Antoni’s keynote address, other free programs include Projects Space at the convention center. It’s comprised of artists working individually or in teams to develop projects on-site, a somewhat improvised yet skillful endeavor that engages visitors in the creative process.
Or perhaps you’d like to extend your knowledge of ceramic artworks or add to your current collection. A visit to the Gallery Expo, also at the convention center, offers an art-fair-like array of national galleries exhibiting high quality works and provides opportunities to learn more about collecting contemporary ceramics.
Two well-loved Houston organizations are hosting the official NCECA sponsored exhibitions. This year’s NCECA Biennial, the premier exhibition of ceramic arts in the U.S. with an exceptionally wide range of entries and a high degree of visibility, takes place at the Houston Center for Contemporary Craft. Organized by NCECA Exhibitions Director, Linda Ganstrom, Professor of Art at Fort Hays State University – Kansas, the biennial includes 39 juried works by 35 artists. (The biennial is already on view; HCCC will host a reception from 5:30-9 p.m. March 21.)
Also already underway is NCECA’s National Student Juried Exhibition, which is up through March 23 at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston’s Glassell School of Art. Glassell ceramics chair Jeff Forster says the show “not only highlights the breadth of contemporary ceramic practice, but also puts accepted students in front of an international audience composed of educators, peers, critics, curators, collectors and beyond. It’s an opportunity for them to jump-start their career goals.”
Forster, alongside Merrie Wright, assistant professor of art at the University of Texas at Tyler, also works as on-site liaison to organize the more than 100 Houston exhibitions.
“I have thoroughly enjoyed getting out into the public and meeting scores of people with similar interests – namely art,” Forster says. “I have also enjoyed my communications with curators and exhibition organizers around the globe. From galleries to the corporate world and elsewhere, people have been genuinely excited about the idea of thousands of artists coming to Houston for the conference.”
The organization provides exposure for over 1,000 ceramic artists each year, offering significant awards and exhibition opportunities to emerging artists. From bio-ceramic works at Mother Dog Studios to artist collaborative response pieces at The Jung Center to clay and print at the Museum of Printing History – and just about everywhere in between – plus international exhibitions that include works from Mexico, India, and Korea, Houstonians and visitors can explore the ubiquity and variety of ceramic objects and indulge their curiosity about the medium.
Nancy Zastudil is an itinerant curator who can’t seem to stay away from Houston.
NCECA 2013, 47th Annual Conference
2013 NCECA Biennial Exhibition
Houston Center for Contemporary Craft
January 26 – May 5
Reception Thursday, March 21, 2013 from 5:30-9:00pm
National Juried Student Exhibition
Glassell School of Art (Perimeter Gallery)
February 15 – March 23